When you see a hubcap on the side of the road, what do you do? If you're like most people, you probably wonder how it got there and keep on walking.
Ptolemy Elrington is not like most people. Instead of walking by, he picks up the hubcap and creates something. We talked to Elrington about how he stumbled on this avocation and why his artistic remainders of the importance of living sustainably are so much more effective than preaching.
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Hubcap eagle
MNN: Why and how did you first start creating art from hubcaps?
Elrington: I kind of stumbled into hubcaps. I started collecting them about 20 years ago (as quite a few other people do, as I have found out) because it seemed such a waste when I saw them lying by the side of the road destined for the landfill. Then I got the idea of making them into things and started collecting them in earnest. I have a few thousand kicking around now.
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A frilled lizard made from recycled car parts

Why hubcaps specifically?

I find hubcaps easy to work with and because their shapes and textures are so varied, they provide me with a novelty aspect during sculpting that doesn’t fade. I find them easy to work with, and that is helpful when I’m facing fresh challenges. The sustainable element is important to me too.

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Horned owl

Why animals?

I started with fish because some of the elements in the raw materials led me in that direction. I’ve expanded into land animals, other sea creatures, insects and birds. Nature is a hugely varied and continually fascinating subject for me. The idea of a natural element portrayed by an unusually non-biodegradable material is an amusing concept to me.

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A chinese dragon made from recycled car parts

What role does sustainability (recycling in particular) play in your art?

Although my initial drive to work like this is centered on satisfying the urge to create, there is a strong sense of environmental consciousness in my work. I like the idea that people look at my work, realize what it is made from and begin to understand that just because something has completed its initial purpose, this doesn’t mean that it has reached the end of its working life. Things can always be repaired, recycled or reused in some way, and our "throw-away" society has to re-learn that. Because our planet's resources will not last forever, I think this is an important lesson – but people do not like to be preached to, so I hope that when people see and enjoy my work a little bit of this message goes in and does some good.

Also, I have strong opinions about the nature of value: to some people, a diamond is a very valuable thing, but to me it is of no interest. When people see an abandoned vacuum cleaner or TV set by the side of the road, they assume it’s worthless, but I like to think that I prove that this is not necessarily the case.

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Turtle made from recycled car parts

Is all of your art created from recycled materials?

Pretty much. I created a commissioned horse for a client once that was specifically based around a line drawing, the qualities which he wanted me to capture weren’t possible with the materials available to me at the time, so I had to buy some in. I made a large piece of work for Ecover in 2013, and in order to satisfy health and safety I had to make the internal supporting structure out of something consistent that they could measure and assess its strength.

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Mirror carp made from hubcaps

Elrington says his favorite sculpture is one of the only ones he's kept for himself — a collection of hubcaps fashioned into a mirror carp.

Here are a few more of our favorites:

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Fox made from car parts
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Octopus made form car parts
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Albatross created from salvaged car parts

To keep up with Elrington's work, or to purchase one of his clever creations, head over to his website, Hubcap Creatures.

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