Cutting Through the Red Tape

“Several Loads of Lathe”

December 04, 2015

By Sydnee Robinson, 2016 SF City Hall Fellow. On our recent tour of Recology we stood atop the balance beam and watched the workers sort city trash below. We had just seen a video of what they do and the importance and impact they have on our environment. It was busy with people, trucks, and birds swarming the piles of trash.

Trash for many, but gold for some.

Specifically, the towering piles of trash were gold for the artists of the Recology residency program.  These artists used the trash to create new works of art from the old ones that were thrown away; recycling value and using what was discarded to promote new purpose. We were lucky enough to meet with one resident artist in her studio. She was a shy woman, living in SF since the nineties, who had cultivated a successful career before coming to Recology. Her studio reflected her quiet nature.

A pin could drop and have an echo.

In a room full of students, workers, and unbeknownst to themselves “artists,” we admired and revered the work of the recently admitted and proclaimed Recology artist. She spoke softly about her work as we all stood patiently and impatiently in the softly-lit room. Then the subtle warm light began to gently contrast the atmosphere as it facilitated a discussion of her works that shed an interesting light on the current state of displacement here in San Francisco.

“You know,” she started, barely above a whisper, “I have also noticed a lot of lathe coming into Recology over my time here.” Her hand floated to her chin as she pondered what the lathe could mean. Seeing our blank faces, she realized we might not know what “lathe” was and felt compelled to explain, “Oh, lathe is basically a substance that was used in many old houses of San Francisco to support the walls. It’s been showing up in droves at the Recology department recently.” She took her hands to shape a large, heavy circle, “Several loads of lathe!” she stated.  She paused before planting the seed of what that might mean, “I think it’s because of all of the renovations going on here. People are ripping out the lathe and putting in drywall to better hold insulation in renovations.”

I wondered about her phrase “Several loads of lathe.” Researching the method, I found that lathe was a strong reinforcement of wood and wet plaster, making thick, sturdy walls that excelled in protecting a home from cold weather and sound pollution. The method itself was arduous and difficult to complete, but the benefits were plenty.

The strange collusion of lathe and displacement then crept into my mind. Her comments prompted me to think about how with each load of lathe, a family had probably been displaced. The families who made the city what it is, giving it its heart, its culture, and its life, were being ripped out by the load and swiftly replaced with drywall.

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