Sitting inside Zanesville’s Weasel Boy Brewing Company, artist John Taylor-Lehman talks about his passion for artwork, which, at a distance, some confuse for paintings.
Upon closer inspection, spectators come to realize that these “paintings” are not paintings at all, but carefully constructed portraits and unique designs intricately detailed with old beer caps.
The process of flattening, cutting and formatting these beer caps has been a regular practice for Taylor-Lehman for the past six years. With no formal art training beyond middle school, this local artist is self-taught and working with the ideas of reusing and recycling in mind.
“I took a college trip to Mexico for six weeks in ’78 or ’79,” Taylor-Lehman says. “One thing that really stuck out in my mind was a guy in the jungle taking flattened beer caps and putting a nail through them, and that’s what he used to secure down his tarp paper on his roof.”
With the inspiration Taylor-Lehman has received from their resourcefulness and artistry, he has adopted the motto “use what you’ve got” to guide his work.
To collect materials, the artist says he has never had to purchase beer with the sole intent of using the caps. In the early days of his work, local bars and breweries donated their used caps. As Taylor-Lehman’s work has picked up success and recognition, he has had no trouble collecting an ample amount of materials for any type of project he may want to start.
“Everybody saves [caps] for me. Bags of them will show up at the rec center, or they show up on my porch, or they show up at [Weasel Boy Brewing Company] sometimes,” Taylor-Lehman says. “I get them from all over the place. We had a cousin come in from France last summer who brought me a big bag of beer caps.”
The collection and organization of the caps is the first step. Having such an arsenal of material on hand helps him get to work whenever he begins a new project, whether from a commission request or from his own brainstorming notebook.
“If I’ve hit a little lull, the first thing I do is clean my workshop,” Taylor-Lehman says. “I try to get it a little more organized, and then I might look back through my notebook and say ‘oh yeah I remember I was going to try to do this,’ but I’m generally looking for a new challenge of some sort.”
Taylor-Lehman works to find the right colors, smash the caps with an improved log splitter, place and cut the caps in an outline, pull up and replace caps, and on and on until a work is complete.
“Log splitters can run horizontally and vertically, and we had a fabricator here in Zanesville switch out the wedge for two flat plates,” Taylor-Lehman says. The modification was crucial in speeding up the time every project takes, and in saving the artist’s shoulder from excessive hammering.
Taylor-Lehman has no end in sight for his work, just as there is no foreseeable ending in the amount of used beer caps he will surely have at his disposal for a long time.
“You need some sort of outlet for self-expression,” Taylor-Lehman says. “I try to be original, and that’s what people gravitate to.”