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« Architectural Digest Accolades Architecture & Culture in Woodlawn »

Feature Mon Aug 18 2008

An Interview with Eric Bartholomew

Many people know Eric Bartholomew as "that potato guy," or some variation thereof, thanks to Uber Tuber Enterprises: his potato-focused craft business. However, Bartholomew has many other interests, including collecting valuable items from people's trash -- documented in his "Junk Days" zines. Recently GB asked Bartholomew to discuss his curbside adventures.

How did you start participating in Junk Day explorations?

It started before I was even aware of it. My mom and my grandma both went to Junk Days, and a couple times they took me along -- beginning when I was about four years old. They kept me entertained in the back seat with toys they found along the way.

I went to Junk Days on and off over the years, mostly with my mom. Then I started going by myself by the time I was in college, and really needed furniture and stuff.

When did you decide to do a zine about it?

I first thought about doing a zine about Junk Days around 2002. The inspiration was set off by a zine I read called "Thrift Score," which was all about thrift store shopping, another activity I enjoy. I was reading zines, and had just gotten into digital photography at the time, so I took my camera to Junk Days. I took pictures of junk, and later began writing about it.

How many junk-related zines have you produced, and how are they different?

I have only produced two junk-related zines so far: "Junk Drawer" numbers 1 and 2 (but I have more in mind), and Junk Days is the second. The first was kind of more abstract, like an introduction about the nature of finding and acquiring things second-hand.

What are some of your favorite finds?

It's not easy to decide on favorite finds. Some are things I ended up selling, mostly because I simply don't have room for so much stuff. One was a gigantic five-foot-wide Sony digital camera, made of fiber board yet somewhat realistic, and probably for a display or trade show. I sold it on ebay to some guy in Canada.

Electronic components have been among the most useful finds, like a linear tracking turntable, and odd periodically functioning radios. I used to find more records, but not so much anymore.

I've found some more personal items, like an old college photo album, and grammar school report cards. I found letters addressed to Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko, from his readers. This was from his old house. It does seem a little weird, like you're snooping into somebody's desk. But when it's older stuff, you realize the people are no longer close to the items, and it becomes like an archeological dig.

I found a wooden wagon with removable sides. It was helpful for moving stuff. Later I lended it to a friend for an art project, and eventually it was used as a display and part of an art installation.

I don't keep all that much of what I find, actually, but I enjoy the finding part, and also seeing junk find a home.

What sort of connections with other like-minded or simply inspired people have
resulted from your zine?

I've discovered that many other people, even if they don't go looking for junk, have made a few good finds. I guess I've met only one other person who has been devoted to finding stuff in a similar spirit.

What did you find on your last excursion?

I should keep better track of what I find, and when. Last time I found a 1960's-era Raleigh three-speed bicycle, a small wooden white painted table, a vintage suitcase, some old board games, and some children's art projects, including a colorful paper mache creature.

Where/how can people purchase the zine? How many people have purchased?

The zine is usually available at Quimby's in Chicago. I don't remember how many have sold there, but they seem to sell. It is also available online through www.loopdistro.com. Look under J for "Junk Drawer #2."

Anything interesting about zine purchasers who have contacted you?

Well, most I've never met. I'd certainly like to hear from people, though, if anyone has stories to tell about finding stuff.

Have you got any junk-related projects in the works?

Not currently. The next zine I plan to do in the "Junk Drawer" series is going to be more about actual junk drawers. That is, the random stuff that I may have lying around in a drawer that's been accumulating for awhile. It will have to do with rediscovering the junk you have in your own home.

About the Author:

A native of Johnstown, PA, Lauri Apple is a contender for the title, "world's most renowned bag lady," thanks to her somewhat popular (at times) website, FoundClothing. Lauri has a JD and doesn't know why, but it will take about 30 years for her to pay it off, and that worries her. Her favorite cities are Prague, Pittsburgh, Austin and Chicago. When she's not looking through people's trash, she's either painting, taking pictures, or making/thinking about making cartoons about her weird life.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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