Chicken Alley features Gene Baer’s ‘Meals on Wheels’ creations

Gene Baer at Chicken Alley on Saturday, with his artwork behind him. —Stacey Rupolo

Gene Baer, beloved art teacher and children’s book illustrator, hosted an art show at Chicken Alley on Saturday. Former students and curious art lovers packed into the thrift shop for a chance to experience Mr. Baer’s whimsical recycled Meals on Wheels container art.

Mr. Baer has been experimenting with this new medium since just after he started receiving Meals on Wheels more than a year ago. He said he had no intention to turn his trash into treasure, but a few fortunate dents in the plastic was all it took to trigger his imagination.

To begin, Mr. Baer starts with a clean, empty container, and does a freehand sketch inside each section. His final subjects emerge from a combination of scribbling, time, and an active imagination.

“I just messed around. I didn’t know what they would turn into,” Mr. Baer said. “Basically, I take a look at it and I say, what is this? And I never know quite what’s going to happen.”

The faces Mr. Baer can summon from a plastic tray are eccentric and joyous. They span a range of forms. On the same shelf you can find a monkey, a dog, a mustachioed man, or a whole family sitting in the nook of a food tray.

Some of his creations defy categorization. A tray that vaguely resembles E.T. wearing a ski mask sat near a red demonic face. As disparate as these faces might seem, sitting on the shelves of Chicken Alley they made a weird, perfect little family.

One thing Mr. Baer’s creations didn’t lack was a sense of personality. The containers gazed right back at viewers with looks that brooked no discussion. They are only containers, after all.

Mr. Baer was the — as in only — art teacher for Island schools during the ’60s and ’70s. Former students Peter Cronig and Wendy Andrews loved the experience of seeing Mr. Baer’s art on display. Ms. Andrews was his student from 1960 to 1964, and he taught Mr. Cronig from first until eighth grade.

“He always assigned us fun things to do,” Mr. Cronig said, “so I’m not surprised that he’s doing this.”

Mr. Baer said he doesn’t plan to continue making Meals on Wheels art, because they have started using a different material that he finds difficult to work with. But he said he has more than enough doodles to keep him busy at home.

“It was fun while it lasted,” Mr. Baer said. “I’ll go back to other things.”