Trash and Treasure

If the trashday pile has been cleansed of goodies, you may have been visited by Carter and Cunningham.

A garage-band melding of the talents of James Salaiz and Mark Welsh,  Carter and Cunningham transforms forgotten objects into treasures for the décor conscious.  It’s a new endeavor, already covered by important observers of design world, drawn like us to the effervescent resourcefulness of it all.  Co-founder Mark Welsh reveals the appeal of driftwood and other cast-offs. 
Last Christmas, I gave James Salaiz (my partner in life, art and Carter and Cunningham) a brick.  Not just any old terracotta slab, mind you, but a 100 year-old paving brick from the streets of Cincinnati. In return James gave me a silvered Pioneer mirror and a shiny new Bosch drill.  Both of us were delighted.  For while we love a partridge and a pear tree as much as the next holiday consumer, the stocking stuffers that trip our triggers tend to be salvaged, reclaimed and bursting with transformational potential.  Old, silvery mirrors, carved wooden spindles, brass finials, wooden buoys, ten pounds of sculpture clay…these are the things we collect, hoard and eventually repurpose into mirrors and sculptures at Carter and Cunningham, our studio gallery on New York’s lower east side.
The more forgotten and forlorn the materials the better we like them.  The thrill is in the glamorous transformation.  Give us a rusted iron wheelbarrow wheel and we’ll revamp it into a modern table sculpture, lacquered high gloss black and trimmed in gold leaf.  Toss a 1970’s plastic garden owl in James’s path, and he’ll repurpose it as an armature for a very 21st-century ceramic owl sculpture, glazed and mounted beneath a hand blown bell jar (see it on our studio homepage this spring).  Shower us with a few pieces of silvery driftwood (please!) and we’ll whip them into one of our signature mirrors - loosely influenced by Chippendale, Venetian, Moorish and Gothic designs.
Driftwood is our catnip.  We have dragged stumps off beaches and across state lines.  We’ve hauled Hefty garbage bags full of the stuff onto buses and trains and any other form of transport that would take us.  We have even missed the Shelter Island ferry due to a frenzied last minute “driftwood edit.”  Inevitably, our studio is now jammed-to-the-rafters with sticks, planks and logs, all sorted by size, color and potential for decorative flourish.
Despite its rustic provenance, driftwood takes to precious oils and unguents every bit as effectively as so-called “fine” woods.  We have French limed it and oiled it with Tung, painted it with natural wood dyes and rubbed it with waxes of every imaginable tint.  We have even lacquered it with gilt varnish – a fancy finish used to enhance pedigreed wood (not found wood) for centuries.  
Our most recent driftwood and ceramic collaborations are no strangers to such luxurious treatment.  The spindles, planks and Adirondack armchair arms that comprise the “Captain’s” mirror (on this page) have been hand silvered with several coats of gilt varnish, and capped off with James’ ceramic whale tile.  And the “Gothic shaving” mirror (also this page) is made from James’ pewter tiles and ebonized driftwood, waxed and polished to a high sheen.
Despite radical makeovers, each mirror’s components still wear evidence of their humble past.  A knick and a knot here, a few dents from hammer there.  We could’ve erased all these little blemishes and flaws.  But then to our eye, it wouldn’t be perfect.
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