Finders Keepers 

click to enlarge paulteeples.jpg

The works of most artists fit on a wall, floor or tabletop or in a frame or jewelry box. For sculptor Paul Teeples, his house is his canvas. Everything -- from the wall around his front garden to the treehouse out back -- reflects his creative energy and gives the house a patina and a personality that is comfortable and happy. Every room, corner, wall, mantel, door and bathtub has been touched. The home he shares with his wife, Kim (also an artist), and sons Will, 14, and Moss, 13, is a palette on which he has created a visual feast of color and texture.

Teeples purchased the turn-of-the-20th-century Oregon Hill house in 1988, and work on its transformation immediately began. "I took the nasty carpet off of the stairs and out of the bathrooms," he remembers. He also removed little fiberboard closets that had been squeezed into corners of rooms for storage. More projects, both structural and cosmetic, have followed. And more recently, he and Kim purchased the house that adjoined theirs, opening walls and doubling their living space.

Entering the front hall, visitors are greeted by a brightly painted porch column. Right away, the flavor of the entire house is apparent: Found objects have been recycled and put to imaginative use everywhere you look. A home office in the front is filled with books, a computer and a stereo cabinet handmade by Teeples; its door features pierced tin panels painted with colorful faces. Salvaged remnants of pressed-tin ceiling make a border at the top of the walls, and a wooden fish dangles from above.

Teeples' love of giving pre-owned items new life began when he was an art student in the early 1980s. A native of Arlington, he earned a B.A. and M.F.A. in painting and printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University. When the cost of framing paintings and acquiring materials needed for projects got too steep, he started to make do, developing a resourcefulness that has served him well ever since. "Whatever was available became an art material, something to create art with," he says.

Ultimately, he found a way to avoid framing finished works: He began making three-dimensional, unframeable wall sculptures during his last year of grad school. His first, titled "chair," now hangs in his dining room, just a few feet from a large, recently handcrafted chandelier inscribed with the W.B. Yeats' poem "Under Saturn." Together, they form an inadvertent timeline, from his first foray into three-dimensional art to newer, fanciful structures that include a mix of light, poetry and found objects.

Combined with a recycling sensibility encouraged by his parents and the ubiquitous anti-litter campaign that any child of the '60s can recall, Teeples' penchant for thrift and imaginative art has given way to a style that is distinct. Now he's known to the Richmond-area arts community and collectors for his lamps, sconces, prayer wheels and other sculptures, all of which he sells, and his house is like a domestic portfolio.

The combination of verse, mythology, electrical expertise, recycling, carpentry, world religions, painting and global cultures of places like Tibet, Africa, Italy and Mexico all come together to make a home endlessly intriguing to the eye. The inspiration for Teeples' creative pursuits has, as one might expect, eclectic origins. At the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, he saw old tin cans nailed on cabinets to give a stenciled effect; he brought the concept home, putting his own twist on it by nailing tin cans around windows. Walking up steps in Perugia, Italy, he was struck by the worn places on them. "I thought about the countless footsteps, the history of people's passage. … When you walk across those steps, you're really a part of history." Likewise, he sees the reuse of porch columns and weathered wood as meaningful: "These things have been a part of a house's life."

Reading about the Watts Towers in Los Angeles, Teeples was fascinated by the work of Simon Rodia. Perhaps the original weekend warrior, Rodia, an Italian immigrant, in his off-hours created by hand this combination structure/environment/art installation -- with its spires, paths, planters, fountains and other outdoor elements — in the span of 33 years. Nearly every bit of the space's flat surface is adorned with found objects — colored glass, bottle caps, bits of ceramic tiles, shells and thousands of other random discarded scraps. That adornment is what particularly caught Teeples' eye.

Not only has Teeples created mosaics on hearths, mantels and bathtubs using many of the same found objects Rodia used, over time he has built whatever the family has needed -- bookshelves, doors below the kitchen sink, a new frame for a favorite sofa that quit functioning unexpectedly. Carpentry, electrical and plumbing skills have made it possible for him to craft or fix whatever has needed his attention. He used old kitchen counters to build a countertop for wife Kim's studio, a back room where she makes paper and hopes to install a printmaking press one day. New doors on old kitchen cabinets were fashioned by Teeples and painted individually by artist friends.

So, with his focus primarily on decorative embellishments along with some practical home improvements, Teeples has made his family's home a place that is livable and aesthetically personal. "I don't see a house as something you try to make look like something you think people will want to buy," he says. "It's an extension of what you do, your personality."

One Man's Trash …

While most people purchase materials and decorative elements needed to create, Paul Teeples finds his in a much more organic way -- in alleys, dumps, trash cans, thrift shops, yard sales, neighborhood clean-ups and discarded art projects. Bits of glass, broken plates, pottery shards, bottle caps, marbles, old doors, pieces of porches, tin ceilings, knobs -- all hold potential for use in projects. Throughout the years Teeples has developed a keen eye for anything that might have a creative, adaptive reuse. Here's how the sculptor acquired some of his treasures:

  • A stack of china plates shatters when accidentally dropped to the floor. The loss is Teeples' bathroom mosaic's gain.

  • A baseball field's vintage "home" and "away" signs are taken down when the field is put to new use. They perch on a mantel awaiting a future use.

  • A Grace Street biker hangout renovates and no longer needs its tin ceiling. It's now painted dark blue with yellow stars and perfectly suits the laundry room ceiling.

  • Electrical wire insulators no longer used add shape and texture to Teeples' fireplace mosaics

  • Mismatched Christmas lights are perfect for chandeliers and lamps.

  • Smashed, rusted bottle caps and tin-can lids are considered unsightly trash in the gutters, but Teeples attaches them to almost any sculpture he makes.

  • Porch columns are replaced on a house restoration job. The originals make decorative supports for the kitchen sink.

  • Unclaimed ceramic leaves made by students become part of the décor around a bathroom vanity.

  • Foundry patterns left behind in a warehouse are the centerpiece of Teeples' prayer wheels and dining room chandelier.

  • Discarded coffee tins and metal machine lubricant containers are used as shades for lamps and sconces.

  • Retro metal dollhouses of the 1960s aren't cool to kids anymore, but cut up in pieces, they add color and texture in many of Teeples' creations. - E.C.
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