When I first came across the work of Calder Kamin, my eyeballs nearly popped out of my head. The colors! By now, you probably know that I have a thing for art featuring woodland creatures (especially owls). I also love sharing art that is made from unconventional materials, like recyclable items. This is the perfect combination. Animal sculptures made from discarded plastics!
Calder is an artist, educator, and advocate living in Austin, Texas. Calder is passionate about advocating for the environment and teaching others, especially children, about the detrimental impact of waste. Through her workshops, she shows participants how to creatively transform discarded materials into art. Calder has spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship animals have with trash, and she has observed how they adapt (like birds using discarded materials to build nests). On her website, she states: “Nature never wastes. That’s why I reuse!”
View more of Calder’s work at www.calderkamin.com or find her on Instagram @calderful. Here is a video of Calder (and her cute pup) discussing her work:
Recycleart Sculpture Garden is located in Waldoboro, Maine. It was created by the late self-taught artist and welder, Nathan Nicholls. Through his art, Nathan encouraged others to think twice before throwing an object away. There is not an object out there that Nathan could not recycle into a beautiful artwork. He welded nails, tires, bike parts, and broken farm equipment into sculptures of owls, flowers, frogs, and cats. Even the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland makes an appearance in his garden.
Nathan was originally from Massachusetts. He moved to Maine after his teenage years. He took on odd jobs, from harvesting blueberries to repairing lawn mowers and motorcycles. The latter job introduced him to the beauty of scraps and discarded objects. Inspired by these objects, Nathan started making sculptures in the 1990s. In 2003, after his mother passed away, he began devoting even more time to his art in order to comfort himself. After many years of creating art, his 5 acres of land is now covered with sculptures.
Nathan passed away in 2014, at the age of 52. His family is working to preserve his artistic legacy. They are in the process of figuring out how to ensure the safety and longevity of his art, especially during the Maine winters. Ideally, it is best to keep an art environment as the artist left it but this leaves the risk of the artwork being destroyed. We hope they come up with a solution that works for them because his sculptures are truly unique and inspiring.
For more information, please visit the Facebook page for the site.
We recently returned from a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, where we got to see the work of Kevin Sampson – an incredibly talented self-taught and community based artist living in Newark, New Jersey. His work is currently on display at the Mystic Seaport Museum as part of their artist residency program.
During the summer of 2018, Sampson stayed on a boat docked near the museum as he and the staff worked on preparing the exhibition. Community members and museum visitors were invited to learn about his work and process.
We recently tried out an art project inspired by the work of artists Tony Fitzpatrick and Robert Rauschenberg. We explored the multimedia collage works of Fitzpatrick and Rauschenberg with children ages 7 to 9. The children were encouraged to create collages based on their interpretation of the artwork and add their artistic flair.
About the Artists
Robert Rauschenberg was born in Texas in 1925 and died in Florida in 2008. He worked with several mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, and performance. Rauschenberg is well-known for his “Combines,” which is a term he created to describe his art combining painting and sculpture, made during the 1950s. Rauschenberg incorporated non-traditional materials into his work, such as photographs, newspaper cuttings, and found items that he collected on the streets of New York City.
Tony Fitzpatrick is an artist from Chicago who is well-known for his mixed media drawings, collages, and prints. He uses discarded items and various ephemera in some of his artwork, usually telling a story about Chicago. Fitzpatrick is also a writer (who has created nine books, four plays, and hundreds of essays). He gathers inspiration for his artwork from religious icons of his childhood, comics, poetry, and the city streets. He is also a former tattoo artist, which shows up in the beautiful details of his compositions.
The Watts Towers, located in California, were designed and constructed by Simon Rodia. The towers consist of seventeen sculptures, including three towers, with the tallest standing at nearly 100 feet. Other noteworthy sculptures include a gazebo and a ship. The most impressive thing about the towers is that Rodia built them entirely by himself from 1921 to 1954.
The towers were constructed using steel rebar armatures, mortar, and wire mesh. No scaffolding or machinery was used to build the towers, although Rodia occasionally used a window washer’s belt and buckle. He decorated the structures in mosaics of broken pottery, glass, shells, and other discarded objects.
Rodia was born as Sabato Rodia in 1879 in Ribottoli, Italy. It is possible that he visited the nearby village of Nola to attend the annual Gigli Festival where he would have encountered the Giglio structures (pictured below). These structures may have served as direct inspiration for his creation later on.
