HERMANN — The door to Victor Fricke's room at The Falls at Frene Valley Assisted Living Center in Hermann was adorned with a patriotic welcome sign just days before the Fourth of July holiday. Fricke, 73, created the sign from old soda cans.
Walking into his room, it was clear that he has a passion for taking someone's old trash and making it into recycled treasures.
"People are always saying to recycle," Fricke explained. "I thought this is one way to recycle soda or beer cans."
For his first creation, an airplane, Fricke used a pattern. But many of the patterns he created since have been his own. A pattern book he created contains more than 130 can art patterns and inspiration photos for everything from an armadillo to a ladybug, rhinoceros and a bulldozer. This year he created a cicada as well.
He even has created Fort Victor, complete with corner and center houses, a fence, flag and soldiers — all from aluminum cans.
"When I first started, things didn't turn out the best," he said. "The first one I thought I would never get done."
But he did finish, and it wasn't long before his art took off and people began asking for certain creations.
"Someone would say 'Where's the dozer?' and a few days later I would have the dozer," he said. "It's kind of a challenge."
The biggest challenge, Fricke said, was making the St. Louis Arch. The shape, he said, was difficult, and the project itself included a lot of cutting and glue. Now, Fricke can make a plane in an hour and said it takes longer for the glue to dry than for him to make the piece.
Fricke began making the can art when he moved into the assisted living center about two years ago.
"It's not a big enough place to do other things," he said. "I just started doing little things like this that I've got the room for."
His closet has been converted into a workroom with a box of cans, cut up and rolled into strips for easy storage, and boxes of other supplies. The only thing not recycled on the projects is a welding wire, which is used as a hanger on the planes. Wheels used to be made from wood, but Fricke has since begun making them from aluminum as well.
Fricke is a lifelong Hermann resident. In the past, he enjoyed woodworking. His room at The Falls is decorated in handmade furniture and wall hangings.
He also collects coins and has all 50 state quarters including one of each created at the Philadelphia mint and the Denver mint. He also likes gardening and spending time outside.
Each Wednesday he is "kidnapped" and brought to his niece's house for a family dinner with many family members.
When his art projects are complete, Fricke finds delight in giving them to others, including children. He said he would never charge for them but added that sometimes people give him things in exchange for one of his creations.
As Fricke talked, visitors shuffled into his room to say hello, ask for help fixing something and even to drop off a Walmart bag of cans.
Another thing Fricke enjoys is having shows. So far, Fricke has hosted four shows for his art pieces. Two have been to residents at The Falls, and two have been to summer school children. School groups came from both St. George, the local parochial school, and Hermann Elementary.
Rose Branson, a teacher, brought about 60 elementary school children in two groups and incorporated a lesson on recycling. In addition to showing the pieces he has created, Fricke gives demonstrations to the children on making various projects.
"I've gone through thousands of cans already," he said.