Updated: Dec 3, 2022
by Emily Burkhart
December 3, 2022
Faith Butler, Mother Nature Turns Her Back On Us, 2022. Wood, 39 x 48 in.
The American novelist, poet, and environmentalist Wendell Berry (b. 1934) once said, “The Earth is what we all have in common.” Since there is only one Earth, what can we do to raise awareness of the importance of protecting it in an era of devastating climate change? If art can be anything, how can artists use their creative platform to advocate for responsible consumption, less waste, and decreases in pollution for a more sustainable Earth? A new exhibition at Cause and Affect Gallery in downtown Fenton, Michigan, explores these questions in the context of transforming disposable items into art. Called “Reimagining,” the exhibition seeks to raise awareness about our “disposable society." Annie Anglim, artist, metalsmith, and owner of Cause and Affect Gallery, has long championed using art to promote social issues and encourage a sense of community, not shying away from uncomfortable subjects such as domestic violence with “See it, Hear it, Speak OUT!” and two exhibitions showcasing the work of cancer survivors, “Survivor I” and “Survivor II,” for example. Also, a portion of the proceeds from each exhibition go quarterly to a different Michigan nonprofit. This quarter’s recipient is SCAMP, a summer camp for children and adults with special needs in Clarkston serving Northern Oakland County.
The concept for a visual art exhibit reimagining everyday items usually thrown away was the “brainchild” of Anglim’s high school interns, Chloe Dancel of Fenton High School and Madison LaBrie of Lake Fenton High School, who jointly curated the exhibit. The aim of “Reimagining” is “to show the transformation of disposable items as well as alternative ways to protect the Earth” in hopes of inspiring visitors to see how the things we consider trash can be repurposed into works of art. Dancel and LaBrie organized the exhibition, were tasked with the concept, wrote the call to artists, juried the applications and curated the entire exhibit as part of a two-year internship program. When they graduate at the end of the 2022-2023 school year, they will each receive a scholarship from Cause and Affect as a reward for their efforts.
Upon entering the exhibition, visitors are given slips of paper to vote for the piece of art they feel best exemplifies the theme of reimagining discarded items. At the conclusion of the exhibition, the artist with the most votes will win a People’s Choice Award of $150. The works of twenty-one different artists from across Michigan are featured and their work ranges from painting, sculpture and fiber arts to woodwork, ceramics, and mixed media. “Reimagining” is on view at Cause and Affect Gallery now through January 7, 2023. I attended the opening of “Reimagining” on Saturday, November 19, 2022, and have highlighted some of the artists and their work below.
Shauna Bradshaw, Worry Doll
Shauna Bradshaw, Worry Doll, 2022. Mixed media, 12 x 9 in.
About this piece, the artist Shauna Bradshaw says:
This Worry Doll is created from cardboard and fabric scraps. She is fashioned with an amalgamation of reclaimed vintage jewelry and various notions. This powerful figure is called a worry doll in reference to the pouches tied to her waist and chest. Swaddle sacks represent the entiments she carries while searching for answers.
Worry dolls, also called trouble dolls (in Spanish, Muñeca guitapena) are small, handmade dolls originating from Guatemala. Guatemalan children tell their worries to the Worry Dolls, placing them under their pillows before they go to bed at night. The tradition has it that by morning, the dolls have gifted them with the wisdom and knowledge necessary to eliminate their worries. The origin of the Muñeca quitapena is a local Mayan legend. The Princess Ixmucane received a special gift from the sun god that allowed her to solve any problem a human could worry about. The worry doll represents the princess and her wisdom. In the case of Bradshaw’s Worry Doll, the turquoise pouches tied to her waist and chest could represent global concerns about human pollution and climate change.
Lori Sowle, Proliferation
Lori Sowle, Proliferation, 2022. Mixed media, 24 x 30 in.
A striking piece entitled Proliferation by Lori Sowle uses the ubiquitous plastic bag to make a point. As the artist states about her choice of medium and its possibilities:
Plastic bags are the 20th century's tumbleweeds, seen everywhere, floating on
the breeze, hanging from the trees, running fence lines, and highways. This piece was created by fusing plastic bags together with heat.The resulting fabric was then applied to a wooden substrate with adhesive.These bags are available in many colors. I chose white, black, and red to convey the scar left upon the land from these recyclable items.
