&‘&‘This is where my entire life really began," says artist Tyler Turkle, handing over a worn Ziploc bag containing a black-and-red flat plastic square about the size of a sheet of paper. Rubbery to the touch, it contorts to any shape you can bend it.
As he describes his "Eureka moment" of discovery, you can almost hear the classic film quote from the 1960s — the generation when Turkle came of age — as a character in "The Graduate" offers a vague snippet of career advice: "One word: Plastics."
But Turkle, 65, would take the cheap synthetic material in his own unique direction. Pouring and molding liquid acrylic, he made art out of black silhouettes on glass window panes, plasticene puddles of color that lie on the floor and rubbery curtains emblazoned with "Visa" and "MasterCard" as commentary on our national obsession with plastic.
Explaining his unusual liquid acrylic process, he seems entirely different from the Tyler Turkle who, as the new executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County, was walking around just an hour ago with bibles in hand and introducing two needy families to their new homes at a Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County dedication ceremony in Sebastopol.
To him it seems normal. For over a decade, he has walked the line between artist and bureaucrat, allowing each side to nurture the other. He chalks it up to "a healthy dose of time management" and "making sure you do the things you have to do in life."
The recent transplant from Tallahassee, Fla., where he was executive director of the Big Bend Habitat for Humanity, told the crowd in Sebastopol, "I can truly say this is a kinder, gentler place. Even though the South is known for its gentility, it's gotten really weird."
For the past 40 years, he's documented Southern eccentrics in Northern Florida, from hard-living rebel novelist Harry Crews to diehard football fans and the politics of a rattlesnake roundup — all featured in his short film documentaries.
His experimental cinematic works have been shown in film festivals and art exhibits, including the yo-yo film "Walk That Dog" featured in a 1970s group exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His filmography is collected in a three-DVD set through the Canyon Cinema film cooperative in San Francisco.
"Wherever you find yourself, you work with what you've got," Turkle says over a cajun scramble breakfast at the Hole in the Wall Restaurant in Sebastopol.
"And that's what I had. For 40 years I had things like "Swine Time" in Climax, Georgia, or the Rattlesnake Roundup or the Gnat Days Festival."
Born and raised in the east Ohio steel belt, Turkle grew up in the town of Alliance, pop. 22,000. His father's side of the family ran a funeral home and his mother's side were farmers.
He would later work a short stint in the local steel mill during college. After graduating with a degree in history from Mount Union College in Alliance, he studied film at Kent State University with experimental filmmaker Richard Myers, who is best known for his film, "Confrontation at Kent State."
From Myers, he learned that "structure could be whatever you wanted it to be. They were just images and you could make what you wanted out of them."