One of the focal points of our neighborhood is the small park at the corner of 1st Street NW and Rhode Island Avenue NW in front of City Cleaners. The park’s whimsical seasonal and holiday art displays built around a white bicycle fence come from the heart of neighbor Tom Noll. He has been delighting Bloomingdale with his installations for the past 12 years.
A self-taught artist, Tom has had careers in landscaping and window design for department stores. Now retired from landscaping, Tom focuses on his children’s book series “Trash to Treasure: Recycling Creatively with L.T.” Inspired by Tom’s childhood, the stories feature the eco-friendly adventures of “Little Tommy.” Together with his husband Alberto, Tom runs Green Kids Press, LLC publishing company. We recently caught up with Tom to explore his current Easter installation and to learn what inspires him to create for his neighborhood.
How did you create this year’s Easter installation?
Usually every year, each bicycle has the same design, but this year, each bicycle has its own theme, and the designs coordinate with the flags on top of the bicycles. There are pastels, bright colors, chicks, wooden bunnies, and stuffed animals. I created some of the Easter eggs to specifically match the flags. I put this together over about three days on and off. I looked at pictures from last year’s installation because I didn’t want to repeat the design. I laid everything out at home first and then installed it in the park.
You do a lot of installations and have so many eclectic decorations! Where do you find them, and how do you store them all?
A friend of ours has a barn in Upper Marlboro and she lets me store them there. I have decorations from Michael’s craft store, gardening stores, and the old Odd Lots store that was on Rhode Island Avenue. The Dollar Tree has a lot of decorations and I shop the end-of-season sales. I have to make sure that the materials can sustain the wear and tear of being outside and can be stored easily. I re-imagine how to use the same set of decorations each year, but buy new ones when things need to be replaced.
What’s the story behind the bicycles?
Everybody asks me if this is a bicycle memorial, but it’s not. It comes from the story, “The Bicycle Fence.” Like a white picket fence, but with bicycles. In the story, L.T. outgrows his bicycle which he needs to go to and from school. He gets bicycles from the junkyard, he and his dad put them together, and then they’ve got one good bicycle. L.T. takes the leftover bicycles and makes a fence for his sister to play in. This is a true story, from when I was little!
How did you collect so many bicycles?
When I lived in Manassas, I had a bicycle fence there. It started out with six bicycles in the front of the property. People started dropping them off to me, and my fence expanded to the sides of the property. It grew to 30 bicycles! I did a fence at a home in Upper Marlboro, and then got asked to make one for a lady in Alexandria. I even gave her six bicycles to start with. At one time in Manassas, I had too many bicycles and made them into a Christmas tree that was 40 feet high!
What inspired you to start decorating the park?
My mom always decorated around the house for the holidays, inside and out. I love the joy that decorations bring to people. When I first started, I asked all of the neighbors if they’d mind if I took over the park. No one said “no.” It’s a way for me to give back to the community. Sometimes, we give away L.T.’s books to children. Neighbors appreciate it; the little kids like to come and see the decorations. People from the church [Mt. Bethel Baptist Church] come over a lot and say they are happy this is here. Sometimes neighbors will thank me if they see me in the park.
What’s coming next to the park?
I love bugs and insects, so you’ll see ladybugs and bees, with signs telling you to “Bee Happy!” There will be some butterflies and hummingbirds with wings that turn, and in the summer, there will be a design with swimwear.
Tom’s installations usually stay up for two weeks as long as the weather cooperates. Hop on down to take a peek at the bunnies while they are still on display!
Tom self-finances most of these installations and he is grateful to the generous neighbors who have donated to support the art. If you would like to donate, please contact Tom and Alberto here, or you can donate via PayPal to Jucles@hotmail.com.