The old adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has many meanings, but in Noah Williams’ case it’s literal.
Williams is set to have an art show at The Art League Gallery in the Torpedo Factory from May 9 through June 3, drawing on his talents and his experience garnered as a trash collector.
Williams grew up in the Bucknell area of Fairfax County, just south of Alexandria City, and he graduated from West Potomac High School.
“I love art. It’s part of my life…I love colors. I love folk art. I love artists who are trying to step out of the box,” he told Patch.
Williams uses recycled materials with a focus on recycled metal.
“Sometimes I am driving down the street with my kids (ages 15, 11 and five) in the car and I will yell ‘Stop the car!’,” if there’s a good piece of debris in the road.
Williams says he still likes a good dumpster dive too.
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The attraction to recycled metal was born out of money, or a lack of it.
When he became a trash collector for Arlington County in 2001, he says he was into painting and drawing.
But he said he couldn’t afford to buy paints, “the good paint with good pigments,” so he thought one day “Let me use something I can never run out of – junk. I started out and then I fell in love with it,” he said.
Trash collecting is hard work, he recalls. “It is manual labor all the way around.” Prior to Arlington County, he worked at AAA Trash Removal and a Safeway grocery store. He learned at his jobs, but wanted to stop the constant manual labor, he said.
Williams kept perusing the jobs listings in Arlington County and eventually “moved up through the ranks.”
He now works for Arlington County’s Transportation Department on right-of-way permits and other issues for contractors that want to put heavy equipment on the streets.
“I kind of just stumbled onto metal. I was going through some books with different art and there was a piece in there about recycled art in South Africa. It caught my eye.”
In the Torpedo Factory, a group of masks he’s put together will be on display and for sale, among other items. “I’m fascinated with African-type masks and Haitian art,” he said. “The rawness behind it. It fascinates me.”
But at the end of the day, his true inspiration is his mother, a former art teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools.
“My mother was my inspiration,” he recalls. “I would want to go outside and mess around with my friends and she would say you need to do something with your brain sometimes, you need to draw. She pushed me and exposed me at an early age.”
Williams has exhibited at the Washington Post Co. building in downtown Washington, D.C; Del Ray Artisans and District Fine Arts Gallery in Georgetown as well as other locations.
He has received several awards for his sculpture across the region, including the Monkith Saaid Award for sculpture at The Art League.
“I want people to know when they see my art…that they are not going to see anything but a Noah Williams piece,” he said. “I want them to be completely blown away…My goal is how can I make this piece more unique than the last piece I did."