By Lauren Wanko
As Jersey Shore towns get rid of storm-damaged debris to make way for the new boardwalks, artist Roddy Wildeman uses that debris to create art.
“The materials were just everywhere so I just grabbed whatever I could use,” Wildeman said.
After Sandy, Wildeman began collecting everything from pieces of docks, benches, boardwalk planks and parts of homes and furniture. After the material is cleaned, cut, torched and designed in his Belmar studio, the debris is transformed into a Starburst. Wildeman, a former contractor, began creating these designs before the storm.
“That’s where most of my work comes from. It was borne from working on these houses, using the material off these houses,” Wildeman.
The artwork has become a way to memorialize the shore communities. Pieces include debris from a number of shore towns, including Ocean Grove’s fishing pier and Long Branch. All the towns are stamped into the design. Wildeman donates some of his work and sells the rest.
Interest in Wildeman’s memorial pieces continues to grow. So far he’s created about 15 works of art and he still has truckloads of Sandy related debris in storage.
“Very importantly it’s salvaging, it’s reusing the materials and saving them from being in landfills and our environment,” Wildeman said.
Farther south, Historic Pen Company founder Bob DeMartino is transforming damaged boardwalk planks into Christmas tree ornaments, pens, magnets and more. He got the idea in Wildwood a year before the storm when he spotted a contractor pulling up old boards.
“I asked him, ‘What do you do with the boards?’ and he pointed over to a dumpster and he said they go in there. Just as we’re creating the first Wildwood ornament, Sandy hit. It was just natural to see if we could do the same thing here,” DeMartino said.
Since the storm, the Historic Pen Company secured boardwalk planks from towns like Point Pleasant Beach. Pens are made from Trex decking, Atlantic City and Seaside Heights. The famous Jet Star roller coaster, lost to the storm, is etched into one ornament. But at the moment, the Historic Pen Company’s most famous for the pen they created for Prince Harry.
“We’ve literally gotten orders from over 40 states,” DeMartino said.
The pieces have become especially important to New Jersey residents.
“You always want to connect to something that your ancestors had. And this has been a common thread for people in New Jersey for 50, 60 years,” DeMartino said.
And although so many of the boardwalks were torn apart, DeMartino hopes some can take comfort in knowing pieces of them can still be cherished.