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Junk in Love

One man’s trash is another man’s art supplies

Author Liz Blood Photography Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images (Cathedral of Junk)

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TEXAS – Vince Hannemann stands outside his home in suburban South Austin, sipping coffee and smiling.

“These are all brand new,” he says, gesturing at a small heap of grubby catalytic converters, cracked circuit boards, and other bits of debris. What he means is these items are new to him, freshly retrieved from neighborhood garbage cans.

Hannemann, 52, is no ordinary trash picker. He is the creator of the Cathedral of Junk, a 33-foot-tall backyard edifice built entirely out of stuff that people have thrown away. He began work on the structure in the late 1980s, for no other reason than he thought it would be cool. Today, his three-level, 200-ton structure has become a popular local attraction.

“If there’s one thing I hope people get out of this,” he says, “it’s permission to take that bold step and do their ideas.  We need a space for people to be weird. ” 

The cathedral is something to look at—a sprawling, skeletal mishmash of road signs, hub caps, crutches, skis, shutters, pinwheels, banners, sports trophies, broken appliances, busted TVs, tattered teddy bears, rusted shopping carts, hair dryers, bowling balls, and an airplane nose cone. Beside the entrance is a tile bearing the message: “Shalom, Y’all.”

Hannemann reckons his cathedral gets more than 200 visitors a week. He’s had couples marry here, while others come to check out the snakes, hawks, and lizards that occasionally move in. Donations are gratefully accepted. “A few years ago, a woman sent me a box of rubber duckies,” he says. “It was like Christmas.”

There is a point to all this. “These things are a lot like us,” Hannemann says, gazing at the clutter lining the cathedral’s main hall, specks of sunlight playing across the floor. “Once they were brand new and at the center of attention. Later on in life they got dinged, lost parts, and some were tossed out. But these aren’t worthless things. They’re more than the sum of their parts, and people are the same way.”

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