Batavia man creates art out of others’ junk


Jason Panek of Batavia likes junk. But it wouldn’t be fair to label him simply as a scavenger or dumpster diver.


Jason Panek, a Batavia artist, shows some of the pieces of scrap in his home studio.

 
Jason Panek, a Batavia artist, shows some of the pieces of scrap in his home studio.
– John Starks | Staff Photographer


He’s had a long career in the waste business and most recently began turning other people’s junk into art as a side business he intends to give more attention to after retiring.

The short description of Panek’s world is that he has parlayed a nearly 30-year stint with Waste Management, now WM, where he is currently a dispatch manager, into his “1971 Creations” business operated out of his home workshop at 915 S. Jackson St.

There is much more to the tale of this 51-year-old waste truck dispatcher who says his “coming out party” as an artist was a recent artisan market at Water Street Studios Gallery in Batavia. He had some interesting, even bizarre, items made from everyday waste on display for sale.


Jason Panek, a Batavia artist is making this robot piece of art in his home studio from scrap pieces of metal, including an old vacuum cleaner.

 
Jason Panek, a Batavia artist is making this robot piece of art in his home studio from scrap pieces of metal, including an old vacuum cleaner.
– John Starks | Staff Photographer


“I grew up doing construction with my dad, building houses, so I got the knack of building things and putting things together from him,” Panek said. “We lived on a farm in Traverse City, Michigan, so I tended to be around light construction and handyman stuff all of the time.”


Jason Panek of Batavia creates art, such as this robot, out of old vacuum cleaners and other discarded materials.


Jason Panek of Batavia creates art, such as this robot, out of old vacuum cleaners and other discarded materials.
– Courtesy of Jason Panek


After starting as a trash removal driver for Waste Management in 1994, Panek could see it was a job that would fuel his firm belief that one person’s junk could be another’s treasure — especially if built into something entirely different.

“The job at WM has a definite connection to my interest in taking everyday pieces of tools and products and converting them into interesting art pieces,” Panek said.

Before it became a no-no at WM to scrap or scavenge the waste, Panek would pick up pieces and recondition them for his reuse. Now, with art on his mind, he finds barn or estate sales, online marketplaces, yard sales, and Salvation Army or Goodwill sites.


Artist Jason Panek of Batavia has created pieces such as rockets and spiders out of everyday items and discarded materials.


Artist Jason Panek of Batavia has created pieces such as rockets and spiders out of everyday items and discarded materials.
– Courtesy of Jason Panek


If he needs something smaller and specific to a project, Panek will visit a store like American Science and Surplus in Geneva.

When he relocated to Batavia in 2007, he became friends with some members of his church who made a living creating art from everyday items.

“I would help them with projects and such, but didn’t want to compete with them,” Panek said. “Around 2015, I started thinking about what I could do and figuring out how to do certain types of painting, building fake guns for walls, lamps and other pieces.”

It was the beginning of one-of-a-kind art pieces through 1971 Creations. “I started getting involved with people who bought my stuff or those who bought antiques and hired me to update or renovate,” he noted. “I had to create a lot of items, like converting an old gas lamp into a light.”


Artist Jason Panek of Batavia has created pieces such as rockets and spiders out of everyday items and discarded materials.


Artist Jason Panek of Batavia has created pieces such as rockets and spiders out of everyday items and discarded materials.
– Courtesy of Jason Panek


Panek has expanded his item list in the past year, creating art from umbrellas, pie pans, vacuum cleaners, putty knives, screwdrivers and wrenches. He built a small “rocket” out of an old cinnamon shaker and a “piece from a radio I tore apart,” he added.

His prices range from $5 for something like old light bulbs converted into metal spiders to $1,200 or more for large “robots” made from old vacuum cleaners and other materials.

The owners of K Hollis Jewelers bought a 6-foot Electrolux vacuum robot as an interesting piece of art in their new Batavia store.

“It is nice to see everybody’s joy on their faces when they are looking at my stuff,” Panek said. When a customer had a piece break on an item she purchased, Panek was quick to fix it.

That customer then “bought the last four robots I had built, and she needed a clothes rack for the wall, and then commissioned me for another robot,” he said.

