From recycled material comes BIG art

Dan Zwink is a recycling expert. And an artist.

“I’ve kind of evolved over the years,” said Zwink, whose unique, large creations include a giraffe that stands 11 feet tall, a larger-than-life rooster, and a Tyronnosaurus rex.

He toyed with welding things together when he was in high school. “First I was making little metal sculptures and then started welding coat hangers together, and that led to making creatures,” he said.

They’re all made from a wide array of recycled materials. He is, however, picky about his coat hangers.

“I like the thicker ones,” he said.

Zwink got his start about 10 years ago. He and his co-worker buddies at Boeing got together when the plant announced it was on the hunt for artistic folks.

“I got on a team and we built a Bill Boeing statue – 10 feet tall made out of tools that we welded together, a team of five of us, and that got me thinking about what I was doing and how I could advance it. It looked so cool,” he said.

His creatures are built from the feet up, are colorful, interesting, large, and each one has a unique color theme.

Zwink said collecting all his supplies are half the fun.

“First I build a big frame, like a big birdcage, and use welding wire and coat hanger wire,” he said.

Each design begs the viewer to spend time walking around, looking high and low and inspecting every inch for the interesting touches he adds. Every item in the creation has a purpose. There is a lot to see.

After constructing the frame, he fills the open spaces with recycled material, such as orange buckets or plastic pumpkins he cuts up to close the gaps. A closer look reveals Sponge Bob and other toys, color-coordinated sunglasses, plastic toys, or a broom on the giraffe to complete his mane.

The T. rex dinosaur, named Roary, was entered in a contest for kids at the Washington State Fair and received the People’s Choice award for eight days. It sports a bright green skin, while the rooster stands out with blues, oranges, reds and bright-yellow legs.

“I like to build things that are bright,” he said.

Zwink uses colored zip ties to attach materials to match whatever color he is using, and he incorporates recycled material for almost all of his projects. Friends often drop by with a bag full of items they think he might be able to use in future projects.

Zwink said his artistic endeavors are his therapy, and he spends a lot of time in his 10-by-12-feet shed in the back yard of his Puyallup home, working on his projects while listening to Mariners games on the radio.

His wife, Kim, supports his hobby. She said Dan has always been creative.

Kim also has a creative decorating touch and likes to visit garage sales. When Dan tags along, he usually heads for the free bin, always thinking ahead to his next project, to see if any of the recycled items will be useful to him.

The giraffe, which took a couple of years to complete, is the largest piece he has made. It’s light enough for Zwink to move by standing underneath. He will enter it in the Washington State Fair’s art show during the annual fair in Puyallup in September. He has his fingers crossed that his design will make the cut.

While walking around the giraffe, admirers who look closely can find pumpkins, orange sunglasses, cookie cutters and part of a newspaper box among the design.

Never in it for the money, Zwink donated a Bengal tiger he constructed to a Gig Harbor grade school. 

Zwink will retire in a few years and already has a project in mind for that time. A few years ago, his dad picked up a handful of watches at a garage sale and they are in a box in Zwink’s shed.

“I’m going to use them for a time machine,” he said.


Joan Cronk, who wrote this article, is a freelance writer from Puyallup and frequent contributor to Senior Scene.

A Tyrannosaurus rex and a rooster that he sculpted from various recycled materials dwarf Dan Zwink in his garage. (Joan Cronk/for Senior Scene)