I have a real knack for shopping. I mean I can walk into a place, find what is on sale, identify what is terrific about an item that has been passed over and breathe new life into it and pay practically nothing for it. It’s all about time and place and not having a judgement about something coming from the road traveled to long and too far. I lived a lot of my life sport shopping, accumulating lots of things I love and more that I absolutely never needed. That all changed very painfully and very abruptly a couple of years ago.
Two things happened in quick succession. First, my husband and I got caught in the real estate collapse right about the time we had decided to downsize. We had bought a smaller house with a barn for me to work in while still in possession of the larger home we lived in for the last 10 years. The upshot of that experience was that we never moved into the more modest house because it was easier to sell and we were on the verge of foreclosure on four We were drowning in paper obligations we never had any business taking on in the first place.
The second thing that happened was after talking to my girlfriend, she said something that changed my life. We were talking about Christmas shopping. There was barely money for groceries so Christmas gifts were out of the question. She told me that she was in Macy’s and when she arrived on her floor, she stopped for a moment and looked around. And then it hit her - every single thing in the store, including the construction of the building, everything within her sight, would end up in a landfill. Every dress, every screw, every floor tile, every shoe, every makeup brush every yard of fabric and carpet every rhinestone every watch…would eventually end up as trash in a landfill somewhere on this planet of ours. I can tell you, my mind was blown forever at this thought.
I would identify every single place and every single day as a way to reuse something instead of buying more. Fortunately, my work at the time was broken piece mosaics so I already had a reuse, recycle, reinvent mentality about using my materials. Not only was I using old china but I would purchase the chipped stuff on sale tables and friends were bagging up everything they broke and giving it to me. This way of working caused me to begin seeing things in components. A plate that was not really much to look at but had one beautiful rose right smack dab in the middle of the plate was a find. An otherwise white plate with a beautiful gold border around the edge would make a perfect border around a house number was a keeper. I was developing an eye for salvage.
When I started making jewelry, I ran to Michael’s to stock up on materials. Looking at all the findings, beads, pendants, wire, I was struck by two things. One, these materials were not going to express the vision I had in my head. Two, more than the materials themselves was all of the packaging. Everything came with cellophane, cardboard, staples, tape, wire - all manner of packing materials that would end up in the garbage before I even made my first necklace. The image of the Arthur Kills landfill flashed before me and I no longer had a feel for my new jewelry line.
One day I was cleaning out a drawer and there were several pieces of junk jewelry, those impulse buys from Target or H&M that you wore once and then wondered why you bought it to begin with. I also came across some old grandma pieces that I would never wear but felt terrible tossing out. I opened myself up to the possibility in these tidbits and then I began to see components. If I disassembled the jewelry, there would be clasps, jump rings, beads, chains - all the things I had walked away from at Michael’s were staring me right in the face! I could make the jewelry I was envisioning by disassembling and recomposing them in a new and creative way. Suddenly, everything I laid my eyes on became potential material for all of my work.
We on this planet have enough. Some of us have too much and some not enough but there is enough stuff for everyone. We as artists can create a revolution now. We can explore the esthetic of recycling and reimagine what is beautiful. We have a power and a responsibility, as artists, to see the world through different more thoughtful eyes. Let’s make our contribution to our planet this earth day by pledging to develop new eyes. Let’s see the treasure not the trash.