Great Bowls of Fire
Recycled-materials artist John T. Unger, whose work includes fire bowls such as this one, will host a public art project, in which participants can help make a fish sculpture out of bottle caps, during the 2011 Art Sea Festival on June 11 at S.W. 51st Street in Lincoln City. This year’s event also features a vendor fair at the Lincoln City Cultural Center.

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John T. Unger is an artist with a passion for found materials. He creates works from everyday objects often discarded as used up, void of life.

"If my job as an artist is to fill the world with more things, I feel that I should also remove unused or unwanted things from the world in the process in order to make room for the new art," Unger says. "This is one reason I like working with recycled materials."

During the 2011 Art Sea Festival on June 11 at S.W. 51st Street in Lincoln City, John will be helping members of the public scale back and find new life by creating a fish from used bottle caps.

"Bottle caps have long had a place in the folk art tradition as a decorative element," Unger says. "My own bottle cap mosaics were initially inspired by Haitian ritual flags, in which detailed images are realized entirely through the use of sequins. For the process, each cap is sorted by brand or color, washed, dried, punched, partially crimped and finally nailed in overlapping scales to create a feeling of depth, light and shadow. Decorative nail heads emulate the texture of seed beads often used to reinforce the sequins."

The finished project, Unger says, emulates the glisten of a schooling fish.

"The most amazing thing about these fish is the way they interact with light," he says. "When you look at one or two caps from any brand, they're generally not all that impressive. But when you group hundreds of them together and let them catch the sunlight, they truly glow. The combination of the background color with the logo can create color tones that are vibrant and lively and wholly unexpected. What I like most about making the bottle cap fish mosaics is that the overlapping texture of the caps does such a good job of representing scales."

Members of the public are invited to work with Unger and create a community art project from noon to 6 p.m.

For more information about the project or the Art Sea festival, call 800-452-2151 or go to

John T. Unger Biography

John T. Unger's creative mandate is "sustainable design with an edge." He works primarily with recycled or reused materials to minimize impact on natural resources, climate and the environment. His functional art is designed for permanence and is intended to last for generations.

Drawing from primal metaphor and classical elements of design that speak to what it means to be human and alive, he aims to create objects that will never go out of style. Unger feels that successful recycled art and design encourages creativity in others: "It's alchemical, magical, subversive and transformative by nature," he says.

Unger has spent a lifetime in training for his career in the arts. At age 8 he taught himself how to cast recycled lead melted over an open fire and learned to forge intricate toys working with steel, copper, brass and semi-precious stones. After graduating from the writing program at Interlochen Arts Academy, he dropped out of college to pursue a career in poetry, eventually performing at Lollapalooza. Poetry led to an interest in publishing and Unger taught himself graphic design. He worked as a freelance illustrator and designer while developing his fine art and chose to work full time as an artist in 2000.

All of his skills have been acquired through a philosophy of learning by doing. Constant experimentation with different styles, mediums and materials bring a depth and inventiveness to his work.

Unger specializes in combining techniques from different media to create hybrid designs that might be less obvious to an artist with formal training.

Unger's work has been praised in print by "Craft Magazine," "VenusZine," "Variety Magazine," The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Sun Times, The Detroit News and others.

Art Sea Festival Schedule of Events

S.W. 51st Street

  • 11 a.m. - Plein Air Paint Out and Quick "Draw" Registration opens
  • Noon to 2 p.m. - Quick "Draw" Contest - Painters are given two hours to transform a blank canvas into a work of art that will be judged by the Art Sea Street Fair attendees. The winner will receive a three-week showing at the PJ Chessman Art Gallery.
  • Noon to 6 p.m. - Create a community art project with John T. Unger, who will be helping members of the public create a fish made of used bottle caps.
  • Noon to 6 p.m. - Street Fair opens with vendors and free caricatures.
  • Noon to 6 p.m. - Young at Art Recycle Castle Project - Children ages 1 to 100 are invited to construct and paint a box-castle by the sea. All supplies will be provided for this free event. Donations are greatly appreciated and will support Relay for Life Team Lincoln City.
  • Noon to 6 p.m. - Chalk it up on 51st Street - Chalk it up allows the purchase of a 2-by-3-foot square of sidewalk. Fifty squares are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. All materials are provided with a minimum donation to benefit Relay for Life Team Lincoln City.
  • Noon to 2 p.m. - Jacob Merlin Band on stage.
  • 2 to 4 p.m. - Tanner Cundy Duo on stage.
  • 4 to 6 p.m. - Retro Active Gamma Rays on stage.
  • Sunset, 8:45 p.m. - Sky Lantern Release on the Bay Front - Hundreds of sky lanterns will be released at sundown. Sky lanterns are completely biodegradable. It is considered good luck to release a sky lantern and many believe they are symbolic of problems and worries floating away. All sky lantern sales benefit the Children's Cancer Association. Lanterns will be on sale at S.W. 51st Street from noon to 6 p.m.

Lincoln City Cultural Center, 540 N.E. Highway 101

  • 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. - Food, craft and fine art vendors.




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