Upcycled art: Cary native uses old tires, found objects to make sculptures
Cary native Tani Ojeda has a menagerie of wildlife for sale from his family's Wonder Lake garage. But there's no need to call McHenry County Animal Control -- these frogs, swans and the oversize crocodile are mostly made out of used tires.
"I feel like I'm helping the environment, because everyone is trying to find a way to get rid of these tires," said Ojeda, 44, in a telephone interview. "I feel like I'm helping the community, and I'm helping make somebody else's yard unique and different."
A self-described "grease monkey," Ojeda previously used other car parts to make things like coffee tables and nightstands. But they were too heavy and didn't sell well.
Ojeda then hit upon the idea of used tire sculptures about a year ago. The moment of inspiration came to him in a dream when he had a conversation with his late mother-in-law.
"My mother-in-law was always big about her garden," said Ojeda, adding that many of his colorful animal creations can also double as garden planters.
"It's so creative," said Barrington resident Jennifer Myers. "And it's a smart way to upcycle."
Myers recently commissioned and purchased Ojeda's first black swan sculpture after seeing previous white versions. Myers added that Ojeda's unconventional use of tires reminded her of the late Chicago sculptor John Kearney (1924-2014), who used car bumpers to make animals.
Ojeda's work goes beyond the animal kingdom. Some of his best-selling pieces are palm trees made with motorcycle tires.
"One time I went to a Honda shop to look for more tires," Ojeda said. "I walked in and the owner goes, 'I know you! You're the palm tree guy. Do you need tires?' And I had never met him before."
Ojeda's full-time job is a chemical operator for Huntsman in Ringwood. But his tire art hobby also keeps him and his family busy.
Ojeda's wife, Angela, largely manages sales via a Facebook Marketplace page called "MrTanis World." Their two kids -- nicknamed "zooglets" as an in-family joke -- also help out in cleaning and prepping the used tires.
As a child of the 1970s and early '80s, Ojeda remembers playground equipment made out of oversized and used tires. Many were removed when they proved to be mosquito breeding grounds, so Ojeda said he always drills holes in the bottom of his creations to avoid that problem.
Despite the quarantine tied to the coronavirus, Ojeda says his tire art is still in demand. He's made hundreds of tire sculptures, and he said that customers often come back for more.
"I may commission another piece," said Myers, acknowledging a certain amount of fun kitsch to Ojeda's animal creations. "I'd love to see if he could do something more truly abstract."
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Garden art advice
Amanda Thomsen, a Palos Park-based landscaper and author of the book & blog "Kiss My Aster," was set to do a lecture on upcycling objects to create garden art at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. The lecture has been postponed, but Thomsen shared this advice:
When adding reused, vintage, salvaged or upcycled items in your yard, first look for items in the right scale for your yard. A unique piece, if too small, is a bit of a waste. Also look for pieces that are safe for all, including neighborhood animals, so this means no sharp edges, lead paint, toxic leakages or mosquito harbors.
Sadly, most garden art (upcycled or not) often needs to fit into our neighbors' standards as well, that's where thick hedges and tall fences come into play.