One Man’s Junk is artist’s treasure
Construction worker turned sculptor sells whimsical scrap-metal art
Bill Maus of Peters Creek makes sculptures from bits of junk he finds. Maus’ creations can be found for sale on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the parking lot adjacent to the Eagle River Microtel. Maus said he also sometimes sets up shop on Sundays.
It must be her shiny rack. Or maybe it’s the way the gun at her hip points directly out in the same direction as her would-be nipples, which are really two holes in the centers of metallic cones. But the tall buxom scrap-metal robot sculpture has been turning heads in Eagle River lately. And, she’s been drawing people in to One Man’s Junk, a makeshift outdoor shop showcasing the work of scrap metal sculptor Tim Maus.
Since the first week of June, Maus’ work has sat out in front of a trailer in the parking lot adjacent to Microtel Inn & Suites. It’s the life-size robot people first find attractive, Maus said. (Thanks to attachments on her arms, hips and legs, she’s also a wine rack.) Some folks just want to get their picture taken with her. But others stop to peruse the artist’s collection of smaller sculptures. They’re all made from scrap metal; mostly thrown-out car parts. Tall, slender flowers glint silver in the sun next to shelves full of motorcycles, moose, robots and other of Maus’ creations.
“No motorcycle’s the same. No robot’s the same,” Maus said. “’Cause you never have the same pieces, and you never put them together the same way.”
Maus has lived in Peters Creek since he was 12 years old, he said. After he graduated from Chugiak High in 1975, he worked in construction. And, he took over his father’s role as senior pastor at Peters Creek Christian Center in 1995, serving there for nearly 20 years.
But last year, Parkinson’s symptoms sidelined him, and he stepped down. A worker to his core, he was itching for something to do. Last August, while visiting his daughter and son-in-law in Lima, Peru, he found his inspiration. It was a motorcycle made from welded scrap metal in a little tourist-trap type of shop, and he bought it as a gift for a friend.
“I hand carried it on the plane all the way back,” Maus said. “And every guy in the airport as I walked through the terminals, they would turn their heads and look at this thing. The security people would stop and gather around it. I thought, ‘There’s something to this scrap art stuff.’ So I told my wife, ‘I think I could do this.’”
Maus started collecting junk anywhere he could find it. His kids poked fun at him at first, he said, but his crazy idea worked. He made his first couple choppers, and gave them to friends. He kept at it, and by December a few people who saw his work asked to buy it. His first sale was for a motorcycle sculpture — $300. He made another $700 in sales the same day. A friend he knew said he could use her lot to sell his work when summer came. He started up the first weekend of June, and had buyers right away.
“The problem is I can only make so much,” Maus said. “With my Parkinson’s, I can’t do nearly as much as I used to.”
He said he’s not sure he could keep up with pace if he started making sculptures to sell at additional venues, such as weekend markets in Anchorage. For now, he thinks he’s going to limit himself to selling his scrap-metal art in Eagle River.
Maus said he’s always had a knack for learning how to build just about anything, but added that there’s a secret to that.
You gotta love screwing up, he said.
He learned that from his uncle, Bill Maus, who passed away in late May. Tim Maus’ dad sent him to live and work with his uncle during the summers after Tim turned 14, because he’d decided it was time the young Maus learn a trade. He got $1.50 an hour for the informal apprenticeship in construction, and got some life lessons to boot.
Maus said he watched his uncle screw up a lot of things, and that taught him not to be afraid to try new things and make mistakes.
He once saw his uncle, who’d never put together a concrete batch plant in his life but wanted to do concrete, construct one out of assorted junk that was lying around his lot. Bill Maus had no idea what he was doing, Tim said. He just jumped in and did it.
It’s the way Tim Maus approaches his sculptures, too, he said.
“I find I’m a product of him. I’ll start, and it’ll start coming to me as I’m building.”
That process does get frustrating at times, Maus said. Like the time in 1995, when Tim Maus decided to build a boat so he could go down the Koyukuk River moose hunting.
His friends told him that was crazy. They pointed out that he didn’t even know how to weld, much less build a boat. Which was true. He ended up blowing a bunch of holes in the boat while he was trying to weld a seam down the middle.
“I’m almost crying, I’m thinking, ‘I’m ruining it,’” he said. “I finally patched it up. It never leaked.” That boat carried him on moose hunting trips for three summers with no problems, and his friends asked if they could come along.
“It can be expensive,” he said. “You cut your boards wrong ten times, well, you learn how not to cut ‘em. I’ve cost myself some money learning how to do something.”
But Maus said it’s also how he gets good quickly at things he’s never tried before. He said people see his sculptures and tell him he’s talented, but his real gift is his attitude, which he learned from watching his uncle.
“I developed that mind set of you just go for it,” Maus said. “If you screw up, you learn more by your mistakes than you do anything else.”
Mary Lochner is a freelance writer from Eagle River. Write her at email@example.com.