Rodia came to America in the mid-1890s. In 1921, after a couple of unsuccessful relationships and various jobs, Rodia decided to start his artistic journey at 1761-1765 107th Street in the Watts community of Los Angeles. He worked as a construction worker during the day and dedicated all of his spare time to making his art. He decided to create “something big,” and he did exactly that.
In 1955, at the age of 75, Rodia decided to leave his grand project behind to go live in Martinez, California with family. He handed the keys over to a neighbor. In 1959, the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts was formed to help preserve the site. After critics of the towers had questioned the safety of the structures, the site went through extensive safety testing and passed. This is a great accomplishment considering that Rodia was mainly self-taught. In 1990, the towers were listed as a National Historic Landmark, and presently the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department manages the park. Visitors can view Rodia’s amazing towers by attending a guided tour. Until then, here is a YouTube video (filmed by PC3DM) of a quadcopter flying over the Watts Towers.
The first time I laid eyes on Simon Sparrow’s art, I was amazed. The details and the range of objects involved in the making of these is incredible!
Simon was a self-taught artist known for his intricately detailed mixed media assemblages. He was born in West Africa in 1925. At the age of two his family moved to North Carolina where he was raised on a Cherokee reservation. After living in Philadelphia and New York and serving in the army (among other jobs), he eventually settled in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1970s. Sparrow became a well-known street preacher and artist in Madison.
His spiritual beliefs crossed over into his artwork. With inspiration from what he called “spirit”, Sparrow used discarded materials to create his mosaic-like art, including jewelry, plastic figurines and toys, beads, pine cones, glitter, and other unconventional art materials. He even decorated his entire car in glitter and found objects.
We recently worked on a project for kids based on the art of Simon Sparrow. As you can imagine, the kids were excited about using the recycled materials to create their work. We did this project with 6 to 8 year old children, but it can be taught to a range of ages, and the materials can be varied based on skill level. For example, older kids can use hot glue guns. With the younger kids, we used a non-toxic glue, Aleene’s Clear School Tacky Glue. Also, in order to prevent a disastrous glitter mess, but still pay tribute to Sparrow’s love of glitter, we used washable glitter pens.
For a full FREE art project plan, please click here. Enjoy! Please let us know how your projects turn out.
Continuing with the theme of recycled and found object art from previous posts, this week’s featured artist is Mary Ellen Croteau of Chicago. She creates art with bottle caps to help bring awareness to the impact of waste on the environment.
Regarding her piece Tsunami (above), Mary Ellen states on her website:
“Tsunami is made mostly of water bottle caps. I personally think that single-serve plastic bottles are a major curse on our environment, and most especially water bottles. Most of us do not need to have bottled water at hand. Getting people used to spending more money for water than they spend for a gallon of gasoline is devious and disastrous for the future of the planet; letting corporations control our water sources is evil.”
I first came across her work in 2012 at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Her Endless Columns, inspired by the sculptures of Constantin Brancusi, were vibrant towers amongst the greens of the plants and flowers. My 4-year old was very impressed, and from this, we discovered our love of collaborative art making with bottle caps. We will be posting some ideas for bottle cap art projects for kids soon!
The Gingerbread Castle, originally a fairy tale themed amusement park, is located in Hamburg, New Jersey. The castle was designed in 1928 by the Austrian architect and set designer, Joseph Urban, and commissioned by F.H. Bennett. Bennett purchased the property in 1921 to expand the operations of his company, F.H Biscuits (a dog biscuit manufacturer). Read more…
To go along with my recent post about toothpick art, I have found some fun projects for kids. I love the idea of working with nontraditional art supplies that are either lying around the house or affordable to buy. Toothpicks are definitely easy to come across. Loosely inspired by the work of artists Scott Weaver and Wayne Kusy, here are a few ideas I came across. (The project credit goes to the links under each photo.)
Michelle Stitzlein is an artist from Ohio who works with found and recycled objects. She uses unexpected materials to create her artwork, such as bottle caps, garden hoses, shards of china, old piano keys, and license plates. She has a great sense of color and design and knows how to transform the discarded items into intricate details that make her work come alive. Her butterfly and moth series is striking.
The Uncommon Canvas is an arts blog that focuses on increasing visibility for artists. We also hope to bring awareness to mental health in the arts. This blog includes interviews, artist spotlights, and art history beyond mainstream narrative.