When Recycling Wasn’t Cool
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?