Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a Chicago artist named David Philpot. David could fill a room with joy. I worked at a museum where he helped us run workshops for our teacher training program. Students that were usually distracted when visiting our museum would drop their jaws in silence when David showed up carrying one of his incredible art staffs (which were usually about 6 to 8 feet tall). From teachers to students, everyone listened eagerly to every word that David said. I am sharing his art today because his work should be even more widely recognized.
David Philpot was born in 1940 in Chicago. He was a self-taught mosaic artist and wood-carver who created intricately detailed and embellished art staffs. He used various discarded items to decorate his staffs, including jewelry, shells, mirrors, and beads. David carved the staffs out of locally sourced wood from the Ailanthus altissima tree or Tree of Heaven, which grow like weeds in Chicago. David used to tell his story about being called by a power higher to go outside to the ailanthus trees and cut one down (they are small trees). That was in 1971. It took him about one year to make his first staff. He went on to create 350 more staffs, which are now in collections all over the world.
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.
“Like the pottery archaeologists use to define human cultures of the past, a layer of plastic will signify our own throwaway society. What will these discarded fragments say about us?
– Jo Atherton
Artist Jo Atherton is the perfect example of an artist using non-traditional materials to create art. We also love that she is bringing awareness to environmental issues.
Atherton creates her art from discarded materials collected along the UK coastline. Using the energy of the sun, she makes gorgeous cyanotype prints (also known as sun prints) of the items. She also weaves tapestries from the items that she discovers.
Atherton believes that we can learn a lot about our past through these washed up objects. Some of the items she finds are 30 years old or more, like old plastic toys. It’s interesting and sad to see what happens to these items when they are no longer loved or needed. In the artist’s words:
“I weave strands of stories to engage the public with sensitive environmental issues in ways that distressing images of marine wildlife cannot. My creative practice has become a useful conduit to explore single-use plastics as most of the flotsam objects I work with are commonplace in our homes.”
Her images are stunning and beautiful, yet they also serve as reminders of the disturbing amount of trash, mainly plastic, that is accumulating in our oceans. The artist cannot solve the issue on her own, but she is doing a great job of bringing awareness to the problem. Through her process, she also recycles items that would otherwise be garbage into meaningful artworks.
It is Spring here in Maine, and believe it or not, the snow on the ground just melted a week ago. The rain season is taking over, and while the weather is warmer now, there is still a lot to be desired. In the meantime, we are dreaming of lazy days on the beach and sunny weather.
One positive aspect of Maine winters is that we are encouraged to explore warmer climates when possible. On a recent trip to Florida, we had the opportunity to meet Roy A. McLendon, Jr. We even returned home with one of his vibrant paintings. Check out his work!
During our visit, Roy welcomed us into his studio, and we spent some time chatting with him about his work and life. He learned how to paint from his father, Roy McClendon, Senior, who was one of the original Highwaymen artists. We were familiar with the Highwaymen from the documentary, The Highwaymen: Legends of the Road,and learned even more from Roy.
The History of the Florida Highwaymen
The Florida Highwaymen were a group of twenty-six self-taught Black artists who worked in Florida during the early 1950s through the 1980s. Collectively, their body of work consists of over 200,000 landscape paintings. The paintings depict unusually bright and colorful scenes of Florida beaches, trees, sunsets, and other natural settings. The beautiful poinciana tree is featured in many of these paintings, often appearing in a shocking red or purple color.
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!
Continuing with the theme from the previous post, Barry Rosenthal is a Brooklyn based photographer also working with beach plastic. His photo series “Found in Nature” is a collection of discarded objects found on the beaches of New York. The colorful and well-designed artworks make us forget for a moment that the truth behind his work is quite disturbing. Our overuse of plastic has lead to an abundance of waste that keeps going long after its original use. To learn more about Rosenthal’s work, visit his website at http://www.barryrosenthal.com.
“I am a collector. The beach is my flea market and found objects my inspiration.”
This blog will often feature art made from recycled objects and other non-traditional materials. I was excited to come across the website of artists Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang. Their work is an excellent example of using non-traditional materials.
In 1999, the Langs began to collect plastic debris washed ashore at Kehoe Beach, located in Point Reyes National Seashore in California. They have been visiting the same 1,000 yards of shoreline to gather their materials.
Using the discarded objects, the Langs create art ranging from large-scale sculptures to small jewelry. They even embellished a car with found plastic objects. Their work has been in over 70 exhibitions.
Through their work they hope to bring awareness to plastic pollution and its devastating effect on the environment, while also transforming otherwise useless objects into beautiful and imaginative works of art.
Below is an enjoyable and informative video about their work.
To see more of their artwork, visit their website here.
Image Credits: (top to bottom) Bosky Dell, Shovel Bands, Chroma Purple via the artists’ website: One Beach Plastic.