RichArt’s ArtYard

Richard Tracy has been working on an outdoor installment for nearly thirty years, his ArtYard, working with found and repurposed materials. Everything he makes is at the mercy of the elements, and so his pieces are constantly in a state of flux; creation and destruction with the new springing from the ashes of the old. On Sunday, I drove to Centralia to visit Rich and see his creation.





There were a several other visitors there, and Rich greeted and spent time with every single person, dragging his reluctant round dog behind him. I liked him immediately. He rounded us up near the entrance and handed each person a tassel and told us that if we particularly liked something he made, we should thank him by hanging that tassel off of the piece, “high or low, naughty or nice”, but that we were not to allow him to see us putting the tassel in place. He explained that because he’s constantly in the yard, he’s lost the ability to see it the way visitors do, and whenever he finds a tassel, he goes silent and contemplates the art, because we’ve then given him the gift of perspective. ย  34633_411807603939_4989324_n


He brought us over to his first piece, The King & Queen, saying “The Queen is larger because she has more power. We would have fewer wars if we had more queens.” We were then mainly left to our own devices in touring the yard. It’s almost beyond description, almost beyond comprehension. Even photographs do a poor job capturing it. It really must be experienced. Every few minutes, Rich would make the rounds and point out something about the piece we were looking at. He encouraged everyone to look at the space around the art as well, at how nature has incorporated itself in and around the art, making it something more than it was before. The yard itself almost reads like a study in variation and repetition; his fondness for the number five, for circles and spheres, the way the same materials will pop up in similar yet different configurations–what could be a jumble of unrelated items is made cohesive with an underlying theme. 34643_411808118939_1802753_n















As I looked at this wall, Rich approached me and said the head mounted on the right is one of the most-photographed pieces in the yard, the people’s choice. He’s wanted to throw it away many times but has stayed his hand at the last moment because he can’t bring himself to destroy something that so many people like. Mainly, he is disappointed that the face on the right gets so much attention, and the face on the left comparatively little, given that the face on the left is one of his personal favorites, inspired by Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror. But he said it was ever that way in the art classes he taught as well; he would teach no more than five students at a time, and everyone’s voice was as important as his own. He also described his process for me, and said that he works very hard to get out of his own way when he creates–that he can’t stop and scrutinize every step along the way or he’d never finish anything. He just keeps working until it comes together and feels right. Sometimes it never does reach that stage, but he won’t know until he puts it all together. I think that’s useful advice for anyone engaging in creative endeavors–just keep working, things you were intially unsure about may come together in a way you wouldn’t expect. We parted with him telling the story of the day he watched Mount St Helens erupt, saying that he hadn’t intended to send people off with something bad ringing in their ears, but it was just like being at the dinner table, knowing you oughtn’t say anything nasty, and having something nasty be the only thing you want to talk about. Something else that’s nasty–within five days of Rich’s death, a friend with a backhoe will completely eradicate the ArtYard within a five hour period. ย  *Edit* As of 2012, the ArtYard is no more.

42 Comments RichArt’s ArtYard

  1. evillinn July 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Wow. I’m so grateful that you shared all of this – thank you! I want to plan a trip to Centralia now.

    Amusingly, the only face I saw in the picture was the one on the left. I had to go back to see the one on the right, and still am not as taken with it.

    What an amazing way to spend a life.

    1. admin July 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

      I think you would really like it, and Centralia is really not as far away as it seems! ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. faerieburst July 21, 2010 at 12:23 am

      You know, what? Same thing re: with the faces. I’ve been staring at the alleged one on the right and it STILL doesn’t read as a face to me. The one on the left I find utterly charming.


      1. admin July 21, 2010 at 3:07 am

        This angle might help you see it:

        1. faerieburst July 21, 2010 at 3:30 am

          Oh. There it is. Thank you.

          Yeah, still like the one on the left so much more.


  2. christopher575 July 20, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    There’s sure a lot of “anal bead chic” up in thar. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. admin July 20, 2010 at 11:00 pm

      hahaha there’s a new perspective! I didn’t even think ‘anal beads’ but now I see them everywhere.

  3. ladybutterfly74 July 20, 2010 at 10:18 pm


    First, I love the icon! That is awesome! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Second, I love that place, I wish I was close enough to go check it out

    and last but not least, I love the reflectors.

    1. admin July 20, 2010 at 11:02 pm

      I really, really want to go on a big tour of the US and see all the roadside attractions and write a book about Americana.

  4. splatterhouse July 20, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    I like the left face much better, too. There’s another place like this… a couple owns it, in Virginia I think? I’d love to visit this place.

    1. admin July 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      There’s a place in Virginia with dinosaurs fighting Civil War soldiers and I am DYING to go.

  5. scearley July 20, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    I think it’s great that it’s eliminated when he’s gone. If it stayed after his death, it would continue to be in a state of change, through the elements.

    But the art represents change as he changes. He is the mode of change in the representation. When he is no longer capable of change, then the only way to ensure his art is no longer capable of change is to meet the same fate.

