Artist Ben Belgrad collaborates on ‘Trashterpiece,’ saving hundreds of tiny glass shards from the landfill
After quite literally countless hours spent bending over a mirror, arranging tiny glass shards, Ben Belgrad, Marta Litwiller and Matt Giannetti finally completed the “Trashterpiece.”
Littwiller, wearing a protective respirator and goggles, spent more than 100 hours sifting through a 31-gallon trashcan, filled to the brim with colored glass shards from Belgrad’s Bat Country private glass art studio Minturn. Belgrad, representing himself and other glass artists under his brand Drinking Vessels, had watched that trashcan slowly fill up over the three years since he established the space and poured his soul into it.
Those glass shards are the parting gifts left by hundreds of artists who had come through the studio, renting Bat Country’s equipment for short or longterm residencies, borrowing it to fix a small chip in a piece before continuing to a trade show. Had it not been for the “Trashterpiece,” thousands of tiny shards of glass would have ended up in a landfill.
“Everything about this project is about sustainability and not contributing to waste,” Belgrad said.
After spending a full weekend holed up in the studio creating the piece, Belgrad’s collaborative “Trashterpiece” is now in the hands his most dedicated collector, who’d expressed his interest in purchasing “Trashterpiece” before it was even made.
“This is, by far, the most elaborate and work-involved project that I personally have ever created as my own art,” Belgrad said.
The idea to repurpose the refuse was one that Belgrad had since before he had even established his private studio three years ago. He knew he was going to accumulate a ton of waste, and wanted to save it from the landfill, where it could potentially hurt someone, let alone contribute to waste accumulation.
As Bat Country became more and more a product of his soul and the personalities of friends, colleagues and artists that passed through it — many of them have left behind murals on the walls and doodles on the doorframes — the trashcan too became a symbol of everyone who’d been invited into his space.
“This space is the pinnacle of my existence and my artistic life,” Belgrad said during our conversation in his studio.
Belgrad’s vision could not have been executed without Litwiller’s dedication and attention to detail. Each individual piece was carefully placed and arranged on a framed mirror. The frame and the mirror were both salvaged and saved from a possible fate in the landfill. But the project also needed a new face: someone who could help bind everything together and preserve it. Enter resin artist Matt Giannetti.
Giannetti joined the project through a mutual friend: Colin “Skinny” Hagan, Drinking Vessels’ photographer and videographer who also photographed the entire “Trashterpiece” creation process. But “Trashterpiece” was new territory for Giannetti as much as it was for Belgrad and Litwiller. He usually works in small formats, creating pieces no bigger than two-to-three inches. The “Trashterpiece” is about 40 by 50 inches.
“Without these three,” Belgrad said, gesturing to Litwiller, Giannetti and Hagan, “it would not have been possible.”
Giannetti helped Belgrad and Litwiller understand how resin works as a medium, but no one could have guessed how much material they would need. Belgrad bought Alpine Arts Center’s full stock, but as they were working on the project, they quickly realized they had nowhere near enough, even while working on a smaller test piece that Belgrad later gifted to his brother in Miami.
After researching, the group concluded that the only places to buy more resin would be in the Front Range, but it would be difficult to leave the studio while the resin was still wet, and it would mean sacrificing a crucial set of hands. Luckily, one of Belgrad’s friends was driving from Denver the next morning and was able to drop off enough resin to complete the piece.
Less than 10 people have actually seen “Trashterpiece” in person, but one of its defining qualities, everyone said, was its innovation. Giannetti spends a lot of time looking at resin projects for inspiration and has a bunch of glass-blower friends, and said he’d never seen a piece anything like the “Trashterpiece.”
Each time they’d look at it, even after hours of staring at it, they’d always see something new.
“I don’t know if anyone can walk by it and not look at it,” Giannetti said.
“Everywhere you look, there’s something,” Litwiller said.
Part of the beauty in those details is how much you can see the collective nature of the project up close: Belgrad can identify shards of glass and immediately attribute them to the artist who created the full pieces, just by looking at the style. His own signature black-and-white notebook patterning certainly makes a few appearances.
After more than three years conceptualizing the project, hundreds of hours sorting glass shards and dozens actually executing Belgrad’s vision, everyone who’s worked on the project has taken away something special.
Litwiller loved seeing her work pay off in a finished project. Giannetti was honored to work on the piece, meet new friends and learn new things about resin. Hagan hopes to continue working on collaborative art pieces in the future.
“There is a reason that it’s called my ‘Trashterpiece,’” Belgrad said. “The ‘Trashterpiece’ is the culmination of my existence, visually representing and created out of my space.”
For more information about Drinking Vessels, Belgrad’s glassware brand representing his work and work from other artists, visit drinkingvessels.com.