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More Recycled Birds

January 9, 2018

Amazing. Where did 2017 go? I have been making work like crazy, but somehow not posting about it. Time to catch up!


Finders Keepers

After the Zeitgeist show at Hillyer Arts Space (now International Arts and Artists at Hillyer – IA&A at Hillyer), I kept on making birds. The larger forms I started making, including the crow for the Zeitgeist show, took a back seat to an explosion of smaller birds.

img_3257I participated in the Maker Faire Northern Virginia in late March, where I presented an exhibit called Spinning Straw into Gold – Making Art with Upcycled Materials in which I showed how to make small bird bodies using a toilet paper roll and a postcard (plus tape). After spending 8 hours making the same form over and over again, I had figured out how subtle variations in the structure created a good range of character. I had a great time working with visitors as young as 5 years old, explaining the magic of transforming simple shapes – a cylinder and a rectangle – into a complex, recognizable form.


Japanese and Korean paper is wonderfully soft and easy to apply to the 3D forms – I rarely break my rule of reusing materials, even these outer coverings.

For the rest of the spring and summer, I experimented with different kinds of paper coverings, including wrapping papers, candy and cookie packaging, and catalogues.

I also decided to expand past paper into other found materials that might challenge the viewer a bit more, as they figure out what they are looking at: rose petals and hornet nest “paper.”

I am continuing to experiment with new outer materials, and I am drifting back toward larger forms as well. Longer-term plans include placing the birds in more complicated contexts, like Finders Keepers, including building a chopstick nest for another chopstick wrapper bird.


The adventure continues!





Finders Keepers

March 6, 2017


I was invited to make a piece for a show called Zeitgeist IV – Preconceptual that opened at the Hillyer Art Space in March. I was given the word “appropriation” as a prompt. That is not a topic I usually consider in my work.  So I decided to go for it and make a piece that really examined appropriation, of all kinds.


I made a crow, another in my series of  recycled birds. Crows are often thought to steal objects for their nests, especially shiny objects. I did some research and found o

ut something intriguing—it is a mistaken assumption

that crows are thieves more than any other birds.

First the crow was covered with plain newspaper, as many of the other birds in my series had been. But I knew it would have to be black in order to read more as a crow. I started to collect black advertisements from newspapers to make a second layer of strips for the bird. And then, after Inauguration Day 2017, I was packing newspapers for recycling, and I noticed that both the New York Times and Washington Post had run full-page images of President Trump that were almost all black. SO I decided to cover the crow with those images of the Appropriator in Chief – who likes to collect shiny things and shows little regard for how his collecting affects others.


Then I started to collect objects for the nest. I limited myself to only found objects – appropriated both in terms of how they were acquired and in the fact that I tried to include mostly things that have a culturally appropriative reference as well.

I call it “Finders Keepers” as a comment on how people like to choose the bits they find appealing and often ignore the deeper potential meanings of their choices, either to themselves or to others.


Here is the list of materials that went into the final piece.

Found materials:


  • Abandoned garden tools from a community playground build site (two shovels and a rake)
  • Reused packaging twist ties
  • Sticks gathered from a garden
  • Bamboo planting stake
  • Daylily leaves
  • Two vine Christmas wreaths reclaimed from the garbage
  • Aluminum bonsai training wire


  • Toilet paper rolls, raisins box, wire hanger, strips of newspaper from Inauguration Day 2017 (full-page images of President Donald Trump)

Objects in Nest

  • Blown egg covered with Hannukah gelt wrappers
  • Blown egg covered with strips of German bible pages
  • Traditional Medicinals herbal tea bag
  • Sprig of discarded Christmas tree branch
  • Native American reservation fundraiser dream catcher
  • Rubber Buddha eraser
  • Skull keyring
  • Sage smudge stick
  • Temporary “henna tattoos”
  • Plastic lei
  • Gold origami paper crane
  • String of Tibetan prayer flags
  • Strip of sari silk
  • Strip of printed “kente cloth”
  • Bamboo chopsticks
  • Red kabbalah bracelet
  • Child’s glasses
  • Replica Republic of Texas money
  • Spun newspaper
  • Electronics plus and cord
  • “Keep this Coupon” coupon
  • Keys
  • Marcasite (“fool’s gold”)


March 6, 2017


How did I start on the birds? I was preparing for a papier mache workshop – showing the pre-school teachers at Washington International School how to  make vessels and sculptures using tissue paper and newspaper over armatures. I had to make a few samples to show the sculptural technique, so I made a couple of mockups to show the steps, using toilet paper rolls and other cards stock, like food cartons, and wire.

