Although his downtown Bellingham studio is piled floor-to-ceiling with shelves upon shelves of toasters of every shape, size and era, for a long time Eric Brown insisted he wasn’t actually collecting the helpful home appliance.
“I used to tell people I was gathering material,” Brown says while standing among the hundreds of devices he’s gathered in the 20-something years he’s been using toasters as a medium for artistic expression.
And, while the shiny hordes of toasters are indeed impressive things—and beautiful in their own right—Brown says he’d like each and every one of them to be used in ways that would turn them from simple bread-browning devices into works of art.
In fact, it was the desire to see his ever-growing supply of raw material outside of storage boxes that led him to first open the Museum of Toaster Art at the Pickford Film Center’s Dreamspace Studios nearly a decade ago.
“Participating in the Art Walk has been a real bonus,” Brown says of the once-a-month gathering that features community members roaming through the urban core on the search for new and interesting things to train their peepers on. “I hoped those coming through would look more at what I was doing to the toasters instead of saying things like, ‘Oh, my grandma had one like that!’”
But now, after moving down the hall to a much bigger studio that has allowed him more room to show off pieces such as “You Can’t Go Chrome Again” (a toaster-turned-suitcase), “Resistance is Useful” (a Borg-like toaster with tentacles), “Thumb Toaster” (which can be slung around one’s neck and played like an African finger piano), and a variety of savvy devices—including lamps, loungers, telescopes, record players and massagers—that incorporate, you guessed it, toasters, Brown is having to vacate the space due to the fact that he’s currently unemployed and the museum isn’t bringing in enough money to pay the rent.
“I’m sad to leave this place, for sure,” Brown says. “There’s a lot of good people up here and I like being around all the other artistic stuff that’s going on.”
Although the Museum of Toaster Art will be open for business at the Dreamspace Studios for the Oct. 5 Art Walk, Brown says this will be his last showing at the current venue. He’s hoping to move his Sunbeams, Toastmasters, and Speedies to another visitor-friendly space, but if that doesn’t materialize soon, everything will be boxed up and temporarily stored at an undisclosed location in the county.
Brown allows that he “probably wasted a bit too much money” buying toasters on eBay during the years he was flush, and is hoping donations from Art Walk patrons will help him pay off his last month’s rent at the space. He’s also open to suggestions from those perusing the toaster art concerning finding a new venue—and is hoping to possibly sell a piece or two in the meantime.
If you’re out and about Friday night, Brown will be happy to answer questions about the Museum of Toaster Art, sell you a toaster that’s been turned into a globe or fill you in on the history of the ever-popular appliance. If you ask nicely, he may even demonstrate his canny creations by making you a piece of toast—although he probably won’t have any himself.
“I’m in and out where toast is concerned,” Brown says. “I don’t really eat it that much.”
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