Such a scenario in which customer service played a big role gives Panek’s future vision a boost. “That Batavia art show really rejuvenated me and a belief in what I was doing and how much happiness it can bring people,” he said. “When they see something, they say they remembered when it was actually a vacuum, old radio, old tool or other things.”

See more of Panek’s work on Instagram at www.instagram.com/1971_creations.

Kayla’s tree catches attention

The Geneva History Museum’s annual Giving Tree program used to be a one-stop shop. The various nonprofit agencies would decorate a Christmas tree as part of a display at the museum for a couple of weeks during the holiday season. People would vote for their favorite by dropping donation tickets in the buckets.

The tree with the most votes would bring the full donation bucket to the winning organization. The others shared their donations 50-50 with the history museum.

With COVID and other viruses lurking, the program was changed to have the trees spread throughout downtown Geneva at various businesses. It was a great idea, except for the night of the Christmas Walk. There were just too many people in town for me to concentrate on where the trees would be this year.

All that aside, I did spot one that caught my eye just outside Flair on Third when my wife went into that women’s boutique.

It was for Kayla’s Hope Foundation, with the theme of “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay.”

Hans, Ruthie and Hanna Lehmann created this organization to raise money for mental health organizations. They did it in honor of their daughter and sister, Kayla Brooke Lehmann, an active St. Charles East High School student who succumbed to her struggles with depression shortly after her 15th birthday in 2018.

The foundation also provides $2,000 scholarships to two St. Charles East and two St. Charles North students studying music, literature or psychiatry.

I don’t recall ever writing about this organization, so I was glad to learn about it. It’s an important foundation for our young people.

You can make donations through kaylashope.org, a Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley website.

Helping kids play

What happens to old equipment when our park districts upgrade neighborhood playgrounds? The St. Charles Park District donated the playground equipment at Red Gate Park to Kids Around the World. This not-for-profit organization collects used playground equipment and redistributes it to communities across the globe.

Laura Rudow, the park district’s superintendent of parks and planning, said the district was “thrilled to learn that this playground can be repurposed to provide children with recreation opportunities in an underserved community or village in another part of the world.”

As the park district renovates and adapts to current safety standards, they check in with Kids Around the World to see if any current equipment can be useful or adapted to existing playgrounds.

It marks the third time St. Charles has donated playground equipment. According to the KATW website, it has built 1,043 playgrounds in 64 countries since 1994, with 55 of them in 2022.

Some good in Facebook

It’s nice when a person searching for a lost dog can post on Facebook, rally some troops and eventually find the dog.

It illustrates one of the good things about a social platform like Facebook because it takes advantage of immediacy and reaches a wide net of friends and others.

Unfortunately, Facebook and most other social medial platforms aren’t all seashells and balloons. Anything shared with millions of people will only stay on the up and up for a while. Twitter has become exhibit A with its current state of affairs.

Others targeting our youth are facing a flood of lawsuits for not controlling dangerous content and destroying many kids’ lives and mental well-being.

Can’t we help find lost dogs and support each other when needed?

Barking for peppermint

In Illinois, we like Peppermint Bark more than any other Christmas candy, according to candy.com’s latest state-by-state poll.

Hershey Kisses placed second and M & M’s third, so I can’t argue with that. I like all three.

Of some note, the survey indicates “candy canes are falling in popularity,” having dropped from a No. 1 ranking in four states.

Candy canes often appear on the Worst Christmas Candy list, candy.com noted, because people feel they are messy to eat and hard to unwrap in one piece. Also, after being sucked on, candy canes can “become sharp and dangerous,” the site added. We have enough Christmas toys that do that kind of thing.

Holiday lights recycling

After years of taking strings of fizzled Christmas lights to a recycling bin at Blue Goose Market in St. Charles, it’s good to know there are other options out there now that Blue Goose is gone.

One that caught my attention was the recycling bin available at Lowe’s in St. Charles.

We can count on a couple of strings to go dark on us each season, and we don’t want those things in a landfill.

There are other places to do this. You can find them through an online search of “holiday lights recycling.”

• dheun@sbcglobal.net

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        





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