Folk artist creates beauty from cast-away plastic horses
September 5, 2004
On the far east end of Dayton, Alvin Dyer keeps busy giving new life to throw-away children’s rocking horses and halogen lamp stands. The result of his artistic touch are decorative carousel-style horses and the satisfaction of creation.
Before Dyer, a retired pastor from Northern California, began creating carousel horses from rocking horses, he painted saws, milking cans, griddles, and other metal surfaces, usually with mountain and lake scenes.
His folk art pieces are scattered from here to Arkansas and Maine and Minnesota, he said.
“Whatever I can paint on, I paint on,” he said. “I’ve painted hundreds of saws.”
His lessons came from watching Bob Ross’ TV program “The Joy of Painting” on PBS.
“I look at some of the first saws I painted – I’m no artist – they look much better now. and folks liked those.”
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He and his wife, Violet, first painted a rocking horse 10 years ago when their daughter was about to toss out an old one.
Dyer picked up the hobby again three years ago as Violet’s health began to fail.
“It was something that kept me busy, and I could stay here and be with my wife and wait on her,” he said of his partner of 62 years. They have three children, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Violet died Aug. 18, possibly due to Alzheimer’s, however another doctor said fluid in her brain caused her downward mental slide, Dyer explained.
For Dyer, searching for materials, cleaning, mounting and painting found objects help keep his mind off the changes in life. He admits that his hands are getting a little shaky and there are more touch-ups to do than there used to be, but he expects to continue painting as long as he can.
“I’m not an expert at it,” he said recently from his manufactured home on Highway 50 East, where he moved in October to be closer to his son’s family. “It keeps my mind off other things.”
Seeing others’ joy at discovering the recycled art also motivates him to keep at it.
Dyer finds the horses and lamp stands for his craft at flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores and from people who offer him horses they have laying around their homes. The halogen stands provide a solid, weighted base on which the horses “ride.”
He removes the hardware, which he leaves at the flea market for recycling.
Raw materials cost about $40 to $50 for the horses, paint, beads, chains, plastic gems and other accessories – sometimes more if he has to buy the decorations retail. Each horse sells for around $100.
After a good cleaning, each horse gets a coat of gray primer followed by three coats of white. The saddle takes four coats, “so it’s real thick,” Dyer notes.
Once all the painting is completed and touch-ups done, the horses get a coat of Varathane.
“Twenty years from now, they’ll look just as good as they do now.”
Dyer’s current work-in-progress sits on his dining table, painted white with a purple saddle decorated with pink roses. A small herd of brown, beige and black plastic horses hang from the rafters waiting their turn under the brush while another group, brightly painted and decorated, wait in his garage for adoption.
Dyer takes his carousel horses and saws to craft fairs, but most of his sales come from word of mouth.
“I’m not trying to get rich. It’s just a hobby I’m trying to do. If it makes people glad to have them in their home, I’m glad to do it for them.”