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Mon, Sept. 16

Column: One man's yard art is another man's pile of junk

What is the difference between "yard art" and junk? This question has pitted neighbor against neighbor, and has evidently caused quite a few heated debates. A woman in Chino Valley emailed me to say that she is living next to a "heap of junk." She said the "mess next door" started with a few rusty milk cans strewn around and has grown into "a full-blown pile of old, ugly worthless stuff causing a blight." The "junk-loving neighbor" was not amused when the woman offered to haul off his "offensive clutter" to the dump. Not surprisingly, the man declined her gracious offer.

A lady in Phoenix is being sued by her neighbor, because her collection of wooden rabbits that she displays in her front yard is "downgrading the neighborhood." Evidently the lady has over 300 rabbits (each one has a name) that are sitting, standing or lying in a small front yard. The distraught neighbor, who has filed suit, claims to "love rabbits," but not the wooden variety that "take up every inch of lawn and look like a little army of rodents with glaring eyes and twisted ears." Worse, the "rabbit-lady" claims that her neighbor has turned her into a "basket case," and has caused her to want to sell her home and move to a more "rabbit-friendly" community.

Back to our little corner of the world... I have noticed that quite a few people like to express themselves by the stuff they display in their yards. When does art, or the right of expression become our neighbor's nightmare? I received an email from a Prescott man who claims that his neighbor's wind chimes are so "loud, annoying, ugly, intrusive and numerous" that he sometimes wonders if he is living next to "some devil's chapel - where the constant clanging of chimes drown out every other sound." The poor man says he cannot enjoy an evening on his patio without ear-plugs.

Hey, sometimes art can create conflict. Chimes, wooden rabbits, rusty old antiques, these are just a few of the items that can make people lose their tempers. I recall when Highway 51 was first opened many years ago, there was quite an uproar about the "art" objects that were placed along the freeway walls. A design group from back east was paid a half million dollars for the teacups, vases, pots and bowls that can be "appreciated" for miles. One Phoenix resident thought the whole project "stunk," so he spray-painted a toilet commode gold and placed it on the wall next to the teacup, with a huge sign calling it the "royal flush."

Speaking of commodes, I have noticed one sitting in someone's front yard in one of our lovely rural communities and it looks as though there is something planted in the toilet bowl. This takes us to a couple in Kirkland, who are wondering if a bathtub is appropriate to place in one's front yard with petunias in it. Hey, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but bathtubs and toilets as "yard art?" I'm just glad that my neighbors don't have anything like that lying around, because if they did, I'm afraid I'd make a "big stink."

When I was a young woman living in Ohio, one of my neighbors placed an old wooden casket in his front yard for the entire month of October. Hank used to lay in it on Halloween and scare the children by popping up as they approached his front door, then he'd hand them their candy. Trouble was, Hank got tired of hauling the coffin in and out of the garage, so it ended up sitting out by his front door for most of the year. His wife tried to conceal it by putting potted plants in it, but it was still was a creepy sight.

Some people will argue that the beauty of home owners associations are that you never have to worry about driving home one day and seeing your neighbor's yard filled with hundreds of wooden rabbits, bathtubs, toilets, rusted junk or coffins. You'd also be spared the horror of "loud, obnoxious chimes." But, hey, we'd also miss all the good stuff. It's wonderful fun to see old rusty harnesses nailed to ranch posts, wagons and wheels in front yards, unusual rock walls, cowboy artifacts, antiques, scarecrows, old plows, tractors and tools, saddles hung on fences, life-like elk and coyote statues sitting by driveways. We even hang chili peppers from our wood vigas. Just drive around and it's amazing what you'll find!

What is art? When does it become junk? You decide, my friend. Oh, did I mention that I just drove by a house that has about thirty skulls (cows I imagine) nailed to the ranch posts? (No, it is not Halloween and it is not in Skull Valley!). Hmmm, I'll get back to you on the meaning of "yard art." In the meantime, go ahead and express yourself!

Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor who lives in Skull Valley. Have a comment or a story? Email Judy at

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