YONKERS, N.Y. – Looking out over the heaping piles of discarded metal in his Saw Mill River lot, Richard Benash doesn’t see junk. He sees art.
For the last decade, the scrap yard dealer has been turning other peoples’ castaway pieces of iron and steel into quirky trees, New York City skylines and even the occasional space ship.
“Nothing goes to waste,” said the 58-year-old president of R.B. Scrap Iron and Metal.
Benash got his start with the arts in the 1970s as a soldier in the army when he began teaching fellow servicemen how to make leather crafts.
Thirty years later, inspired by images of people honoring Sept. 11 victims by making steel crosses out of metal found at ground zero, Benash tried his hand at sculpture making.
He began by carving out several memorials, later moving onto things like street signs, skulls and "No Smoking" signs.
Today, Benash estimates he has made hundreds of different pieces, showing them off at craft shows and art exhibitions around the northeast.
"It has become a release for me – a way to escape day-to-day life,” he said.
Creating the sculptures is a simple process, Benash said. He begins by drawing a chalk outline on a piece of steel, whether it be an old oxygen tank, discarded i-beam or old steel doors. He then uses an air-pressured plasma cutter to carve out his design.
The smaller, simpler pieces can take only a couple hours, he said. But other designs, like his curvy, 15-foot trees, can take several days.
“But I’ve gotten a lot faster over the years,” he said.
Pricing the pieces anywhere from $100 all the way up to several thousand, Benash said he figures he has sold between $30,000 to $40,000 worth of art work.
But perhaps his most meaningful products sit in Yonkers fire stations, police departments, schools or public parks. Benash has donated dozens of his works in honor of fallen servicemen, as a wish of good luck to soldiers heading overseas or just as a token of appreciation.
He admits that owning a scrap yard has played a big part in his art hobby.
“For most artists, it’s expensive to buy steel,” he said. “Not for me. We find all this steel lying around.”
Still, his work isn’t limited to just metal. Benash also makes rubber belts from discarded truck tire treads, as well as leather briefcases and wallets.
The scrap dealer said one day he hopes to open an art and antique store on his 20-acre property in New Paltz. There, he plans to sell both his and his wife’s art work, along with dozens of other discarded antiques he has found in his scrap yard over the years.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff people throw away,” he said, showing off the inside of his office, stacked floor to ceiling with a variety of knick-knacks. “We have found some really great stuff.”