Friends, neighbors and family of Judy Curtis know better than to toss anything out before checking with her. The Clearwater Beach artist specializes in turning junk into whimsical, eye-catching art.
"I'm a green artist," Curtis said, "and I find myself recycling more and more of other people's discarded stuff into art."
How it comes about is a bit of a mystery — even to her.
"People always ask me how I dream these things up," she says of her creations. "Ideas just come to me."
In her tiny studio off a parking lot on Clearwater-Largo Road in Largo, Curtis surrounds herself with the stuff dreams are made of: glass bottles, fragments of costume jewelry, defunct watches and clocks, lamp pieces, broken candleholders — and more. The small bathroom doubles as a storage closet for piles of unwanted stuff.
In this studio, Curtis works her magic, turning tossed fragments into works of art that can brighten up walls, shelves and floors.
"The world right now needs a good laugh," she said of her choice of playful art forms.
On a table in the studio stands a creature Curtis dubbed "Daisy," a lengthy animal with legs formed from an inverted candleholder. The open torso is crammed with colorful pieces of toys. An old dental mold serves as teeth, swizzle sticks as antennae.
And there's more. An electric mixer forms the body of an unidentified flying object. A three-tiered sculpture is fashioned from long-playing records, chopsticks, handheld fans and tiny figurines. An old guitar tossed out by a neighboring antique shop will become a woman's torso.
Curtis is adept at torso design. She has collected the busts and torsos of mannequins and covered them with bits and pieces that beckon the eye. She has several in her shop. The largest is covered with bright copper pennies; two busts are adorned with the faces of watches.
Cher Tanner of Indian Rocks Beach bought a torso for the home she shares with her boyfriend, Heiko Bonner.
"He fell in love with it at a local art exhibit," she said, "and I surprised him with it for Valentine's Day."
The couple placed the sculpture, which incorporates strands of pearls and tiny stars in the design, in a hallway visible from the main living area.
"We even installed a special light to feature her," Tanner said.
Curtis and her husband, Jim Curtis, are the parents of four adult children and grandparents of four.
She began her career as an artist in 1990, when she took painting classes while living in Jacksonville. At that time, she focused on contemporary acrylic canvases, which she still paints.
The artist turned to "found art" more recently.
"No one can teach you this," she said. "I'll just see an object, think it looks like something else, and take it from there."
Curtis plans to do more with found art.
"You go to a different place when you do something like this," she said. "It's a happy place."