Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

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Artistic Found ations... Rich Branstrom

Kristi Kates - April 20th, 2009
Artistic “Found”ations
The Recycled Art of Ritch Branstrom

By Kristi Kates

If you live in or visit Northern Michigan, chances are you’ve seen the work of Rapid River ‘found object’ artist Ritch Branstrom. In addition to the traditional artist venues, such as galleries and festivals, Branstrom’s creations are also a big part of Emmet County’s Recycling Program.
Does “Emmet the Recycling Robot” ring a bell? That’s right - Branstrom is the talent behind the distinctive “Ashcan Aliens” - all named Emmet, although they each have a different appearance - that are poised next to five of the county’s recycling centers. The sculptures draw attention to the informative recycling signs at the drop-off sites. But the “Emmets” are only the tip of the artwork where Branstrom’s work is concerned.

Born in Detroit to a mechanic father, Branstrom inherited several uncles who were home builders, and he grew up watching all of them “getting things done,” as he puts it.
“When I was growing up, I just started taking things apart,” he says, “watches, radios, speedometers, anything I got my hands on. I put a toolbox on my tricycle, moved onto modifying bikes and building forts, and then as I got older, cutting up cars and trucks. I always had parts left over, and sometimes... they looked like things.”
Branstrom attempted school, attending Michigan Tech for a while; but a .04 GPA made him wonder if he was cut out for the traditional education system. He soon found out it wasn’t school itself, but choice of classes; he left Michigan Tech for NMU, and turned his GPA from a .04 to a 4.0 by taking every studio class he could, from jewelry and blacksmithing to illustration, woodworking and ceramics. Soon, his artistic sensibilities began to find their place.
Branstrom started out crafting earrings out of the unfortunate material of deer hooves. “People thought they were coral, or shell, and they were intrigued - I mean, the earrings were beautiful - but after people discovered what they were made out of, they weren’t so thrilled,” he laughs. “It was a learning experience.”
After a few additional experiments with crafting portable wooden chairs, Branstrom found himself gravitating towards found objects, much like the leftovers from the earlier deconstructions of his youth. But he still lacked a focus.
“The major thing that really pushed me into the found object sculptures was that my father got brain cancer, and I was only one of the four sons that didn’t have a job - thus I didn’t have a ‘life,”’ he explains, “so I spent a year helping out my mother everyday, and making sculpture out in the garage the rest of the time. That’s when it really started; that was some of my best work.”

For the past 20 years, Branstrom has been collecting things: “Anything that has potential,” he says. He finds things alongside the road, on the beach, in the woods; people bring him random objects, and he himself collects car hoods, chrome bumpers, and old farm equipment. What other people might think of as trash, Branstrom - to use a cliched phrase - turns into treasure.
Someone of his most popular art objects are his quirky “can fish,” which are made from soup, pop, or beer cans, and are given personality through their bottlecap eyes and scavenged material fins.
“I create a lot of different work, but the fish have proven to be the most popular,” Branstrom says, “they are a prime example of utilizing the landscape of upper Michigan as inspiration, and a source of raw material; fishing is a way of life for many, and castoff cans are an abundant natural resource in the U.P. I’m just using what’s readily available, and making what I see.”
Branstrom’s vision extends well beyond the Emmets and the fish. The first large pieces he ever worked on were two worms - one 65 feet and one 20 feet - made out of mining equipment tires in Marquette. They were his first large-scale works, and still reside in the Picnic Rocks Park.
In addition to the worms, there are plenty of other art pieces; Branstrom’s constructed a giant canoe out of found metal objects - including a quartered-up auxillary fuel tank from a WWII bomber, license plates, leftover chunks of stamped ceiling, and metal shelving - assembling the canoe utilizing the techniques used in building a traditional birch bark canoe.
He’s created an entire “heavy metal sax band” (pun intended) of life-size metal characters.
And he just had a proposal accepted for a piece of public art that will be displayed in Escanaba - a larger-than-life iron buck deer, to coincide with the native language translation of Escanaba as “land of the red buck.”
As far as Branstrom’s connection with Emmet County, that project began to take shape over 10 years ago, when Branstrom was living for a time in Chicago.

“I sold a metal flying bird of prey to a man who said it was a gift for his daughter who lived in Michigan,” he explains, “he said she was crazy about recycling and would really like it. A few years later I was exhibiting at Blissfest when I met the daughter, Elisa Seltzer; it turned out she worked for Emmet County as head of the waste management program, so she really WAS crazy about recycling.”
The following year, Emmet County held a call for entries for recycling robots; Branstrom’s artistic proposal was accepted - all five Emmet robots, plus one tire man. The robots stand sentry at the recycling bins, and have proved to be both helpful in drawing attention to recycling, and a photo draw for tourists and residents alike.
The Emmet robots helped garner more attention for Branstrom’s work. In addition to his pieces being displayed at the Emmet County recycling centers, he also has pieces at the Hramiec Hoffman Gallery in Harbor Springs, and recently started showing at the Michigan Artists Gallery in Suttons Bay. He’s been a returning artist at Blissfest, and will also appear at the Wheatland Music Festival in September 2009.

Branstrom never seems to stop moving or creating his unique artwork, and always seems to be developing new and more challenging ideas for his own projects. He draws inspiration from “all kinds of things - mythology, popular culture, poems,” or simply because he’ll find something and it will remind him of something else. But perhaps his biggest project to date is his own homestead.
“My homestead is an ongoing project which I’ve been collecting material for and working on since 1994,” he says. “My home is embellished with material from nearly everyone and everything around me. I operate like the hermit crab, that sticks all kinds of debris together to create its domicile - adhoc architecture, for a specific use, purpose, or situation. That’s been a dream of mine since childhood - to create my own home.” (Adhoc Workshop also being the name of Branstrom’s studio in downtown Rapid River.)
“As far as a dream as of late, I’ve been dreaming of having a studio set up where I could employ and provide things to do for friends who want to help and work. I’ve been putting together a can fish factory - thanks to a poor economy, I have a number of friends who are unemployed and want to help out. So my major dream of being able to work with and help my friends, as well as being organized and increasing production, is becoming a reality. That’s what is really cool.”

What’s also really cool is that, especially in this day and age of overconsumption and dwindling resources, Branstrom has honed his own way of crafting unusual and striking artwork that reuses, recycles, and repurposes things that would often otherwise go completely to waste. But he remains humble in his approach, and simply melds his artwork and his recycling into his everyday life, as more of us probably should.
“Found art is becoming more prevalent, I guess, because recycling is becoming more mainstream,” he says, “so in some ways, found art is becoming the new ‘hot’ thing. But for me, it’s what I do. I enjoy it. There is no separation between life and work; it is all one,” he chuckles, “I have a hard time going to the store for groceries, and not picking up some object along the way.”

Find out more about Ritch Branstrom’s artwork online at www.adhocworkshop.com.

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