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Recycled Art

The impulse to restore old furniture, to find value in the discarded, to resurrect the rusted out, to elevate trash into functionality, maybe even art—is a passionate one. In the old days, the dumpster-divers and junk men were seen as goofy guys in crumbling trucks, typified by Fred Sanford on the hit TV show Sanford and Son. But as with old neighborhoods that are now finding renewal, castoff chunks of kitchens and bath remodels, old barns and even giant bridges are sought-after treasures. Students, artists, environmentalists and creatives of all stripes comb through shops of old hardware, carefully extracted single-pane windows and old plywood for sculpture, paintings and art projects of all sizes.

Artist Graham Schodda’s work encompasses many different tones and styles, from his whimsical ray guns that look like something from the original Flash Gordon movie and toasters made to look like antique roadsters, to delicately etched salmon into antique stainless steel refrigerator doors. Schodda works primarily with salvaged metals. “A lot of the old stainless steel appliances from 15 years ago are starting to fail, and that’s an opportunity for me.” Appliance resellers and recyclers keep things for Schodda, although he also likes to hunt on his own. “There’s nothing like going to a junkyard and finding some fantastic old thing and repurposing it.” Schodda chose salmon for their significance to the Pacific Northwest. “I really have to study the fish, to know the fin structure and the silhouette.”
Ninety-five percent of his work is recycled from discarded objects.

Another artist who draws inspiration from the ocean is Victoria Roberts. Using sea glass and precious
metals, she creates beautiful jewelry and ornaments with a nautical theme. “I collect most of the sea glass myself,” she said. It all began for her when she moved to California in 2007. She had discovered sea glass, and a friend of hers invited her along to make jewelry with it. “I was hooked.” She went on to take Intensive Fabrication at Revere Academy. She left her day job over three years ago to create
jewelry full-time, and stays connected to the greater sea glass community through two juried festivals—one in Santa Cruz, CA and one in Cayucos, CA. Her work is available at the Lightcatcher museum shop, at the gift shop at Semiahmoo Resort and at Mystical Mermaid in Anacortes. “I love that you can take something that is trash and Mother Nature has polished and create something beautiful.” Roberts is a member of the Bellingham Metalworkers Guild, which offers networking and classes to the community.

Sky, rather than sea-inspired, Edgar Smith recycles parts of planes and aviation into décor and art pieces in a series he calls Aviture. Working with discarded airplane windows, engine mounts, struts and other parts that he gets in aviation bone yards, he transforms the pieces into beautiful furniture and decor. He has had a lifelong love of aviation, and this work is an homage to the beauty and grace of flight. His motto is “Giving old aircraft new vectors.” In an earthier contrast, Smith also works with wine barrels in a series he calls Save-aStave to create gorgeous votive candle holders from staves, or a lovely cork lazy Susan using a barrel hoop filled with artfully arranged corks. Save-aStave began when he bought a wine barrel on a whim. It sat in his shop for several months when a friend suggested he make some stave art. He made his first piece from that barrel, and was hooked. “I love doing something that’s never been done before and I like doing it well.”

One of the great attractions at the annual Allied Holiday Festival of the Arts is the work of Karin Mueller. Her assemblages and clocks are both thought-provoking and whimsical, part sculpture and part shrine. She also does textile transfers and wall hangings in addition to her collages. “Since childhood, I’ve always put stuff together. Later, my neighbor was Kathy Barstow, a found object artist, and I’d help her and get trade for it. I learned how to use the tools—a table saw, a drill. And now it’s my thing.” Mueller gathers pieces from antique stores, thrift shops, the RE Store and from friends. “I told my neighbor I found a huge bunch of rusty wire at a yard sale, and she said ‘only you would be excited about rusty wire.’ Oh yeah,” Mueller said, “It takes a long time and a lot of effort to rust something. You have to stick it outside, and wait for the weather.” She places the objects into separate tubs. “I have several tubs going,” she said. She has a natural eye for the potential of the object when she sees it. “When I see something, I know I can use it, but I don’t always know what for.” Some assemblages take a year to come to fruition. Other artists give her objects as well. “Graham Schodda gave me a pair of legs recently that I’m going to use.” Her assemblages are well balanced and not too cluttered. She keeps the integrity of the objects while juxtaposing disparate elements. “My new series is called Dysfunctional Tables. I’m going to make tables that don’t actually work as tables from Ouija Boards and vintage trays.”

There is such satisfaction in creating the unexpected from trash, in producing something worthwhile from a discard bin. These artists see the beauty and potential in the lowliest objects and spin them into form and angle, whimsy and style. We are rich with this style of art here, and for that, we are so fortunate.

"There is such satisfaction in creating the unexpected from trash, in producing something worthwhile from a discard bin. These artists see the beauty and potential in the lowliest objects and spin them into form and angle, whimsy and style."