Patrick Amiot, known in Sonoma County for transforming junk into distinctive, whimsical art, has had lots of people ask him to create custom pieces. But a man who approached him last year was different.
The Canadian didn’t request a sculpture of his wife or son or dog. He wanted a little fire truck that kids could ride at a convention center his company, the Remington Group, was building outside of Toronto.
Amiot recalled the conversation: “I said, ‘A kiddie ride. Isn’t that kind of small for a convention center? Why don’t we do something bigger?’”
“Like what?” the developer asked.
“Let’s do a carousel,” Amiot replied. He just threw it out there. A week later the developer gave the green light, and Amiot began creating a merry-go-round like no other.
The carousel, nearing completion, is 50 feet in diameter and has 44 sculpted metal figures to ride, among them: a gigantic beaver with buck teeth, a big gray dog, a bumblebee, a rabbit with huge curved ears and eyes made from old taillights, a moose, a school bus reading “ECOLIERS” in front, and a cow driving a pickup.
The carousel, named the Pride of Canada, is not just for looks: it goes up and down, round and round, thanks to solar power and a state-of-the-art motor. Amiot would only say that he will be paid “six figures” for the work.
The characters on the carousel reflect varied aspects of Canada. There’s a barrel going over Niagara Falls that’s accessible for the disabled, and each piece has a license plate from a Canadian province. Not coincidentally, the paint on each sculpture matches the color of its license plate.
Every piece is made from junk that would have been tossed into landfills. Amiot scours wrecking yards, flea markets and dumps to find rusted water tanks, old vacuum cleaners, spent fire extinguishers and other debris he fashions into art.
“They asked me if I can make drawings, and I just said no,” Amiot said about members of the Bratty family, owner of the Remington Group. “I took a big chance … because they could have turned around and said, ‘No drawings, no contract.’ But I think this gentleman believed in me enough to understand that I work with junk. I can seduce them with all sorts of pretty drawings, but the reality is it’s not going to look like the drawings.”
Slender, energetic and quick to unleash his staccato laugh, Amiot explained that he doesn’t know what a piece will look like until it’s finished. “I’m not sure until the very last day. I don’t know what I’m going to do because I don’t know what (pieces) I’m going to find. That’s really the best way to work as an artist.”
Friends and neighbors bring Amiot all sorts of treasures, such as old garden tools and car parts, which become incorporated into his work. He speaks rhapsodically about the objects, like hubcaps that “have their own spirit” because they’ve traveled hundreds of thousands of miles over scalding asphalt and winter prairies.
“Some people think I give new life to these objects, but I just extend their lives,” Amiot explained. “It just keeps going.”
A French Canadian, Amiot, 54, carved out a niche in eastern Canada by making clay figures, including hockey players. By 1997, he wanted to leave the Montreal area and move to the U.S.
Taste of Sonoma
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 (Gates open at 11 a.m. for Club Reserve ticket holders)
Where: Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park
Cost: $180 for general admission; $255 for Club Reserve (with Visa Signature: $150 general, $225 Club Reserve.) Additional passes must be purchased for Sommelier Talks, Sommelier Tours, the Blind Tasting Challenge, and K-J wine and food pairing.
Transportation: Shuttle buses will run from five locations around the county, including Sonoma, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park. Tickets range from $20 to $40.
Other activities: As part of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, there are winemaker lunches and dinners on Friday, Sept. 1, and winemaker barbecues on Sunday, Sept. 3.
To reserve: sonomawinecountryweekend.com.