From Bake Sales to Art Markets

When parents hear about an upcoming fundraiser sponsored by their Parent Teacher Student Assocation, they normally get ready to make a pan of brownies for the bakesale or block out time to cart their kids around to sell candy door-to-door in someone else's neighborhood.

But the City High/Middle School’s Parent Teacher Student Association in Grand Rapids isn't your parents' PTA.

Next week the organization will sponsor its first Recycled Art Market, where artists from around West Michigan will display their works made from materials that normally would have been destined for the trash heap.

Booked on Nov. 7 to kick off early Christmas shopping, the idea for the market came from PTSA member Teri O’Driscoll, partially in response to changes in the school’s curriculum.

“(City) has adopted into their curriculum economicology, a blending of the economy and ecology,” O’Driscoll, 49, says.  “Funded by the Wege Foundation, (the program) is bringing kids into the realization that our environment is what we make it.  Kids learn how to improve on it and how to do with less, and to just be aware of consumption.”

O’Driscoll, whose background is in commercial photography, ran her own business for 15 years “connecting artists looking for work with creative people looking for artists.” 

“I like having projects to work on and I believe in supporting local artists,” she says.  “City High is an amazing school with great faculty and students, with a long laundry lists of things that could be done at the school – which was built in the 60s – to make it more green.”

O’Driscoll says that discussions pertaining to how to have successful fundraisers in the current economy, combined with the new curriculum, inspired the idea.
“We were talking about what we could do that would make us stand out a little from the things other people and other schools were doing, while still being true to what our theme is,” O’Driscoll says.  “At different art shows I’d been going to, I was seeing people incorporate recycled materials into their art.  It’s been a joy finding these artists, because they are really living what the curriculum at City is teaching.  They are really doing what we preach: recycle, reuse and make it into art.”

The word economicology was coined by Peter Wege, and his 1998 book,  "Economicology: The Eleventh Commandment" explores the idea that a healthy environments and economies go hand-in-hand.

Many of the participating artists were found at the Fulton St. Art Market, the Eastown Street Fair or on the West Michigan (a website for buying/selling handmade goods). 

Danny Lynn, 26, and her mother, Jenny Lynn, 53, are two such artists who specialize in recycled art that is both aesthetically pleasing as well as functional.
“It was my mother who inspired me to use items around the house, items most people would simply throw away, to make art,” Lynn says.  “She’s the master of repurposing.  I think now they call it upcycling, but we didn’t call it that then – it was just common sense to use the items we had and salvage as much as possible.”
A graphic designer by trade, Lynn says she and her mother began their Etsy site with mittens made from recycled sweaters in January last year.

“We get the sweaters from places like Goodwill or garage sales in the spring, when people are getting rid of winter clothes,” Lynn says.  “Then you ignore the care instructions and shrink them so they get really thick, line them with fleece, then cuff them.  Because they’re already shrunk, you can wash them.”

Lynn says that the mittens are very warm, making them an ideal Christmas gift.  In addition to the mittens, Lynn  makes notebooks out of pattern envelopes, old magazine covers (The New Yorker, in particular) advertisements, postcards and invitations. 

“It’s just finding something that you like, maybe you think it’s pretty, and you find another purpose for it,” Lynn says. 

Jenny Lynn, in addition to the mittens made with her daughter, makes lacy, decorative scarves from the scraps of chenille she acquired from an acquaintance who weaves.  She takes the scraps left from the loom, lays them out on a solvent paper, sews all over everything and then boils the paper.  The paper dissolvers and leaves behind the scarf. 

“I’d much rather take something that I have and no longer need and make a new use for it then go buy something else,” Danny Lynn said.  “When you have something and you reuse it, it becomes one of a kind.  This is what I love to do – I love to create and I love to try everything.” Pricing ranges from $5-10 for the notebooks, $25 for the scarves and $30 (or 2/$50) for the mittens.

When it comes to whimsical, recycled art, Bill Morris is an expert.  Known first for his ‘flying pig’ garden sculptures, Morris , 60, takes scrap parts and turns them into usable décor.  A look around his backyard in what city or neighborhood of Grand Rapids revealed dogs, pigs, birds and more made out of old helium tanks, broken shovel heads, trampoline springs, metal railing and more.  Morris finds these unwanted materials at antique stores, junk yards, scrappers and flea markets, or is given them by friends.

“If I can weld it,” Morris says, “I can make it into art.”

Morris first showed his pigs at a craft show at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids five years ago, only to sell out and have an order for more.  With that boost of confidence, Morris began making many more pigs, as well as other sculptures, and began attending art shows regularly. 

His pigs remain one of his top sellers, and Morris says he goes out of his way “to make each pig different.” Some of his pigs have earrings, Mohawks or glasses.  Morris’ talent for envisioning whole pieces out of scrap becomes more and more apparent as one is able to step back and recognize that a dragonfly body is actually a sparkplug, or the beak of a bird is actually the head of a trowel.

“It’s whatever your imagination can see out of something,” Morris said.  “It gives me a lot of satisfaction for a kid to know that (this sculpture) is a dog or that this one is a bird.  It’s particularly exciting right now, because people really like recycled art, and I enjoy making it.”

Morris’ wife, Irene, 48, also makes recycled art.  She uses old tea pots, lanterns and utensils to make wind chimes.  Morris hopes that after he retires, he and his wife can use their art as a vehicle for travel, making and selling recycled art all over the world.

Samples of Morris’ art can be seen on his Flickr account.

The Morrises and the Lynns are representing two of at least 20 booths that are scheduled to be showing wares at the Recycled Art Market.  O’Driscoll says more artists may be signing up for the event by the time it opens. To participate, an artist must pay a small booth fee, but retains all of the profits made from their art. 

And of course, some would consider the exposure of such a large-scale event invaluable. 

“It’s been a real pleasure meeting these artists because they really are a great group of people,” O’Driscoll says.  “They’re fun, they’re friendly, they’re more than happy to share information and really, the whole idea of it is that we’re all benefitting and we’re all getting something out of it.”

The Recycled Art Market will take place Saturday, Nov. 7.  Admission is $1.  Refreshments will be available for purchase as a fundraiser for City’s senior class.

A Grand Rapids resident, Juliet Bennett Rylah writes for Revue magazine and Grand Rapids
magazine and performs with the band, The Fainting Generals.


Teri O’Driscoll City High PTSA member (2)

Artwork by Bill Morris

Artwork by Heather Robinson

Artwork by Heather Weathers

Artwork by Jenny Lynn

Photographs By Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved

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