Chuck Baxter: DC Artist

September 2011 / Sept. 22, 2011 / by The Team

"Why would anyone throw this away? Isn't it cool?"

As he moves through his basement studio, DC amateur artist Chuck Baxter cannot help pointing out the many materials that make up his artwork. He stops at a bucket filled with the remnants of thrown away mail, "The inside of envelopes is fascinating for me. People don't usually think about that. See?" He then lifts a brooch made out of the folds of the backs of official envelopes with their blue and black patterns, made, in this case, into flowers.

Chuck Baxter moved to Washington, DC in 1993. He moved from San Francisco with his job, the Veteran's Administration, and immediately found inspiration in his new home, despite moving to an area of DC that would not have been described as inspiring by most.

The U Street corridor area of Washington had its problems in the early nineties: There were 68,146 serious crimes committed in the city in 1993, including 454 homicides and more than 300 forcible rapes. 

"I found a lot of needles, drug baggies, just litter. Paper, clothing, lots of clothing for some reason." At first, his mission was simple: clean up his neighborhood. It started with a daily routine of taking a plastic bag and walking around his neighborhood, picking up the trash. 

"And eventually, I thought well, why don't I do something with this trash?"

Art was always a hobby for Chuck, but in the trash he collected, he also found inspiration to help clean up and rejuvenate his neighborhood in the process. He became the president of the neighborhood association and worked with the residents to focus on rebuilding and cleaning the neighborhood park, long used as a dumping ground for people's rubbish.

"The playground was a big bowl made out of concrete. In the winter, the drains would have plugged up and clogged up with water, and the mosquitos were a problem if you let it fill up with trash."

There were meetings upon meetings. "We had an architect which had meetings with the residents to decide how what we wanted to put in the park, and those meetings include children who drew designs, and it was pretty structured." From start to finished, art was an instrumental part of the playground restoration and enhancement, including bringing in an artist to do the giant mural that overlooks the playground and another artist to create tiles made from found-objects from the area, including many that Chuck had discovered.

Chuck has also found a material change in the neighborhood through what he finds on his daily routine, "As the neighborhood changed, the nature of the garbage changed, and now I find mostly toys." 

What items provide the most value for Chuck? "I never thought about that much, because everything I pick up has some sort of value." 

As he takes a look around his studio filled with found objects, some of which he has no idea what they are, he summarizes his artistic philosophy: "I'm attracted to color. Colorful, shiny objects, I'm sort of like a magpie. I guess that's it, the shinier the better. It kind of stands out in the things I do."

The neighborhood playground is now a testament to the health and togetherness of the community. "The neighborhood has been very supportive. People even buy houses here because of the playground. 

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Chuck Baxter is a founding member of Mid City Artists, a loose collection of DC area artists who meet approximately twice a year to provide mutual encouragement. They can be found at http://www.midcityartists.com/home.html and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mid-City-Artists/152329692175

Chuck has open houses for the community to take a look at his studio, and also participates in and organizes area art shows.