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When Recycling Wasn’t Cool

September 26, 2011

Early Signs - Collage, 5x5", Recycled and Weathered Papers

If you only knew the things I recycle. I could do a whole other blog just on recycling.

My mother went through the Great Depression, and it changed her forever. When I was a teenager, growing up in the 50s, I remember being embarrassed in front of my friends when she would scrape the bits of butter off the wrapper and save every scrap of aluminum foil. She saved tiny amounts of leftover vegetables and the liquid out of canned vegetables until there were enough of them for soup. At the time, I resolved that when I grew up I was going to have plenty of food around and  would make lavish meals from scratch and no leftovers. And I fulfilled that promise to myself for years.

Mother was an artist. Not only did she save every little scrap in the kitchen, that sensibility extended to her art studio. She saved the cardboard stiffeners out of my Dad’s laundered shirts for us kids to draw on. She used tin cans and peanut butter jars for her turpentine and linseed oil. She mixed paints in discarded aluminum pie pans, which also came in handy for saucers under flower pots. She made her own canvases, mounted on hardboard using rabbit skin glue. But though she insisted on her own professionally-made canvases, she was not above painting on old pieces of salvaged barn board or heavy cardboard that she would rescue from a bin.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those little things I saw my Mother doing stuck with me, and have started to show up now that I’m older and wiser, and less easily embarrassed. And besides, recycling is cool now.

In recent years, my culinary habits have been more like those of James Beard, who could make a fine meal from whatever three ingredients he found in the refrigerator. And yes, I do save leftover vegetables and stock for future soups. It’s a time-honored family tradition that fits me like a comfortable pair of shoes.

In the studio it’s the same. I so enjoyed making collage papers out of used deli paper last week. Now I have my eyes on coffee filters and perhaps tea bags! Used brown paper is a favorite of mine for painting and making into collage papers. Everything within my reach is now considered possible art materials.

It’s a relief to know that now everyone is recycling, and that it doesn’t seem so odd. After all, it’s what we should have been doing all along.

And so I guess my question for you is: What is the most unusual or innovative thing you’ve recycled in making art?

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 26, 2011 10:45 pm

    There’s an old saying: Make do or do without. Use it up and wear it out.

    I think anyone who was raised by depression era family or prairie people (or both, as in my case) have these things ingrained in them from the time they are small. I live in the land of the tree huggin’ Granolas (British Columbia, Canada) now and my prairie upbringing has stood me good stead. I taught mixed media for years and I told all my students “there is no garbage”. I like the idea of making art from what you have on hand and if you need something, trading an art friend for it. When I need to fresh up my collage fodder, I just swap with a friend!

    • September 28, 2011 8:22 am

      Lelainia, I love that old saying. My parents told me it used to be repeated during WWII when things were scarce. I was born during the war and still have my own ration book!! It’s such a treasure I wouldn’t dare use it in collage, but I sure could scan it.

      I also like what you told your students. I hope it has stuck with them.

  2. Motherkitty permalink
    September 26, 2011 11:15 pm

    It sounds like your mother’s quite a gal, and you picked up a terrific “habit” from her. Good for you!

  3. September 27, 2011 3:57 pm

    The last couple of years I’ve challenged myself to recycle items for Christmas gifts to co-workers. The first year was renewed small frames found at the thrift stores, pulling out what ever was in it and replace with my own watercolors. The next year I shredded Starbucks cups (one cut) and wove into square or rectangle coasters. Those have lasted 2 years. Last year, I found used cear acrylic tree ornaments and filled with colorful shredded materials. This year I want to tackle reusing/repurposing wine and beer bottles for glasses and vases. Gotta find a decent bottle cutter. I love recycling, repurpose, renewing!

    • September 28, 2011 8:26 am

      What a wonderful idea to make gifts from recycled things, Barbara! I can say without a doubt that friends (and even family) always appreciate something made by hand. I would love to have a bottle cutter too. That would be fun to do.

  4. September 27, 2011 9:56 pm

    I have been collecting deli papers everywhere we go…they are just so much pure FUN! Bottle cutter…hummmm that is an interesting idea. Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  5. September 28, 2011 2:48 am

    Yes! Yes! Use them. Can’t wait to see the results.

    My background is similar – but in the UK. We had rationing when I was tiny, Those scraped butter papers were used to line baking pans,

    Isn’t it interesting to have connections across the oceans, I’m finding it more and more as I visit blogs. Those miles sure do shorten.

    • September 28, 2011 8:37 am

      Sassa, the best thing about blogging is connecting with like minded souls all over the world. It’s such a thrill to discover our commonalities. You and I, then, must be close to the same age. I still have my own ration book from the war, even though it was issued when I was a baby! And I’m sure my mother must have used those butter papers in the same way.

      I like tea bags as they are, with the strings and tags still attached. Of course the tea can be used for giving an aged look to papers, but I just like the empty bags too. And coffee filters are wonderful too

      • September 28, 2011 2:32 pm

        Do you know, I forgot to say that the most unusual think I’ve probably used is fluff from the tumble-dryer. Yes, I think we are about the same age I’m probably a little older. Who cares! I’m as young as I feel. Met with my 87 year old uncle today – he’s still working, so there’s hope for me yet, LOL

  6. Anonymous permalink
    September 28, 2011 6:59 am

    well this one took me on a major trip down memory lane, just loved it. a large part of my art is recycle……and i pick up all kinds of things and put them in my garage …. just in case so i suppose i am a re cycler. m

    • September 28, 2011 8:44 am

      Margaret, I’ve seen your garage and would call you the Queen of recycling! And your art is a wonderful testament to that. Speaking of which, my next-door-neighbors have an average-looking pine coffee table out behind their shed, next to my fence. At least one of the legs is off and lying next to it. And I think another piece is a drawer from the same table. They are obviously letting it sit out there until they burn their trash again. Knowing them, they’ll probably burn it.

      Aw, now I probably shouldn’t have told you about it. It’s such a waste!!

      • Anonymous permalink
        September 28, 2011 10:30 am

        now that really hurts!

      • September 28, 2011 10:47 am

        I know!!! I’d mail the stuff to you but that would kind of defeat the purpose.

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