When Patrick Amiot discovers that someone has abandoned a used toaster and an old mailbox on the porch near his roadside sculpture garden outside Sebastopol, he's not annoyed. He's delighted.
"Oh look! Gifts!" the self-styled "junk sculptor" exclaimed.
The artist's zest for other people's refuse has made him a leader in the long-established but increasingly popular genre he calls "recycled art."
"I started out using just what I had, but now people drop stuff in my driveway constantly," he said. "What a gift it is to be able to create something that makes people feel good, using junk that was bound to go to the dump."
Amiot expects some 2,000 visitors to his Gravenstein Highway workshop over the next two weekends, during the annual ARTrails open studio tour, when more than 150 artists countywide will open their doors to the public.
"It's crazy," he said. "There's something about what I do that hits a very sensitive chord with both the average Joe and the collector."
It's nothing new for an artist to create artwork out of scraps, but as popular support has grown for sustainable living and wiser use of resources, "recycled art" has gained a wider audience.
"Art made from recycled materials has very broad appeal," said Khysie Horn, owner of the Quicksilver Mine Co. gallery in Forestville. "People love looking at art and saying, &‘Oh, I know what that was made from.' And it resonates more now, because people know artists are reusing things, and not just throwing them away."
Graton artist Monty Monty reassembles broken toys and turn-of-the-century tools into artworks with sly titles like "Roller Blade," for a butcher's knife mounted on a roller skate. He finds viewers like figuring out what he used to make each piece.
"It's like a three-dimensional puzzle," he said. "It's not just what it is, but also what it was."
Amiot said he loves startling people with his sometimes deliberately garish creations.
"They'll see it, and then they'll squint and look again," he said. "Then they'll go, &‘Oh my God, it's just junk.' But there's no such thing as junk. There no such thing as obsolete materials. It's all good."
Originally a successful ceramic sculptor from Quebec, Amiot (pronounced "Ammy-oh") settled with his wife and artistic partner, Brigitte Laurent, in Sebastopol in 1997.
When Amiot found he couldn't sell his clay sculptures in his new hometown, he began making sculptures out of junk, which Laurent painted in bright, bold colors.
Cast-off farm implements and rusting propane tanks became towering figures of surfers and baseball players, soon taking over the front yards of eager neighbors up and down Florence Avenue near Amiot's home. Now Amiot estimates he has some 200 sculptures scattered all over Sebastopol.
"Sebastopol welcomed this eccentricity. Anyplace else would have kicked me out of town," Amiot said. "It's all about the timing. When I started doing this, Sebastopol and California were open to the concept of celebrating art made out of recycled material."
Now the concept has caught on elsewhere, and Amiot's fame has spread.
"The rest of the world always catches up with California," he said, "so all of the sudden, dealers back East, who are used to selling much more conservative stuff, are showing this type of work."