By Lee Noles
WINGATE – The motto one person’s trash is another person’s treasure is one that Donnie Gay takes quite literally.
Whatever it may be, wherever he may find it, Gay uses an assortment of discarded or thrown away materials to create handcrafted art inspired by childhood fishing trips with his father.
“People throw away so much these days,” said Gay, who is also chief of the Wingate Police Department. “I don’t know if I see things in an artistic way, but I do see things differently. Stuff people throw away, may not mean anything to them, but to me I see a tail and I see a fin.”
The idea came to Gay nearly four years ago while he was relaxing in his backyard. Gay had just bought a wooden fish that he was thinking about putting in his office. The fish was sitting on the picnic table with some bottle caps and tabs lying next to the cutout. It was then Gay realized how much the tabs resembled scales of a fish and the colorful caps made good accent pieces.
Gay’s first attempt with the artwork stemmed from his trips with his father to the North Carolina coast. Don Gay would take Donnie several times to Oak Island or Long Beach for some deep sea fishing. The excursions were good memories for Gay, but came to a heartbreaking end when Don passed away suddenly in 1996. Donnie Gay was so crushed by the loss, he couldn’t bring himself to go deep sea fishing again for another 15 years.
When he did go with friends a few years back, the memories of the animals he saw turned into the creations he makes today. Gay made a turtle by constructing the fins with tin that came from a dilapidated chicken house. Leather was used for the skin while an old bicycle seat resembled the tail.
A lot of the materials Gay finds winds up in his workshed he has nicknamed the “boneyard.” Scrap metal from buses and cars, old appliances, as well as more than 10,000 bottle caps, line the walls and cover the floor of the shed.
“It is stuff people are going to give away,” Gay said. “So I just like to give it new life.”
The hobby can prove to be somewhat treacherous. Gay recalls kayaking down the Pee Dee River when he saw a piece of wood nearly submerged at the bottom. Maneuvering his kayak close to the wood, Gay nearly pulled himself into the water when he tried getting it out. The wood is now a sofa table.
“I was bound and determined to get that piece of wood,” Gay said.
His work has become so popular, he sometimes has trouble keeping pace with the orders. Gay’s work has been bought by customers in California and Wisconsin. He is working on creating a dog by using a bicycle tire rim as the animal’s head and nuts from a tree take the place of the nose.
What Gay doesn’t want to happen is sacrificing his artistic enjoyment for financial gain.
“Money is not my primary satisfaction for this,” Gay said. “I feel if it was, then it would sacrifice the uniqueness. I feel like I would sacrifice my artistic personality.”
Gay likes to personalize his artwork by doing research on the subject he is creating. For fish, Gay finds out their colors, what type of water they swim in and the size of the fins to help him get a better idea on what he is creating.
It also has carried over to other subjects. Gay recently worked on a piece which resembled musician Carlos Santana’s guitar. He had to use five broken fishing rods, wire, nuts and recycled metal, which were fabricated into sheet music to put on the artwork.
“I like making people happy,” Gay said of going out of his way to personalize his creations.
One selfish thing that Gay gets from his artwork is the relaxation it allows him. Gay said going out to his shed to convert trash into artwork is a great way to relax.
“I have a lot of layers,” Gay said. “My buddies pick on me because I don’t know the names of the football players, their blood type or the mom’s maiden name …This is something I just like to do.”
Want to learn more?
If interested in Donnie Gay’s work, contact him at 704-506-1837 or email@example.com. You can also visit him on Facebook (@wallaquariumarwork) and Instagram (@thewallaquarium).