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One man’s trash

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How an artist gives litter new life

By Michael Somerby EBS ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

FOUR CORNERS – The Brumitts live in a Four Corners warehouse unit adjacent to a granite and semi-precious stone countertop vendor, but their front door stands out from the corrugated metal and muted, earthy tones of the building’s exterior; the eve protecting it is laced in colorful Christmas lights and a large, metal sun dangles from one of its beams.

Inside, one finds a house of art, where everything is handmade, from the bench upon which Julie sits to the painting of a barn Ed once lived in, framed by wood from the structure itself. A cat sleeps atop a reclaimed wood wine rack. A vinyl record spins upon a turntable, and the faint aroma of vanilla wafts from a candle set in front of an antique scale laden with gemstones.

Beside it, Ed Brumitt’s workstation looks like a heap of trash—indeed, it is—with dismembered parts of forgotten and tossed aside knick knacks, widgets and machines spread out under the light of a desk lamp. He sits there daily, quietly arranging parts.

A black plastic screw top cap fits nicely onto a metal bolt threaded through a metal binder clip.

“It’s like it was made for it,” Brumitt murmurs, not looking up from his hands which repeatedly screw and unscrew the cap from the bolt. “It’s like it was made for it.”

Ten years ago, Brumitt began taking bits of trash and fashioning them into figurines, “Trashbots,” as he originally called them, with the intent of creating a game where people could upgrade their trashbot with new pieces of garbage. Now, he blankets his ever-growing, ever-evolving universe of characters with the term “Humunculus,” a mutation of “homunculus,” Latin for “little person.” 

The citizens of Humunculus aren’t exactly human, but they’re not lacking in character and personality. A farmer with a rake and brass hat stares kindly through washer eyes; a golfer clad in rainbow wiring and a little tam o’ shanter hat prepares for a chip with his miniature wedge—you can practically hear his brogue; a fisherman in red and yellow plastic waders excitedly holds a fish in one hand and his rod high in the other. You can feel the spirit Brumitt passed on to each character, a sometimes-painstaking process that can take months before the just-right orphaned pieces present themselves.

For Brumitt, this novel approach to recycling broken and discarded materials is not done for monetary gains but to “keep busy,” as he only gives away pieces as gifts. He’s humble, even dismissive of the craft. “It’s just trash,” he says, which Julie rolls her eyes to. The adage “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” recognizes “trash” as a subjective term.

“He’s just so creative, everything he does is creative,” Julie says.  

Brumitt finds his materials on walks, searching roadsides for anything inorganic that might find its way into the composition of a new citizen. Sometimes friends and family will bring him items to use, leaving them on his doorstep. He has a few items stockpiled, such as a grocery bag filled with empty and defunct BIC Lighters. The final creations may just be trash in his eyes, but that’s 40 or so pieces of gas-lined plastic that won’t make it to landfill.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” he echoes. “You know, I never really thought of it that way, but I guess it really is.”

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