For the seasoned scavenger, the streets of New York City are more art-filled than the Louvre. In some neighborhoods, on garbage day the sidewalks become one large flea market, dotted with discarded furniture, lamps and paintings, which end up in city landfills unless claimed by a curious passerby. One such treasure hunter is Nelson Molina, a sanitation worker whose 20 years on the job has turned him into the world’s most unsuspecting art collector. The New York Times’s incredible portrait on Molina reveals a man whose passion for collecting has filled the second story of a sanitation department garage on Manhattan’s east side.
Molina began by picking up a few discarded items to brighten up the locker room at the sanitation garage. Now, paintings, trinkets and sculptures line the walls and reach to the rafters. “I would call it more than a gallery,” said Robin Nagle, an anthropologist who keeps up with Molina’s finds. “Maybe a collection, a museum, an archive.” The city prohibits sanitation workers from keeping any garbage discoveries for personal use, but Molina skirts the law by keeping the treasures on display at the public garage.
To many, Molina’s collection might look like a pile of junk, but through his meticulous arranging and collecting, he exhibits one of the most powerful human qualities: seeing value where others can’t.
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.