I had so much fun making the demos, that I kept on going. Starting with random strips of newspaper.


Then, I started covering them with other materials – all found and recycled, and they took on themes.


First, I made the newspaper strips more specific, using just the comics. Then, I used pages from a discarded German bible (found in a restaurant in Chicago).


Next, I made songbirds covered with strips of old sheet music


… and hymnals.

Next, strips of flyers, left over from Chinese New Year (2017 is the year of the Rooster, so I made a chick).


To be continued.

Upcycling workshop at WIS

March 16, 2016

This week, I got to work with two lively and creative groups of middle schoolers at Washington International School.

We used recyclable “clean” trash to make collages, inspired in part by my beach find collages from last month. We used paper, plastic, and metal materials to create ecology- and recycling-related symbols as well as free-form collages with no glue or tape so that we could preserve them through photos and then deconstruct them and recycle the materials at the end of the day.

They came up with some wonderful ideas!  Here is sampling of their work!

Some of the most fun (for me) was seeing how their ideas evolved as they explored the material.




Peace in the sea.jpg

garbage family



Baltimore ACC – always a treasure trove

March 14, 2016

… for art made with reused materials. In February, the American Crafts Council holds on of the larger crafts show in the country, with both wholesale and retail days and hundreds of artists.

One of my favorite artists in that category this year was Devin Johnson of Makeshift Accessories in Minnesota. His booth was packed with innovative uses for salvaged materials, including rings made from metal measuring tapes and signage.


Ruler rings

His bracelets made from industrial flooring and license plates were what drew me into the booth.


License plate bracelet

After a nice stroll through his fascinating booth, my eye fell on an amazing collection of bracelets made from salvage metal from a WWII German Messerschmitt Me109 downed by US flak 1945 and reclaimed from a boggy area near Schoenberg.

One bracelet in particular was the one I couldn’t resist. Ah, a piece of history and a gorgeous object!





Vacation finds … beach plastic

March 14, 2016

In February, I made a trip to visit dear friends who have retired to Eleuthera, Bahamas, and to scope out a possible project about how coastal communities’ lives are affected by changes in the ocean, including increasing garbage in the water and on the shores and changing marine life migration and availability.


Eleuthera is a long, thin island with beaches running along both the Atlantic and the Caribbean side.

I took some lovely long walks along the island’s many beaches and, especially on the Atlantic side, I found a stunning amount of plastic garbage washed ashore.

I collected the more durable and colorful pieces (only a very few of which are in the image to the left) with thoughts of making a jewelry series (which I still may do). In the meantime, I was visiting during Valentine’s Day, so I made a collage using the warm colors:


Then, since I had so much fun with that image, I made a few fish collages. Perhaps I will use cards with these images to help raise awareness of the problem of plastic in the oceans.



And now I am inspired to make more! One small bag of plastic yields many possibilities. To be continued….



Thing-a-Day – a month will just have to be enough…lesson learned

February 27, 2015

I made it through a month and then realized that, while this is great fun, it is distracting me from larger projects with pressing deadlines. Despite high hopes, this was not the year that I would be able to complete an entire year of this sort of project. Maybe a month was enough time to figure out how I benefit from that sort of intense focus, as well as how I need a more flexible creative environment.  Long story short, I need to back away from the deadlines and get back to letting the work flow more organically.

My practice still involves daily small-scale focus – it always has – but I am having trouble getting away from the concept of completing something daily (let alone blogging about it!). I know I gave myself some slack, but I couldn’t take it – an interesting thing to learn.  I just dropped the ball and backed away.

The blogging in particular was taking too much planning. So apologies if you look for regular posts. I will add bits when they are most compelling and relate more closely to using recycled materials, and when I have time!

This is all part of figuring out how to balance concrete goals with more freeform exploration.  Thanks for coming along for the ride. Will post more as it happens.