HAMBURG, Pa. - On the corner of South Third and Grand streets in Hamburg, art blends in with nature. It's Bill Rhodes' oasis.
"Oh, about 10, 12 years ago, I bought the place," Rhodes recalled. "It was abandoned. It was ready to fall down, and I needed a project."
The one he took on was an old farmhouse built in 1800.
"I used to flip houses, and I always liked the house that looked like an airplane crashed into it, because it really made it your house when you were done. You know what I mean? You really got to change it. That's what made it fun," Rhodes said.
What Rhodes finds fun, others might throw out, but when he looks at something, he can see the beauty.
Rhodes never made any money as an artist, working instead in construction. He landed a job at Three Mile Island after trade school. He was a welder and carpenter.
At 71, he's still working, a self-proclaimed workaholic, but art is his passion.
"It's just to enjoy. It's fun for me to do, especially today. You need something that puts a smile on your face," Rhodes explained.
Like the royal blue knight in the front yard fashioned out of a catalytic converter found along a highway in D.C.
"Almost got run over getting that, by the way, but it's simple. It took me an hour to make and I think it says something," said Rhodes.
It sits next to a solar saw and a flying saucer made out of hub cap parts and kitchen utensils. Most of the pieces he repurposes are flea market-finds given new life.
"Every once in awhile, I have people who stop by and drop things off," Rhodes said. "I'll come home from work and there will be a pot sitting there or an old bicycle. I'm not crazy about TV sets, so they go."
This place that brings Rhodes so much happiness he hopes will also help him heal. For three years now, his gardener and girlfriend, Jan Sterba, has been by his side.
"Ten months ago, she found out she had Lou Gehrig's disease, so little by little it's taken her out of the picture," he said.
Sterba is spending her last chapter here with Rhodes, the garden and the art. Rhodes said when the time comes, he'll name it in her honor.
"It's gonna be Jan's Garden, so she did a lot of the work here," he said.
There's a lot of love in the garden. It's been tended to with care and it shows.
"I had a lady come by here the other day," Rhodes said. "She said, 'You know, this is my happy spot.' She said, 'I could have a really bad day at work and I drive by here and look at this place, and all of a sudden, I'm happy.' And I said, 'Well ma'am, I couldn't get a better pat on the back than that."
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