Newbury artist turns trash into public statement

By Andrea Ramirez Angulo, JCamp Reporter

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Every Tuesday morning, Carol Baum walks a 2-mile route around her home in Newbury scanning her path for trash – cigarette butts, water bottles, coke cans – which she will transform into art.

Carol Baum
Carol Baum, 71, turns trash into art.

Baum, who is 71, is a lifelong artist.

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Now retired from her job teaching English to non-native speakers, she uses her time to develop her favorite activities. She paints and sculpts. She runs three times a week.

When she walks around her community, she scouts for other people’s trash.

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One Tuesday, as she strolled through her neighborhood, she decided to start picking up the trash she saw along her path. The next day, however, she noticed more trash. That’s when she made it a habit to collect litter for about 1 hour along Hay Street and Newman Road.

“What can I do to change people’s behavior about littering?” she asked.

She set out to create something that others would notice – and maybe get them to stop littering.

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Baum decided to build a tower with all the discards she soon would be collecting. If she wanted to see a change in people’s behavior, she thought, someone had to serve as an example. That’s when she decided to be that example.

She attended town meetings, until one thing led to another and she was soon gathering support  to build her latest art piece.

The art piece is being built by carpentry students at a vocational high school and will be erected in front of the elementary school in Newbury. It will be a long vertical glass box, which she will fill with trash when the structure is completed in September.

Baum confesses that the litter at times is too much for her to carry. But she hauls it anyway.

“I collect trash whether it’s raining or snowing,” Baum said.

Next to her public art, she’ll try to teach people about the consequences of trash by including a signboard describing how long it takes for different items to decompose.

Cigarette butts, for example, take from 1 to 5 years. A glass bottle takes about 1 million years, according to the National Park Service, which collects lots of trash from public parks. And some plastic bottles never decompose.

“People stop seeing the trash,” Baum explains. “They block it out because it’s so familiar that it makes no difference whether they pick it up or not since there will always be trash.”