Artist John Runnels said he’s not a hoarder. He simply suffers from “AAD” — archival attachment disorder.
And for quite some time, the objects of his obsession have been hubcaps.
His partner in the collection of the discarded car parts is his grandson, Oak Forest Elementary fourth grader Tristan Hadley, who remembers going on hubcap hunts when he was 5 years old.
“He’s always seen me getting those shiny bright things,” Runnels said. “It’s like bird watching. ‘There’s one! There’s one!’ … I was seduced by this object.”
Because Runnels and his wife, Charlie Jean Sartwelle, are both artists – they founded Mother Dog Studios in 1984 to provide studio space to their fellow creatives – the collection was not going to go to waste. It’s now being used for a worldly pursuit.
Runnels and Sartwelle submitted plans for a globe that would wrap around a tree along Heights Boulevard to the curators of TRUE NORTH, an outdoor public art exhibition in its sixth year that is named for the compass bearing of Heights Boulevard. Funded by private donations from individuals and businesses, the exhibition aims to highlight regional works of contemporary art by recognized Texas artists. Co-curators Linda Eyles, Simon Eyles, Chris Silkwood and Kelly Simmons, along with project consultant Gus Kopriva, partner with the Houston Heights Association (HHA) to make TRUE NORTH a reality.
The idea of wrapping the globe around a tree was nixed, but the globe itself got the green light. So Runnels, Sartwelle and Hadley set out to put their plan into motion.
Their 12 foot-high sculpture, named “What goes around, Comes around…,” is in the 400 block of Heights Boulevard. It is covered with more than 300 hubcaps, which were welded together by the ASTRO Fence Company. Runnels said the workers there dubbed the sculpture “El Mundo.”
It and the other seven installations that are part of the TRUE NORTH will be up from March until December.
“The goal with public art is the reciprocity of place and space,” Runnels said. “It’s a global ball instead of a global wall.”
The sculpture touches on a range of issues, like littering, recycling, climate control and globalism.
“I think (litter) is terrible for the world and causes so many bad things,” Hadley said.
Runnels appreciates that the hubcaps have come from all over and represent many dozens of car models. He is also enamored of the fact that the globe is flanked by architecture while at the same time sitting in a river of traffic.
People see the sculpture from their car and on foot. Time of day matters, too.
“At night it looks like flickering fireflies,” Runnels said.
Hadley said he was “super excited” to see the globe installed last week.
“We thought it was fun to work on,” he said. “It was family time.”
Runnels echoes that sentiment, describing the collaboration with his grandson “quite the bliss.” He said it helped him see his world through a different lens.
Before settling on the globe sculture, the ideas for hubcap igloos, a hubcap Art Car and a hubcap Viking boat came and went. The image of a boat continues to interest Runnels.
In 2014, he finished the last of 12 dream boat sculptures located at various points along Buffalo Bayou. The 22-foot stainless steel canoe sculpture supported by two steel trees at Buffalo Bayou Park’s Crosby Outfall was called, “A portrait of Houston, it wasn’t a dream, it was a flood.”
Next up for Runnels and his wife and grandson? They still have some hubcaps and their minds are still spinning.
“I still like the Viking boat (idea),” Runnels said.