Article and Photos by Craig Edwards
In my hometown of Big Sandy lies a small puddle of water. Scarcely 10 feet in diameter, it’s located just off Highway 87 at 48.178412 -110.111571. Officially named the Joe Trepina Memorial Main Street Puddle, it is more commonly known as Puddle. I named it for my late uncle Joe, who was the water superintendent for many years. I lived with him and his sweet wife, Dottie, one winter after my dad’s 4WD pickup broke down and I couldn’t get back and forth to school. I shared the basement with their son Donnie, who holds the record for the number of consecutive plays of Don McLean’s song “American Pie.” I swear, if someone plays that song at my funeral, I will haunt them for eternity.
Wikipedia, under the Big Sandy history entry, describes Puddle as “particularly charismatic.” That is an apt description of the town in general, I think. This idyllic community is overflowing with goodwill and happy people. Sometimes, the town smells like wet dog, but other than that, it’s a great place to live. That’s what they say, at least. I live 20 miles out on Lonesome Prairie, but I do have my gallery in the town, so I get to check on Puddle with some regularity.
I began the Puddle Project on April 28, 2019 for one simple reason. Or maybe not so simple, depending on whether you are a licensed psychiatrist or not. Since my first posting on Facebook, Puddle has gained hundreds of fans in at least 13 states and Canada. Strangers approach me on the street to ask how Puddle is doing.
Everyone wants to be part of “Puddlemania.” Some say the water has healing properties. A batch of vodka made with Puddle water is distilling as I write this. Poems have been written about Puddle, courtesy of Big Sandy’s mad subgenius Steve Sibra. I’m reaching out to Jeff Ament about writing a song, and maybe doing a benefit concert. Our county commissioner has given me a verbal commitment to designate Puddle as a county park. Negotiations are underway with our city council to install a permanent water supply to Puddle, complete with a fountain pump and a timer. If a daily fountain show won’t bring in the tourists, nothing will. My sources indicate the American Prairie Reserve is attempting to buy the section of Main Street where Puddle is located. We will fight them and their vast amount of East Coast money. “Save the Puddle, stop the APR” posters are being designed, and a Puddle Preservation Society has been formed, with a “meet me at the puddle” event planned. Maybe I’ll see you there. Senator Tester will speak. My attempts to get President Trump to designate Puddle as a National Monument have failed, but Tester has promised to strong-arm the Donald. Quid Pro Quo. Not a day goes by that I don’t get an email, message, or phone call about Puddle—many wondering if merchandise is available. But the one question I never get is: “WHY?”
Puddle as Metaphor
Is Puddle a metaphor for the decay of small rural towns in Montana? Does it represent the crumbling infrastructure of our agricultural economy? What about the aging population in towns like Big Sandy and the governmental abandonment we feel? Will the media denigrate us as simple-minded irrelevants clinging to Guns, God, and Puddle? Could it be the “Puddle of Youth?” Is it an oasis of hope for those who wander the desert of meaninglessness? What about those who deny the existence of Puddle? Will their disbelief prove to be the last straw that holds together our community and ultimately the World? Am I crazy, or a visionary? Am I the OWG (old white guy) equivalent of Greta Thunberg? All of the above, and none of above.
Puddle as Conceptual Art
Conceptual art and the philosophic school of thought known as “Absurdism” have long fascinated me. For those of you who didn’t waste a good chunk of your life going to art school, conceptual art is a movement that prizes ideas over the visual or physical components of works of art. In short, just the expression of an artistic idea suffices as a work of art—no actual work needed. It is so simple, at least on the surface, that many would reject conceptual art as being anything other than crap. The key to creating “good” conceptual art lies in the mind of the audience, an art critic, or a gallery owner. The more it is talked about and written about, the better it is. By this standard, Puddle is a successful work of art for me. Talked about, written about, and potentially monetized.
Absurdism is where my real interest lies—the idea that we can find meaning in a meaningless object like Puddle. This was my mindset when I first dipped a toe into the water. And if I could entice others to find meaning in the meaningless… then the project would become a fully realized work of art. I understand that some may find that offensive—but art does not exist to please everyone all the time. Sometimes, people just need to have fun. I know I do.
Wizard or Wacko?
Being the man behind the curtain has come with a cost, however. Time, energy, photo-shoots, posters, t-shirts, scale models, vodka labels. I need employees, but who has time for that? I have enough trouble with the one employee I already have. I have repeatedly turned down media requests for more information and interviews. The possibilities for Puddle are endless. Ideas flow like Lonesome Prairie coulees in the spring. Art can be hard work. My mind is on overload, and Toto is nipping at my heels. It might be too much, but I am not afraid—I have the heart for it. The big question is—do I have a brain?
In June 2020, fans were to travel from every corner of North America—part of a developing pilgrimage to see and celebrate Puddle. Sadly, “Puddlepalooza: Three Days of Peace and Puddle,” was cancelled due to the Virus and has been rescheduled for June 2021.
Fortunately for all its fans and followers, Puddle is completely unaffected by Covid-19. (I make no personal claims that its water is a cure or preventative elixir.)