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Dennis O'Donnell

“Junque” Farm Sculptures
Frederic, WI

Dennis O’Donnell. Photo by Bob Rashid.Making art out of old stuff is not a new idea. Creative people have always found inventive uses for ordinary things. 

But recycled art is even more special when it is linked with an occupation. A worker might take materials from his or her occupation, imagine a different use for them, and make a new object that is artistic. This kind of art can show pride, humor, or opinions about the occupation.

Take a look at these occupational art creations by machinist Roy Treder of Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company in Milwaukee.

Getting the Joke

Have you ever heard a joke that you didn’t think was funny? You may have thought it wasn’t funny because you didn’t understand it. When other farmers in Dennis’s community see his art, they understand the joke. They think it is funny to see a tractor seat used as a bird’s body, or a horseshoe used as a cowboy’s legs. Other farmers see the humor in Dennis’s junque art because they recognize machine parts from tractors, milking machines, combines and harrowers being used in new ways.  

"Farmaque" junque art made by Dennis O’Donnell. Photo by Ruth Olson.Dennis’s art is fun and he makes it with lots of humor. He even gave it a name that is a joke. Instead of calling it “junk” art, Dennis named it “junque” art. He uses the spelling “junque” because that is how Americans might playfully guess how “junk” is spelled in French. Americans usually think of the French people and French art as high-class. Dennis’s art is not high-class because it is rustic and made from scrap materials. By naming it “junque” art, Dennis is making his art sound high-class, even though it is made out of trash. That’s the joke.

Community Bonds

Dennis sells some of his art through galleries to people he never meets. But Dennis also gives some of his art away to people he knows in his community. The art he makes for them is personalized and says something about that person. For example, Dennis gave a junque art bird to his veterinarian.

Dennis gave a miniature tractor that had tiny moving parts to the Chief of Police. The Chief is not a farmer, but he and Dennis had a running joke about the Chief being a “wanna-be farmer.” The Chief loves tractors and enjoys puttering with them in the field, so Dennis made him a tiny one. This piece of junque art shows that Dennis knows and likes the Chief. It’s a symbol of their joking relationship.

The junque sculptures Dennis creates are more than just Shovelbird. Photo courtesy of Dennis O’Donnell.junk. They’re expressions of Dennis’s individual creativity. They’re playful examples of a deep knowledge about dairy farming. They’re symbols of relationships with neighbors. For people who have moved off farms and now live in cities, they are whimsical symbols of rural life. 

Try making your own junque art. If you know a person in your community who makes junque art, talk with that person about it. And keep your eyes open—the next time you’re on a trip, look for local “junque”! Don’t be afraid to talk to the artist. Ask them where they get their supplies and why they make it. You can find the link for a gallery of junk art made by other students on Resources for Students, as well as the link for Dennis’s official homepage. 

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“I found out that anything that’s useful does not sell. It’s the truth.”

– Dennis O’Donnell

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