Fusing plastic is an organic process. One never knows how the plastic will react to the heat; the texture of this material was highlighted by applying a thin coat of paint, however, the material on its own can be quite interesting. Fused plastic can be used for sculptural pieces, or as fabric for lamp shades, wallpaper or even as drink coasters.
Cory Potter, Joy Ride
Cory Potter, Joyride, 2022. Mixed media, 16 x 20 in.
Another artist, Cory Potter, talks about his piece called Joy Ride and his approach to art:
Most of my collages center around the theme of reimagining and this piece, created on a used canvas from Goodwill, is no exception. The papers used in the collage all have a storied history, as well: 100-year-old art catalogs found in a stranger's basement, a coworker’s doodles on a post-it, a vintage Playbill cover, and handfuls of pages ripped from poetry books, art books, and magazines setout for the public to view.
Many of these elements would be viewed as disposable on their own. But adding in images that are unexpected, vintage. and traditionally viewed as every day, insignificant, random pieces of paper you could easily come across without seeing the artistic value is something I love about making art. Art really is everywhere, it just takes an artistic eye to bring it to a reimagined potential.
Pamela Stoddard, Discard
Pamela Stoddard, Discard, 2017. Mixed media, 28.5 x 12 in. framed.
About her work entitled Discard, Pamela Stoddard states:
This piece was inspired by a stack of library books with "discard" stamped on the inside covers. They were to be thrown in the dumpster. I started thinking about how many things were discarded–physically and socially–and the work started. There are pieces of the book pages, a broken pearl necklace, fiber, wood, and other collaged items incorporated into the work.
Cindy Heming, Running by Moonlight
Cindy Heming, Running by Moonlight, 2022. Mixed media, 33 x 21 in.
Cindy Heming talks about how she gave new life to an array of discarded objects and pieces of the natural world to create Running by Moonlight:
This piece has many recycled items.The canvas was a faded old picture that I painted over. All the items I used were glued to make the composition. The horse is made of metal from my sister's retaining wall. The mane and tail are chains from my mother's old jewelry, along with the eye, an old earring. The bottom of the picture consists of rocks from Lake Michigan, baby's breath from flowers my husband gave me, springs and metal flowers are Singer sewing machine parts, trees are from my flower garden, leaves are shells from Florida, grass from my palm tree that shed its leaves when it was brought in from outside. Lastly the moon is made of mica from Massachusetts.The only items that were not from recycled items are the paint, glue and stars.
Skip Getz-Walsh, Petrichor
Skip Getz-Walsh, Petrichor, 2022. Mixed media, 26 x 14 in.
Explaining his work, Skip Getz-Walsh says:
Petrichor is the pleasant smell after the rain during a dry spell. I used wine corks, cork, and rubber to make my tree trunks, birds, flowers, and clouds. Zip ties for the tree foliage. A discarded avocado bag for grass. The partial sun is the plastic top off a chip can. And of course, a wine cork frame.
Dana Stone, The Flame
Dana Stone, The Flame, 2022. Acrylic on saw blade, 30 in. diameter.
Dana Stone comments on the salvaged focal point of her work The Flame:
I have always loved classic flames. I used them here in my take on life, love, and loss. This saw blade was used up and worn out, soon to be discarded. I saw what it could be, and I just happened to be there as it was being removed from the cement saw to rescue it from the landfill and give it new life.
Marie and Levi Tino, Tree of “Renewed” Life
Marie and Levi Tino, Tree of “Renewed” Life, 2022. Mixed media, H: 7 ft. x W: 2.5 ft.
The mother-son team of Marie and Levi Tino found litter to be a mutual learning experience to be passed on to others in their Tree of “Renewed” Life. They also adorned their tree with Monarch butterflies, a critically endangered species.
Created from glass bottles we removed from the Shiawassee River in Fenton; this piece shows us how trash that was tossed aside nearly 100 years ago is littering our rivers. The driftwood tree rising from rocks found in Michigan waters represents nature reclaiming control, lifting the trash from the river, and creating a display of art called the Tree of "Renewed' Life. This piece brings awareness to our actions and how they affected the environment over many decades.Through researching each bottle, many interesting facts emerged giving us a glimpse back in time. Hanging from each bottle is a tag with snippets of this research, years, brands, manufacturers, and thought-provoking notes. We hope this artwork will inspire nostalgic conversations for those viewing it.
My son and I have been discovering these bottles in the river for several years. I think of them as gifts that we received for cleaning up the river. This exhibit has given us the opportunity to share these treasures with others. We hope you appreciate them as much as we do.