Trash is a Weighty Matter…but is it Art?


Trash is a Weighty Matter

Daily Photo

“The idea came from not wanting to throw things away…Country dumps are [miles from rural homes] and we were not wanting to add to the landfill.” Monica Schill explained between gasps as she and her husband Leo struggled to move huge cement “rocks” to the sculpture garden at the Morris Grave Museum. The pieces are filled with trash from the last year, wrapped in chicken and aviary wire, then encased in cement.

Schill, an artist who lives with her carpenter husband in Bridgeville, became interested in trash around 1998 when “I took a year’s worth of plastic milk jugs to the dump but, at that time, [the dump] didn’t take them….So, that led to the art piece “Milk Jugs”. I crushed the jugs then wrapped them in old poultry wire. Next they were covered in concrete. To this day they still sit in my yard as a habitat for wild lizards.”

The boulders Schill shows me are enormous.  Could people actually use that much trash? Apparently so. According to estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency the average American uses over 1600 pounds of trash of year each and more than half of that ends up in landfill. The Milk Jug piece inspired Schill to show people how much space trash actually took up.

“I’ve been collecting about a year.” Schill explained.  “Because I turn 44 this year, I was going to do 44 pieces but when I got accepted at this space here last [September] (she waved at the enormous sculpture yard)—“I doubled the amount because there was not enough to fill the space.”  She laughs a little wryly “I like to work with unattainable numbers.”glasses

Schill Gazing through a Mural Reflected on her Glasses at the Morris Graves Museum

In order to collect the trash needed to make the 88 “rocks.” She began by putting stuff in a box.  “Anything non-toxic and non-recyclable and not out right gooey—we didn’t want it to start smelling.” Then she dumpedtile

Trash in Tile Style

the box “into a contractor bag-that gave the shape.  I wrap with chicken or aviary wire or both.  About ½ [the rocks] are in recycled wire and ½ new.”

She had a great deal of old wire already because…”my husband’s a carpenter and we have a fixer upper.”  Inside the pieces are everything from “old toothbrushes, used wooden matches, toilet paper wrappers, band-aid wrappers, insulation, paper cups, Mexican chocolate wrappers, old dog toys, Remay ground cover, cardboard milk and 1/2 & 1/2 cartons, rubber gloves, holey socks, sand and cement bags, styrofoam packing material, some pieces of plastic that the dogs dug up in the back yard, tar paper, broken window glass, and the list goes on and on.”

Even though, because of her husband’s construction work, she ended up with large amounts of building material, Schill feels that “…I ended up with about the same as the average 3 person family for the year. …We’re hardcore on recycling … We [only ended up] taking about 1 large bag of garbage to the dump per month.

About a fourth of the pieces are tiled in Schill’s lovely mosaic work (She does fireplaces and other pieces some of which are on display at the delightful Persimmon’s Garden Gallery in Redway.)  One below is pictured on her blog and greets visitors to her rural home.

But Schill decided not to “mosaic all the rocks because then it would be all about the mosaic and not about the garbage.” Even the 207 pounds of tile she uses is recycled from her other art work and from a donation of broken tile from Eel River Glass and Tile in Fortuna

In fact, the small plaques which contain her signature, the date and the number of the piece which are embedded in each “rock” are, as Schill explains on her blog, “cutout of “recycled 1/2 inch copper pipe that I have cut into 1/2 inch pieces, and flattened with pliers.”

(Photo from her blog.)

The finished tile pieces are quite beautiful.  Below is shown The Big One, a 400 pound piece, ready for hauling from the Schill’s Bridgeville home to Eureka’s Morris Graves’ Museum.

Photo from Shill’s blog

Each individual piece is available for sale at the show which is opening this Saturday night at Arts Alive.  May 2, 2009, 6-9PM.  After that, Gallery hours are Wed-Sun.  Noon-5pm


With her current pieces garnering so much attention, Schill has already begun working on a “Wall of Trash” as pictured below.  The lizards in her rural home are delighted.(photo from Schill’s blog)

Hopefully, the rest of us will see the wall of trash we all are building and find a way to reduce, reuse, and recycle more—a lot more.


Update: Humboldt Art Walks also is enthused about Schill’s work.



