For most Shore residents, the heaps of debris Hurricane Sandy left in her wake represent only heartache. Roddy Wildeman looked at those tragic piles and saw a medium for his art.
About three years ago, Wildeman, a former contractor, began creating wall mosaics out of wood scraps from his construction projects. Initially, he gave the mosaics to clients. In time, the works became so popular he was able to quit the construction business and become a full-time artist.
Then Sandy hit. Since October, Wildeman, 36, has been creating his signature starburst designs from wood scattered by the storm throughout the Jersey Shore. “I was overwhelmed with how much there was,” he says of the literal windfall of raw material. Instead of memorializing a single residence, he now uses wood from a whole town or region. One mosaic, titled “Traffic,” was made with debris from 14 towns, from Long Branch to Seaside Heights.
Wildeman hesitated at first to repurpose Sandy’s leavings. “I felt it would be extremely selfish if I were to start picking up materials with my art in mind while everyone else was trying to figure out how to get their lives back in order,” he says.
Instead, he spent the week following the storm helping friends and family by setting them up with propane heaters each night and waiting on gas lines to buy fuel for those who had generators. He pitched in at a Salvation Army facility in Red Bank by sorting clothes. Not until the second week after the storm did he begin collecting materials for his work.
“Making these pieces from the hurricane is so therapeutic,” he says. “I feel like I’m creating something positive out of this terrible event.”
Working out of a studio in Belmar, Wildeman uses a table saw to cut his raw material into elongated triangles. To create a uniform look, he torches each piece of wood—anywhere from 100 to 700 pieces for a given starburst. The pieces are nailed and glued to a three-quarter-inch oak plywood board, which he cuts to the desired size. As a final touch, he inserts a dowel into the center of each starburst. Several coats of polyurethane later, the piece is complete.
The Ocean Grove resident’s work can be seen at America’s Cup café in Asbury Park and at his own Torche’ Galerie, which opened in April in Belmar. One piece at America’s Cup, a 4-by-7-foot mosaic with seven starbursts, using wood from seven towns, is priced at $22,000.
Ron Rudolph, a managing director at Citibank and owner of Senses NY, a Manhattan salon that displays Wildeman’s art, commissioned a hurricane mosaic for his part-time residence in Ocean Grove. The piece has two starbursts made from Sandy debris. The price tag: $8,500.
“It’s totally captivating,” Rudolph says of the work. “And the fact that the pieces were from the hurricane is really symbolic.”Click here to leave a comment