Duluth artists use recycled materials to create new art

Photo Credit: Ethan Walker

When the temperatures are rising and the snow is melting we know that spring is coming, but another sign of spring occurred on Saturday, March 26, at the Unitarian Universalist Church on West College Street. Local artists came together to make up the 3rd annual Treasures of the Earth Green Goods Craft and Art Fair.

“It’s a good time to have this art fair,” said the organizer of the fair, Wendy Grethen of Wendy Up North. “In January and February there aren’t craft fairs.”

The Treasures of the Earth Green Goods Craft and Art Fair is held to promote artists from the Duluth area. The arts and crafts sold at the fair are handcrafted and made from natural resources or from recycled or reused materials. The use of these materials highlights the creativity of the local artists.

“Things aren’t necessarily garbage, you can put creativity into it,” said Grethen. “The Northland has a lot of creative people.”

Everything from jewelry, to birdhouses, to clocks, were on display. Each item was made from everyday materials salvaged from being thrown away and forgotten.

“Everything gets used,” said local artist Sheila Olmstead. “I get to keep something out of the landfill.”

Olmstead was at the fair selling her homemade clocks made from materials she finds around the house: bottle openers, napkin holders, pots and pans, and even toilet paper rolls are reused.

“I don’t think anything needs to be thrown away, it can have a useful life,” said Olmstead. “I do have a pile of junk at home,” she added with a grin.

Olmstead used to sell her clocks at galleries but thought that the price was too high. She now sells locally and charges less for her clocks.

“We charged so much,” Olmstead said. “Now everyone can buy [a clock].”

Inspiration for creating art can come from anywhere. For substitute teacher Valerie Bolen, that inspiration came from broken glass. She now creates stained glass items from broken glass.

“I hardly ever plan my art,” Bolen said. ”Since 80 percent is scrap glass, it already has a shape. The shape tells me where it goes.”

While some of the artists at the fair use items found around the house, others go a little bit further out of their way to find their materials. Daniel Rankin finds his materials down at the dump.

“Everything God created is in that dump,” said Rankin. “And everything is free.”

Rankin started creating birdhouses in 1984 and has made over 5,000 since then. The birdhouses he created as hobby are now a big hit at art fairs. At the Blueberry Art Festival in Ely he sold 52 birdhouses, and on more than one occasion he has sold all of his birdhouses before the end of the fair.

“At one fair I brought 30 birdhouses, and I sold out and still had people coming out looking for them,” Rankin said.

Working with old wood and rusted metal, Rankin creates intricate birdhouses. He uses these materials because they will last longer, and because the character of the materials make his birdhouses different.

“Nature has worked on this for a hundred years,” Rankin said. “You can’t get that at Menards.”

Do you have any unusual ways to use your garbage? Did you visit the Art Fair? We’d love to hear your stories in the comment form below.

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