The work for which Jim Pollock will be most remembered began with trash, the way all his art begins.

In the 1990s, when Pollock started creating his metal Christmas tree, the streets of Baltimore yielded a lot of steel hubcaps from cars they don’t make anymore, discarded casualties of collisions and potholes.

The tree grew over time, from 3 feet to 6 feet a few years later, then to 8 feet a few years after that. The artist decided that was tall enough, so he stopped.

Pollock is a man of steel. He looks for it, he finds it, he sees things in it. And then he cuts it, bends it, welds it. But the man of steel is not made of steel himself, and he can feel that now.

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Diabetes is catching up to him. His medication, which kept the disease in check for more than a decade, no longer works. He cannot always feel his hands and his feet. The slightest shift can ruin his balance and send him to the ground.

“Stairs are challenging,” Pollock, 57, said. “A 5-year-old could knock me down.”

Pollock lives on what is known cheekily as the Miracle on 34th Street. The homes here on the 700 block are decorated by the residents each December in garlands of lights and various totems of the holiday. The block is a star attraction in the Hampden neighborhood, proof of its quirkiness, resourcefulness and resilience, and shorthand for the city itself. If the miracle has a centerpiece, it’s Pollock’s tree.

His hubcap Christmas tree has been viewed by scores of thousands of people over the decades, maybe a half-million times, making it sort of the Mona Lisa of Baltimore.

“This tree, it’s become who I am,” said Pollock, who came to Baltimore in the 1980s to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art. After graduating, he went to work for the New Arts Foundry, a now defunct bronze casting studio in Hampden that created bronze statues of Ray Lewis, Thurgood Marshall, and the “Fearless Girl” on Wall Street.

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As part of Hampden’s Miracle on 34th Street, artist Jim Pollock opens his home for people to view his work, which is displayed in his living room. (Hugo Kugiya/The Baltimore Banner)

On a recent night, he opened the doors of his home — as he does every night in December — to allow visitors to come inside and view his work, which is displayed in his living room for sale. He stood by the door, tally counter in his hand, keeping track of the visitors.

His bicycle-wheel snowmen are perennial sellers, as are his Christmas angels made from cans of National Bohemian beer. But the tree will be his legacy.

Pollock has stopped welding. He creates different art now, smaller and formed from wood rather than metal. He no longer fishes steel barrels out of the Potomac River or cast iron pipe out of Jones Falls.

As December approached, he decided he was too weak to set up the hubcap tree, or convert his living room into a public gallery. Two of his friends, Rob Lawson and Tarryn Torn, came to visit after Thanksgiving, and quickly offered to do all the heavy lifting. The two of them worked for two solid days to set up the makeshift gallery.

“The living room was very dusty. It smelled like an old man lived here,” Lawson said within earshot of Pollock. “No offense, Jim,” Lawson said as he shot Pollock a smile.

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Pollock said he has stipulated in his will that all his work will be left to the Baltimore Museum of Art. In the meantime, he will endeavor to create what he can, to walk his dogs, to greet visitors at his door every December night, and to show up for his friends. They have set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses and to retrofit his car with hand controls.

“If I have good friends, I’ll keep trying to be around,” Pollock said. “What I’m experiencing now, it’s my mortality. This is what it feels like to be mortal.”

Hugo Kugiya is a reporter for the Express Desk and has formerly reported for the Associated Press, Newsday, and the Seattle Times.

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