In With a Bang 

At Junkyard camp, kids make the future museum’s first sound sculpture.


If last week was any indication, the Junkyard Museum is going to be loud. And lots of fun.

About 40 kids spent the week at the Junkyard Art and Music Camp helping conservatory-trained percussionist Donald Knaack — aka The Junkman — build the future museum's first permanent exhibit.

"It's pretty intense," Knaack says. "They think they're coming to camp. Uh-uh. They're working."

The Junkyard museum, which has plans for a permanent home on Broad Avenue, was inspired by St. Louis' City Museum, a wonderland of climbable and slide-able art made from recycled material.

With Knaack, the campers built a sound sculpture with three "percussion playstations" — already used in a raucous end-of-the-week concert, as well as a recent Rock-n-Romp — out of recycled materials.

Before camp, Junkyard board members collected a list of items Knaack had asked for, as well as other things they thought made good noise, amassing a collection of metal and plastic tubs, license plates, pipes, coffee cans, old pots and pans, and a large piece of farm equipment.

"We gave him an idea [of what we needed]," says Lisa Williamson, Junkyard Memphis founder. "It needed to be sectional and able to be moved around."

As "The Junkman," Knaack does about 12 similar programs each year, teaching children about music, construction, and the environment. He also runs a program in Vermont schools.

"We talk about the environment a lot, because it's all recycled material, so it's appropriate," Knaack says. "We ask kids to look at their daily lives and look at ways they can save money and energy: cutting your shower time in half or turning the water off when you wash your hands or brush your teeth."

Memphis campers built a wooden xylophone as well as a drum set out of the farm equipment. The children spent time in a drum circle each morning, learning rhythms, but they also filed, drilled, hammered, and painted.

"They love using the power tools," Knaack says of the students in his programs. "I can teach them all kinds of great things about music, but if they use the saw for 10 seconds, it steals the show."

As the Junkyard continues to work on funding and a permanent location, the camp is a good way to showcase activities and to keep momentum for the project going.

Mitch Major and his wife Laurie not only enrolled their two children in the camp after a trip to St. Louis, they decided to sponsor it.

"We've been to science museums, children's museums, zoos, nature centers from Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte," he says. "We went to the City Museum and were just floored by it."

Back in Memphis, they got in touch with Williamson to see what they could do to support the local effort. Though museums such as the Pink Palace and the Children's Museum have unique exhibits, Major says that the Junkyard fills a different niche by focusing on the imagination.

"What we're trying to do here is teach the capacity to look at found objects and think about ways to put them together and make something different out of them other than trash," Major says. "You can teach somebody something later, but once they've gotten to a point where they haven't developed an imagination, it's hard to go back and reteach that."

Major also likes the idea of incorporating Memphis' musical heritage into the Junkyard.

"I'm not taking my kids to Beale Street," he says. "Taking something St. Louis did really well and using it for inspiration for something that would tie into music ... to me, that seems like a slam dunk."

Major could see a regional draw from the Junkyard museum, enhancing Memphis not only as a community but as a destination.

But last week, as campers performed with Knaack, beating out rhythms on discarded lawn ornaments, pipes, and coffee cans, that was enough.

"You see your kids participate in team sports, but at 6 and 8, it's still like herding cats," Major says. "But to see them do something as a group, and they're all watching the Junkman for his signal ... it was really cool for us."

And it didn't hurt that parents got to beat the drum, as well.

For more on this and other topics, visit Mary Cashiola's "In the Bluff" blog at

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