Wine Corks Become Art

A 300-pound rhinoceros stands in a Fair Oaks couple’s garage.

Sure, the creature is made from plastic foam, plywood and thousands of wine corks, but its sight may prove just as arresting as seeing the real thing.


Two area couples – Jim and Mary Lambert of Carmichael, and Bob and Di Nelson of Fair Oaks – have spent the last three years bringing the large, one-horned mammal to figurative life. And on Sunday, they’ll take their massive piece of 3-D art on the road.

The sculpture – dubbed “Rhinocirrhosis,” after the liver disease often caused by heavy alcohol consumption – will travel by enclosed trailer nearly 2,200 miles, so it can compete as part of ArtPrize, an international art contest in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Jim Lambert said after scoping out some of their competitors online, they’re hopeful they could snag the contest’s top $200,000 cash prize.

“The whole event is sort of a culmination of having a good time with friends and family members,” he said Tuesday morning as he showed off the sculpture in the Nelsons’ Fair Oaks garage. “Sure, we have grandiose thoughts of winning, but they are grandiose thoughts. We are just going to have some fun.”

The idea for the sculpture came when Lambert’s wife, Mary, asked him to take up a hobby. Instead of choosing a typical pastime like woodworking or watercoloring, Lambert decided he would make a piece of artwork from his 20-year-old wine cork collection taking up space in the garage.

“My wife told me to get a hobby or do something creative, so in a moment of weakness, I said, ‘OK, I will build a giraffe out of corks.’ ” Lambert said. “And then, I thought, ‘Giraffes are 20 feet tall. How am I going build that?’ ”

He quickly came up with an artistic solution.

“I said, ‘Mary, forget the giraffe, we’re going to build a rhinoceros,’ ” Lambert said.

He had limited art experience before beginning construction on the sculpture. He recalled taking an art course in college, with his wife responding less than enthusiastically to an artwork he produced.

“I took the artwork home and showed it to my lovely wife, and her comment was, ‘Get it out of here,’ ” Lambert said. “So this is my first shot at creativity.”

Bob Nelson, who is an architect, had more artistic experience, although not in the arena of animal sculpture-making, said his wife, Di.

The two married couples have known each other for the last 20 years, first meeting when Nelson was president and Lambert was executive vice president of the Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange. Nelson immediately jumped on board with the project when he heard, and his wife agreed that their garage could be used as the construction space.

“Bob is very handy with woodworking, and that’s kind of how it started,” Di Nelson said.

Using an online photo of a rhinoceros as a guide for proportions and size, Nelson crafted a structural frame from plywood. He then carved plastic foam pieces to flesh out the shape of the rhino.

Afterward, the couples began applying wine corks to the plastic foam, and at this point, the project took on a life on its own, Di Nelson said.

“Once we started applying the corks, we started inviting friends to come help us put corks on, and have dinner and drink,” she said.

“It turned into more of a social thing,” Jim Lambert said. “For a nice Sunday afternoon, come on over and have some fun.”

Eighty-three friends and family members – ranging in age from 9 to 93 – participated in applying more than 12,000 wine corks to the rhinoceros. The sculpture measures 12 feet long and 5 feet 6 inches tall.

Friends of the Nelsons from Michigan suggested the sculpture be entered into ArtPrize after visiting their Fair Oaks home and installing wine corks on the rhinoceros themselves.

During ArtPrize, which lasts from Sept. 18 to Oct. 6, a 3-square-mile portion of Grand Rapids, Mich., is turned into a giant art walk. Local restaurants, hotels and shops all arrange to have artists display work at their venues for 19 days.

Four different venues offered invitations for “Rhinocirrhosis” to be displayed at their site. Lambert said after careful online research and strategizing, they chose to place the sculpture at San Chez Bistro.

“We picked that one for several reasons,” he said. “One, their hours of operation were better than anyone else. And No. 2, the restaurant is well-noted in the community, so they are going to have a lot of people coming in.”

The goal is to sell “Rhinocirrhosis,” Lambert said. The proceeds would then be donated to three causes: the International Rhino Foundation to draw attention to the endangered species, construction training programs for high school students and Operation School Bell, which provides clothes to underserved children in Sacramento.

Di Nelson has ties with the last organization.

“She’s been so kind and patient with so, keeping the rhino in her garage, that we are obligated to her,” Lambert said.

So will the couple undertake another joint artistic endeavor? Lambert jokes that he’d like to see a family of rhinos, but Di Nelson shot down the possibility.

“Or if so, it would be a gerbil or a snake, maybe,” she said.

Source: Sacramento Bee

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