Artists convert junk into gems (4/9/09)

Exhibit employs recycled materials

April 9, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

An exhibit now showing at Artists’ Mediums in Williston proves that one person’s junk is another person’s art.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Store manager Chelsea Lindner sits next to Rosie, a papier-mâché sculpture on display at Artists’ Mediums in Williston. It is part of an exhibit titled “Trash to Treasure” that continues through the end of April.


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Artist Jade Wolfe imagined an island escape in fashioning this recycled artwork out of take-out Chinese cartons.

Visitors to the store are greeted by a life-size, grandmotherly lady named Rosie made out of papier-mâché. She sits in a beat-up metal office chair, holding a mug and a saucer. A sign invites viewers to “come have some milk and cookies with me.”

Hung on the wall is a tarnished door plate that has been converted to a dog’s face, with the rivets for eyes, the knob for a nose and the skeleton keyhole for a mouth.

Another piece uses take-out containers from a Chinese restaurant. Turned on their side, they house a miniature island scene, complete with those little tropical drink umbrellas for parasols.

Titled “Trash to Treasure,” the exhibit includes dozens of pieces of art that use ordinarily discarded objects — paper bags, broken jewelry and bottle caps, among others — as material. The methods and mediums vary wildly, although the subjects tend toward people, animals and nature scenes.

Store manager Chelsea Lindner acknowledged the showcase has been good for business, attracting people who may not have otherwise frequented an art supply store. But she also notes the exhibit has helped strengthen the sense of community among local artists.

Lindner said the display fits the mindset of many in these troubled times, allowing artists to produce inexpensive, environmentally friendly pieces.

“You have to like the idea of recycling because of the rough economy right now,” she said. “You can go Dumpster diving, even, and it doesn’t cost anything.”

Indeed, much of the artwork economizes on materials and is being sold at affordable prices, mostly under $100. The artists’ imagination and time takes the place of pricy paint and canvas.

One of the artists, Theresa Somerset of Essex Junction, created intricately colored Ukrainian eggs. The process, similar to batik, employs wax and a stylus to layer the colors.

It is considerably more elaborate than dyeing Easter eggs, but still inexpensive. In keeping with the spirit of the exhibit, Somerset said she used the egg innards to make quiche.

Other pieces use material not usually associated with art.

Burlington artist Mark Dabelstein employed beer bottle caps to fashion a hand-made clock. “Vermont Brew Clock” arranges the caps from a number of locally made beers around the face. Magic Hat caps get the 10 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions.

An old window is converted into a picture frame in a piece by artist Season Hubley titled “Josie’s Vacation.” The middle pane is a portrait of the artist’s young niece, with the top and bottom sections showing tropical flowers and tranquil ocean.

One of the largest pieces is a galloping horse, carved by artist Patricia Morey from salvaged wood and ornamented with roofing tin from a 150-year-old collapsed barn.

The idea for the exhibit grew out of a long-standing annual event for students called the Creative ReUse Showcase sponsored by the Chittenden Solid Waste District, said Kristin Richland, assistant manager at Artists’ Mediums. More than 100 entries were submitted by high school students this year.

Employees had in the past helped judge the event. But Richland said some artists wondered why there wasn’t a similar showcase for adults, and “Trash to Treasures” was born.

Artists took pride in creating the most imaginative possible piece for the least amount of money, she said, suggesting that their methods could be adopted by anyone with a visual flair.

“By far the most common theme from our participants was how little they had to spend to make their creation,” Richland wrote in an e-mail, “and we think that attitude could be taken and used around the house: Cover an old lampshade with a sheet of handmade paper and you’ve ‘up-cycled’ it into something you’ll actually get compliments on!”

The exhibit continues through the end of April at the store, which is located at Taft Farms Village Center. Artists’ Mediums is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.