    He’s inextricably linked from his creation.

    1. admin July 20, 2010 at 10:40 pm

      That’s an excellent point, it’s just a shame that it will have to be destroyed.

  6. geekmiztrezz July 20, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    I want to go to there.

    Thank you for this.

    1. admin July 20, 2010 at 11:03 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed seeing even this small piece of it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. wench_baby July 20, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    This reminds me of the place that Ole Golly takes Harriet and her friends in Harriet the Spy. I love the dancing dolls!

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 3:06 am

      I was really taken with the dolls, too!

  8. faerieburst July 21, 2010 at 12:24 am

    “He explained that because he’s constantly in the yard, he’s lost the ability to see it the way visitors do, and whenever he finds a tassel, he goes silent and contemplates the art, because we’ve then given him the gift of perspective.”

    This, is amazing. What a wonderful way for him to stay connected to his creations.

    So, what did you put your tassel on?


    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 3:05 am

      I hung it off of one of the guns of the robot-looking guy with the pound sign on his crotch.

  9. g33kgrrl July 21, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Wow, that’s amazing. I want to come visit; there are so many neat things you do and see!

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 3:05 am

      Anytime, sugar. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. g33kgrrl July 21, 2010 at 3:11 am

        Once I get to the lucrative part of “quitting my job to go to nursing school,” I’ll be on the next plane!

        1. admin July 21, 2010 at 3:52 am

          hahaha I hear you! The offer has no expiration date, I’ll still be around when you’re out of nursing school and up to your ears in debt. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. assassinpandora July 21, 2010 at 5:19 am

    Awesome. Thank you for showing us through pictures, although I appreciate that it isn’t the same.

    I took some kind of art or craft class when I was young, one of the only things I remember from it was a trip to someone’s house who collected junk…it was sorted roughly by type and we were invited to walk about and pick out our own little collection to make a piece of art from. I made a train engine.

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm

      I imagine you could have a field day with photography there. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. dslartoo July 21, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    I usually have very little patience with or interest in “modern” or abstract art, but this is something different. I will definitely have to visit if I’m ever in the area (which seems unlikely).

    Thanks for sharing these photos!


    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:54 pm

      Aw, one of these years you and the little lady will have some vacation time and decide to spend it up in the majestic PNW!


  12. beachin July 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I’m drawn to the repetition, the flamingos, and the Barbies.

    “I think that’s useful advice for anyone engaging in creative endeavors–just keep working, things you were intially unsure about may come together in a way you wouldn’t expect.”

    I needed to hear that. Makes me want to make art again.

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm

      You should, your art is great!

      1. beachin July 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

        Last night we were having beer with some friends and in the conversation, they were all talking about how much clutter I have in my apartment. Joe piped in and said that he has done everything he knows to do to get rid of my art, but it’s everywhere. Then he told everyone that I have a perfectly good art studio in Denham Springs and whenever he gets a chance he boxes all of my art up and brings it over there.

        Hurt my feelings so much. I looked around today after that and realized that I have very little art that I’ve created left in my apartment because he’s moved so much of it away.

        Most of the “clutter” is just the crap that is left. Makes me want to pack all of his shit up and move it to the storage in Denham Springs!

        1. admin July 21, 2010 at 11:02 pm

          That made me wince for you, how upsetting. ๐Ÿ™

          1. beachin July 22, 2010 at 8:06 pm

            Well, last night I woke him in the middle of the night crying about that and other reactions he’s had lately. He apologized profusely and said that he had just said that in casual conversation, but I told him it still hurt so much.

            Today, I took Kelsi to Hobby Lobby and bought enough supplies for her to make 4 Lolita hats. That’s a kind of art. I made the shower invitations. That took 5 1/2 hours. I just don’t think I’ll be making any more ceramics or sculptures if he is going to box my stuff up.

  13. snickersaddict July 21, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Wow. That looks like an amazing place to get lost in and I would love to have a conversation with Rich.

    What’s funny about the last picture is that the picture on the left completely captured my attention, I didn’t even notice the one on the right until I read about it.

    Thank you for posting this!

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm

      I felt like I could’ve talked with him for a really long time, he is really a character and has so many interesting things to talk about!

  14. januaryfive July 21, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    love this, thank you

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      Glad you like it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. 1_rhiannon_1 July 21, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Thank you so much for posting these pics and telling us about the place – I’d never heard of it but I’m severely impressed!! ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      I am a roadside attraction fiend, I try to know about all of this kind of stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. libra_dragon July 21, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Wow…looks like an interesting place

    1. admin July 21, 2010 at 6:43 pm

      The whole experience was surreal.

  17. hallucinas July 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    alright. i have to go there.

    thank you.

  18. rimrunner July 29, 2010 at 2:58 am

    I was in Centralia this weekend with a friend and we drove past this, though we didn’t stop. Said friend spent most of his youth there and said that Rich was always getting fined by the city for his creations. He guesses, though, that by now they’ve given up.

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