Don in his studio with a Tin Man.
by Jayne Behman
"Morro Bay is the world's best place, I'm blessed to live here."
On a recent visit to Morro Bay's Chamber of Commerce Office, I noticed an almost four-foot-tall "Tin Man" sculpture resting against a wall. Sharon Bufo at the Chamber told me that Don Vest, who I know from the Morro Bay Yacht Club, made it and 399 others.
Don Vest made this Tin Man?! I was astonished. I have waved courteously and said hello to Don whenever I've seen him over the last five years, but after witnessing his recycled artwork, I realized I wanted to know more about him.
Don is celebrating his 90th birthday this month. While he wouldn't declare his plans for this milestone event, he did tell me his plans for his sister-in-law's 84th birthday. Don, sporting a helmet and goggles, will be hopping into her Harley Davidson touring motorcycle's sidecar for a ride from Santa Cruz to Moonstone Beach.
A Morro Bay resident for over 47 years (purchasing his house for $19,500), its no surprise to hear he has witnessed many changes here. Born in Fresno, Cayucos and Morro Bay have been Don's playgrounds since he was four years old. Vacant lots andthree Camp San Luis family living quarters barracks used to surround his north Morro Bay home. Now that the same home is surrounded by custom-built homes and he feels lucky that he has at least a peek-a-boo view of the ocean.
An unassuming, jovial man, Don is a friend to many. He enjoys sipping brandy, has just completed his 122nd trip with Silver Bay Tours, and declares that Dockside is his favorite restaurant. He walks daily, enjoys playing golf, and admits his computer literacy skills are limited. While blue is his favorite color, he takes pride in driving a red PT Cruiser. It took me three weeks to land an interview with him. Suffice to say, Don is a busy man.
His personal history is an open book, with walls covered in photographs of two of his three wives, dozens of life-long friends, three children, six grandchildren, and fourteen great-grandchildren. He was married to his third and last wife, Carol, for 47 years . . . "That one finally took. I wouldn't have changed a thing in my life . . . even though I had a lousy second wife."
Don is a old sea dog, having been a Chief Cook in the Merchant Marines for nine years. When asked if he was a good cook, he responded, "Had to be or they would have thrown me overboard." Now, though his wife gets seasick, he owns a 24-foot sloop. I confessed to having the same problem as his wife - a bone of contention between my husband and I - so Don shared an old remedy. "Cotton in one ear and you won't get sick." During his non-military career, he was a heavy equipment driver for Cal Trans and helped build the trails at China Peak that are known today as Sierra Summit.
But Don has always considered himself an artist. He began painting in oils and acrylics on cardboard over 40 years ago after watching Bill Alexander's television show "Anybody can Paint".
In his garage studio are over 200 various, well maintained, and perfectly sorted tools. Everything is in its designated place. Don loves "junk." With a good eye for found treasures, he has fashioned paintings on black velvet, created hundreds of 2-D collages featuring the faces of his many female friends, and constructed a 32-piece band. Using his woodworking skills, he has built replica building facades and more than 50 bird houses. His outdoors walls are decorated with his Disney character cutouts, all of which he hand paints. Would I be safe to say that Don Vest may be the first recycle artist along the Central Coast?
Some of Don's Wood Facades
Inspired by a trip to Australia where he saw a Kangaroo made out of tin cans, combined with his love of the Wizard of Oz, Don made his first recycled Tin Man in 1946. Today, 64 years later, his 400 Tin Men grace homes everywhere. Today however, he has production problems. Besides the required 13 cans of various sizes, he needs 24 nuts, a 36-inch 1/8th steel rod, four 3" 1032 bolts, and one can of silver spray paint. The Tin Men's two feet are made of sardine cans. (He's is sick of eating sardines.)
PS: Don generously donated one of his Tin Men, painted in red, white, and blue, for a silent auction fundraiser item to Morro Bay 4th.org, the organization that is raising funds to bring live fireworks back to Morro Bay this July. This "object de Art" will be available at the Bar-B-Qued Oyster & Beer Fest at Dockside Too on Sunday, April 11th, from 1:30 to dark:30.