Joe LaMantia Creates Community Art With Volunteers, Using Found Objects

Joe LaMantia’s re-creation of ‘The Old Man (Yellow Beard)’. Courtesy photo

BY SUSAN M. BRACKNEY

Collaboration and inclusivity just might be Joe LaMantia’s most important art supplies. The 70-year-old artist has worked on community art installations in Bloomington and beyond for more than 20 years. “When I approach working with a school or community organization, I listen to what people have to say about what they’re looking for or what they’d like to have,” LaMantia says. “Then I take all those ideas and synthesize them.”

LaMantia has long seen value and possibility in everyday castoffs. “As a kid I used to roam the streets, picking up things that were just beautiful. Things that were crushed. Metal things. Plastic things. I just enjoyed looking at them,” he says.

Decades later, he routinely repurposes found objects, from auto parts to scraps of yarn, creating collaborative pieces with volunteers from the community.

Recently, Ed Maxedon, curator of education at the Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art, secured LaMantia’s services to recreate The Old Man (Yellow Beard), by painter Alexei von Jawlensky. LaMantia collaborated with roughly 100 volunteers over three days to recreate the portrait in the spirit of Vik Muniz, another artist known for his original use of salvaged and repurposed materials. An exhibition of Muniz’ work was recently on view at the museum. 

“When Joe went around gathering donations for materials, one of the places he went to was Textillery Weavers. They gave him boxes full of yarn that had been cut off of old warping reels from the looms,” Maxedon says. The yarn was a tangle of colors. “Bloomington High School South students in Stephanie Benham’s class actually sorted all the individual colors,” Maxedon notes.

After the piece was finished, Maxedon was happy to learn Bloomington South was interested in exhibiting the work. He explains, “I thought, ‘That’s perfect!’ The people who did all the background work should have that piece.”

LaMantia is proud of the finished product. “You really should see it in person,” LaMantia says. “The texture! And we used a truck hood and three van doors. You don’t notice that right away. It’s a subtle surprise. That’s what it’s all about.”

Artist Joe LaMantia. Photo by Rodney Margison

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