Twenty Cape-based artists create mixed-media pieces using nails, wallpaper, windows and wood salvaged from John and Jacqueline Kennedy’s Hyannisport cottage.Text by Bill O’Neill | Photography by Ben Hughes
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. But how priceless is the treasure when it comes from the trash of a beloved president?
When Edward Kennedy Jr. and his wife, Kiki, renovated a Hyannisport cottage that had once belonged to his uncle and aunt, John and Jacqueline Kennedy, they sensed that there might be some way to repurpose the debris, which included old vents, unused wallpaper and lots and lots of scrap wood.
After consulting with staff members at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, they decided the material could best be used by local artists. The result is a special exhibit that showcases work made with materials salvaged from the Hyannisport cottage during its recent renovation. The exhibit kicked off in April at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth and will be moved around to Cape arts organizations and public showcases throughout the year. Some of the art will also be featured in an international auction in August, while other pieces will be sold at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum.
“They saved every nail, every screw, every window, every scrap of wallpaper,” says Lauren Wolk, associate director of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod and one of the 20 participating artists. The artists are all Cape-based and each has extensive experience creating art with mixed media.
The renovation leftovers were stored in several storage containers on the property and some were taken to the basement of the Main Street museum. The artists who were invited to be part of the project were allowed to poke through the scraps and look for inspiration before they requested individual pieces. “We were stunned by the possibilities,” says Wolk.
Mike Wright of Provincetown was on her way to Baltimore when she stopped by the museum. The procedure called for artists to request a piece of material by attaching a sticky note.
“I tagged whatever attracted my eye, and I got every piece I wanted but one,” says Wright.
While Wright was selecting her material, JFK Museum Foundation executive director John Allen came down to the basement to say hello. He was on the phone with Kiki Kennedy, who came over to the museum to meet Wright.
The museum monitored everything that went in and out, according to Clare O’Connor, director of economic initiatives for the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, which collaborated with the museum to organize the project.
O’Connor says the process of dividing the material was “good-humored and collegial. Two artists might both want a piece, but they’d talk and one would say, ‘Oh, I think that makes more sense for your project.’”
Two artists were interested in using a roll of wallpaper. As it was unrolled, it tore, so they each got half. When an artist who came later on said she wanted some of the wallpaper, one of the first two decided not to use it and brought it back.
O’Connor says the Kennedy aura was on each artist’s mind as they researched their pieces. “Some people had personal stories of connecting with them. They’d say, ‘My grandmother lived across the street or I’d see them going to church or the beach.’ They were so accessible.”
Carl Lopes was in sixth grade when the president was assassinated. “I remember where I was and I remember the Hyannis Armory address on election night,” says Lopes. “These things are ingrained in my head. His ideals were phenomenal to me. You need to stand up for ideals that are morally sound, especially when it comes to tolerance for differences. That’s an important part of his legacy.”
Lopes says part of what made this project intriguing was that “the material would be unorthodox in a regular studio.”
His piece is a 4-foot-square mixed-media painting of an eagle. He created feathers from weathered cedar shingles and pieces of an aluminum vent. The beak and claws were cut from an old copper light. He also used holographic paper and airbrushed acrylic paint.
Wright mostly selected scraps of painted wood. She said she looked for pieces with interesting shapes and repetitive lines.
One piece is a 4-½-foot-high column with aged, cracking white paint. “I’m always looking for good surface textures,” says Wright. “It looks like it’s had a lot of use in its life.”
Wright is working on an abstract wooden portrait of JFK, which she’ll place on top of the pedestal. “The myth of Camelot has always been of interest to me,” says Wright. “We’re all going to be so unique. I can’t wait to see what everyone’s come up with.”
Skip Treglia makes sculptures of nautical pieces, especially large fish, using reclaimed and found materials. “This project was right up my line,” says Treglia. “For people who don’t work with that kind of material, it must have been strange to look around the museum basement.”
He decided to create a representation of the Victura, a 25-foot Wianno Senior sloop given to JFK by his parents as a 15th birthday gift.
At the initial meeting of artists, he noticed a small bronze statue in the room, based on the iconic photo of John Jr.’s salute after the president’s funeral. He included a silhouette image of the salute in his work. “I wanted it to be subtle,” says Treglia.
Lauren Wolk created an angel made from a big post from the widow’s walk, an attic vent and shingles. She also used a small window to frame some of her favorite JFK quotes.
Wood from the widow’s walk was taken by the Cape Cod Woodturners and will be made into goblets and candlesticks. Other artwork will be crafted by Cape Abilities clients, following a prototype by assemblage artist Donna Mahan.
“When it’s down to a bucket of nails,” says Mahan, “we’ll bring in a jeweler to make a necklace and we’ll be done.”