  • I’m astounded! I would never ever have thought of making art out of non-recyclables. I like her snowman. And why not use the undecorated “boulders” as natural-looking decorations in the yard. They actually look quite natural in the photos.

  • Future archaeologists will conclude we viewed manufactured goods as holy and worthy of ceremonial burial.

    Dark tangent: I could see people buying these “rocks” as custom pet tombs… stick your departed hamster in a metal tin and turn him into a backyard mosaic stepping stone. Kitty becomes a bird bath. And so forth. It sure beats wrapping ’em in a paper towel and thinking about avoiding gardening in “that” section of the yard for years to come.

  • I wonder what kind of structural integrity you could achieve with this technique; could the blocks be used in building?

    It occurred to me one day at the “transfer” station (transfering crap from my car to a pile on the concrete floor) that I had PAID for all the garbage I was now paying to get rid of. Now I’m viewing it all with a more creative eye.

    There are many amazing artists like the Schills out there: if you google “upcycle” you’ll find inspiring items around the world. “Art for Housewives” is a great blog that has dozens of links to “trashion” and “garbologists” who have transformed potential landfill into clothing, shelter, toys, landscapes, musical instruments…

  • I was skeptical when I heard what she was doing but the art is wonderful–especially the tiled pieces. And I love the new wall she is doing.

    Bluelaker, I like her snowman, too, especially in the snow. That was her Christmas card last year.

    AJ, I cracked up at the thought of the sacred trash burial. And maybe she should make little pet casket shapes with crosses on them so no vampire goldfish arise from the dead.

    Kato, You’ve got me thinking. Strawbale sounds green but recycled trash–now that is environmentally sound. I keep looking at the trash wall and wondering about the possibilities.

  • Kym, I believe dead goldfish are FLUSHED so that probably makes them environmentally friendly already. 🙂

    I also cracked up at the sacred trash burial, AJ.

  • What an interesting article. It’s kinda nice to know that the artist is local, so we could view the assorted works.

  • Bluelaker, You flush a beloved pet?!! I’m shocked.

    Dave, I don’t think I can make the opening but I definitely want to go see the finished product. I’m going to be in Eureka on Friday and I plan on peeking through the bars at the sculpture garden to see what I can see.

  • Not me, I would never do that! LOL Actually I do remember having a goldfish when I was about 10 years old, and I also remember that it died young. I do not remember flushing it, but I’ll betcha Grandma did!

  • I am so glad that you have gone to the new blog format!!! It is so much easier on the eyes, and it complements your fine photography.

    I think that the garbage idea stinks, it should be recycled or it belongs in a landfill where it will eventually be recycled.

  • Bluelaker, Maybe a little cross on the toilet seat?

    Ernie, I love the way the comment section is. I’m less sure about the rest.
    You should go look at the art up at the Morris Grave’s Museum. I think you might be surprised at how interesting and even beautiful it is. It certainly brings home the amount of trash one family uses. It inspired me to be more careful and I’m fascinated by the idea of building garden walls with it.

  • Thank you so much for doing this post. My mom has been working on these for so long it’s nice to get the word out. I hope everyone that reads this at least stops by at some point to peek through the bars and check it out, it’s really amazing. Thanks again Kym

    • Mara, I loved doing this. I’ve gotten very excited about her art. My pictures did not do the enormity of the piece justice.

  • I will concede in a heartbeat that the art is beautiful, but somehow I don’t think that I can get away with compacting my old TV sets, flourecent tibes, and electronics into a concrete tomb. I’m sure that someboby will find something wrong with it.

    • Yikes, I’m picturing Monica’s next piece with a tv screen peeking out of a boulder!

    • Thank you for all of the discussion of my work. There are no fluorescents or electronics in the art. I’m not sure what their long term effect would be, so I’ve left them out.

  • I really like your new blog format. I forgot to say that this morning. It’s a lot easier on the eyeballs!

  • I liked the other format, but I have to agree that the comment section is more to my liking and easier on the eye. I am unsure what you thought was not working in the other format, as I was able to click on links in the comments and go where they led me.

  • Bluelaker, the links didn’t highlight so unless you knew they were there or passed your mouse over them, you missed them. I tried and tried to fix it. Even upped to paying wordpress but I still couldn’t change that aspect.

  • Good work, congratulations Monica, and thanks Kym for the report.

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