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Green Theater/Alex Buderer[Part_2]

The arts are "going green" along with everything else. Missouri State faculty members are about to embark on a three-year "green theater" project based on climate change in the Mississippi delta region, that will culminate in a theatrical production here at MSU. Randy Stewart talks with Dr. Kurt Heinlein in the morning feature. In the afternoon segment, Randy profiles area artist and sculptor Alex Buderer, for whom "recycling" has always been a way of life.

RANDY: When it comes to the arts "going green," it doesn't get much MORE green than it does with Alex Buderer, a nationally-recognized woodworker, sculptor, and rustic-furniture builder. Alex lives in the little unincorporated community of Viola, Missouri, just across the Table Rock Lake bridge from Shell Knob, Missouri on twisty, hilly highway 39. His workshop and warehouse are well off the road, back in a wooded area, and as you walk toward it you can actually hear KSMU playing loudly on a boombox. Even Alex admits it doesn't look like much at first blush.

ALEX BUDERER: Some people think I've got a yardful of JUNK here, but there's actually a lot of money laying around here. But people don't have the vision to see what is there. They can't visualize it until it's finished.

RANDY: He has room after room--that he built himself, again with scrap wood--full of raw materials, both wood and metal--mostly copper--projects he's started, projects he's completed.

ALEX: These are rough table bases that are driftwood, and I've leveled them up on the sawmill and they're just drying now, and then these will be part of my furniture, which is natural--I guess it's "recycled" because I take it out of the lake, and... (chuckles).

RANDY: And is this stuff you sell, then?

ALEX: Yes, that's what I do. This is how I make my living: I do sculpture and free-form bowls and metal sculpture, and the tables....

RANDY: Alex Buderer has worked his entire life with found objects, surplus wood and metals.

ALEX: Everything I build here is stuff that I scrounge. A lot of this wood around here is stuff from the ice storm... and I get a lot of good material out of what people would burn--a tremendous amount was just burnt. And I get it from sawmills. I get material that has nails in it. Most of these stacks of lumber that you see, there was something wrong with it, it had defects in it, that a lot of people can't use. In my business it makes it more beautiful!

RANDY: Alex Buderer was born on Long Island, NY in 1943.

ALEX: I grew up in a poor family and I had to learn how to make stuff for myself.

RANDY: And learn he did--his grandfather was a cabinet maker and his uncle was a metal and bronze sculptor

ALEX: So I guess I've got it in my genes a little bit.

RANDY: And that goes not only his artistic leanings, but his preference for using found objects, scrap, and recycled materials.

ALEX: Really, I've been "green" before "green" was popular. Now it's a promotion thing. I've been recycling wood all my life.

RANDY: As a youngster Alex took a correspondence course in taxidermy. He spent time as a commercial fisherman in New York, was drafted into the army in 1965 and was sent to Valdez, Alaska ostensibly as a truck driver, but he volunteered to be a hunting and fishing guide. After the Army he became a union carpenter in 1970.

ALEX: For a wedding present I got a chainsaw! So I started doing torsos and a lot of long-necked birds, roughing 'em out with the chainsaw. And then I got more into refined sculpture and doing turned bowls.

RANDY: After visiting the Ozarks several times on vacation, Alex Buderer settled here in 1988, and had begun to get seriously into art several years earlier.

ALEX: I had a pretty large heavy-construction business in New York, and I sold out in 1982 because I had been making money, starting to make some money as a sculptor.

RANDY: Though woodworking appears to dominate Alex Buderer's output, he also works in metal.

ALEX: Like you see this rusty metal here... when you shine it up it has a pretty patina. But most people would just look at that and say, "Oh, it's just pitted and it's ugly!" But that's what I want--I wouldn't want a nice clean piece of metal! But I also do copper work, you know, I hammer copper, and I make copper vessels and copper fish and copper torsos! (laughs)

RANDY: Where do you pick up the copper?

ALEX: I generally get the copper, buy it at a recycling center in Springfield. But I've got thousands of pieces, all different objects, hammered out.

RANDY: When Alex came here for good in the late 1980s he made contact with Jan Hyde, who had just opened her art gallery in downtown Springfield.

JAN HYDE: He worked with galleries in New York when he lived there, so he was always kind of on the lookout for a gallery that would represent him. And... he loves to talk (laughter) about art, so that's how it all started. He is an amazing sculptor. So often he'd bring pieces in, whether it be his bowls--that are well-desired by our community--or sculptures. He'd bring them in and I would say, "How wonderful, Alex!" And he would say, "Well, God did it, I just buffed it out!" (laughter) And of course we have sold a lot too. But it's very difficult for me to sometimes even sell a piece. (laugh)

RANDY: You hate to let go of them!

JAN: It's really hard. I've had pieces in the past where it PAINED me to have to wrap them up and send them out!

RANDY: Alex has hand-lettered signs all over his workshop, with sayings like "Fear no art!" and "An artist makes art, not excuses!"

ALEX: I make excuses, I don't feel good or whatever. But realistically, push comes to shove, I gotta do some work once in a while!

RANDY: And much of that work these days is in the form of rustic furniture. Many clients buy his furniture for use in their log cabins and lakeside homes. And Alex Buderer never stops "scrounging," as he says, for wood and metal that he thinks has potential for art or furniture.

ALEX: I'm 65. Everybody says, "What do I keep on collecting for?" But I guess it's an addiction! (laughter)