Growing up in a town of 60 residents, Timothy Westbrook might as well have been reared in Narnia. The town of Wanakena in northern New York is 45 minutes from the nearest McDonald’s. No stoplights, no cell phone reception. Westbrook’s elementary school was 15 miles away in a town decimated by mill closings. “Ninety-eight percent of the 500 kindergarten to 12th-grade kids were on the reduced-lunch program,” he claims. Bullying began quickly after Westbrook presented his Malibu Barbie at kindergarten show and tell. With his older sister watching over him at school, he endured. But when she graduated, Westbrook’s mother felt he was unsafe and moved him an hour away to a larger school district. It was there he started costuming theater productions.
“I grew up in a forest,” Westbrook says, referencing the Ranger School, where his father trained foresters and land surveyors on 2,800 wooded acres located in the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park. Lean-to cabins offer lodging to visitors and alumni. He used one of these cabins for photo shoots for his upcoming project at Charles Allis Art Museum, which is loosely autobiographical. This isolated but rich environment fueled Westbrook’s sustainability interests as well as his imagination. But it was his grandmother who taught him to sew at age 5 when he wanted to expand his Barbie’s wardrobe.
These formative experiences filter into everything Westbrook produces as he repurposes fabrics and employs plastic bags, aluminum cans, and cassette tape in his gentle evangelistic goal to save the world. (DB) ■