Earth Day parade, celebration set for Saturday

photo by: John Young

A trailer decorated with painted flowers pulls parade participants down Massachusetts Street during the annual Earth Day parade in 2014.

Nick Schmiedeler is committed to eco-friendly practices in his art, but he doesn’t like to get all philosophical about it.

“It’s what I’ve always focused on, just because I enjoy trips to the junkyard anyway,” says Schmiedeler, whose Missouri Street yard has become something of a folk-art destination in recent years, even garnering a spot on HGTV’s “Home Strange Home” for its myriad whirligigs, mobiles and other castoffs-turned-treasures. “I try working with 100 percent recycled materials all the time.”

His latest creation, a 6-foot, 500-pound metal sculpture he’s calling “Evolving Auger,” is no exception. The piece, designed and built by Schmiedeler and longtime buddies Pat Slimmer and Kobie Kobler, will be displayed, judged and auctioned off (with 60 percent of proceeds benefitting Van Go, Inc., and the rest going to the artists) at Saturday’s Earth Day celebration in South Park.

The 16th annual event, slated for 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and once again hosted by the city of Lawrence’s solid waste division, will feature a handful of metal sculptures produced by local artists in Advantage Metals Recycling’s “Scrap Showdown” contest. In keeping with the Earth Day theme, all materials were repurposed from the company’s yard of scrap metals.

Jenica Nelson, a waste reduction and recycling specialist with the city’s solid waste division, is coordinating this year’s Earth Day celebration. She expects about 2,000 people to attend the free South Park festivities, plus another 200 in the Earth Day parade, which is organized by KU Environs and will begin in Buford Watson Park at 11 a.m. and proceed down Massachusetts Street to the party in South Park.

“We definitely have an emphasis on trying to teach people about some sort of environmental effort, whether that’s reusing materials or what we can do to help wildlife, or water issues,” Nelson says, adding that it’s important to instill mindfulness in children early on in life. “It’s supposed to be an educational opportunity, more than anything. Hopefully they’re learning and taking something away from it.”

But that doesn’t mean the event’s no fun. Among the family-oriented activities this year: live music at the South Park gazebo, free yoga classes every half hour beginning at noon, courtesy of OmTree Shala; face painting and a bouncy house for the kiddos; food vendors and dozens of informational exhibits; and the ever-popular ReCycle Cycle, a four-wheel pedal car made with recycled materials by Lawrence resident Richard Renner.

In promotion of the eco-friendly festivities, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is providing “bike valet” services free of charge to South Park attendees, and the Lawrence Transit System is offering free bus rides all day Saturday. Botany-inclined visitors can also partake in “tree I.D. tours” of South Park led by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation department.

It’s a fittingly green location for the unveiling of “Evolving Auger,” the scrap-metal piece created by Schmiedeler and his “Team LFK” buddies. After being given an hour to sift through scraps at Advantage Metals Recycling, the artists procured a large industrial metal auger, from which they organically welded and braised steel and copper scraps upward in a tree-like shape.

The piece, with its nature-minded form, represents a life cycle in which forgotten and discarded materials have the chance to be become something new, Schmiedeler says.

There are so many useful and interesting objects being tossed — and loaded onto trunks to the junkyard — every day, the artist adds, having just returned from a junkyard haul himself.

“It’s amazing what can be reused as something beautiful,” Schmiedeler says.