On Saturday, when artists Cara Mico, Stephen Shumaker and Wenda Vorce welcome guests to their art gallery opening, they’ll be sharing their interpretations of what it means to truly turn one man’s trash into another’s treasure.
The three are this year’s winners of the third annual Coastal Oregon Artist Residency, a collaboration between Recology Western Oregon and nonprofit Astoria Visual Arts to raise awareness of recycling and the creation of art through the use of repurposed and discarded materials.
The artists, who began their work July 2, received a monthly stipend, access to materials and dedicated studio space at Recology’s Astoria Recycling Depot and Transfer Station over three months.
Here, they talk about their passion for making the Earth a better place, one piece of trash at a time.
Mico is the program director for the Cannon Beach Arts Association. Her show is called Broken Records, a reference, she said, “to all of the changes that have taken place in my lifetime.” It includes nine paintings, four sculptures, an installation piece, and “a bunch of Christmas ornaments.” All will be for sale.
Mico, who lives in Nehalem, describes herself as a “kind of a magpie.”
“I’ve been collecting things my entire life,” she said. “Sorting and categorizing things and putting them in bins. I would always sort my mom’s tool room and put all the screws into different containers. As I got older, I started to collect stranger and stranger things. Feathers. Books. I started collecting odd assortments of things I’d find on the street. I have an aversion to throwing things out. I always like to recycle, reuse, and repurpose. I like to turn the things I am collecting into other things.
“My proposal was to do a series of quasi-traditional paintings that focused on climate change. I used paint on old drop cloths and stretched them onto two-by-fours that were part of a discarded project, and I also used recycled paper and painted on that.
Mico used her own “addiction” to sparkling water to inspire a sculpture made of plastic, rope and driftwood. “If you get to-go food, you get plastic forks. For over a year I’ve collected every fork and spoon and knife. I took the bottles I generated in a month and I put it all together and made it look like a piece of flotsam that might be ingested by a sea creature. I tried to make it look like something a whale would be attracted to.”
Shumaker is a photographer, filmmaker, and educator. The Knappa resident originally came to the project with a proposal to document the other artists’ work, but ultimately came up with his own creation, dubbed The Solar Stroller, a self-contained solar-power generator.
“What generally appeals to me about reusing materials is making the whole world function more efficiently,” Shumaker said. “I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve seen how the waste we generate impacts other places. A big part of it for me is trying to clean up the world by making the consumption and waste stream more efficient. I traveled to Cambodia, and just because of the way the ocean’s currents and rivers run, there is a lot of floating waste that collects in that country. All of the rivers and streams are chock full of floating waste. Most of it is plastic. Some comes from that country, some from neighboring countries and some from us, like from ships at sea.
“The way I operate as a photographer is I try to be as eco-friendly as I can. I charge all my batteries and all of my shop tools off solar power to make my production process as eco-friendly as possible.”
In documenting the work by Mico and Vorce, Shumaker hopes to inspire others to consider creating their own art.
“There is a tendency to see a finished piece and say ‘That’s great, but I’m not an artist and I could never do that.’ Anyone can do it. It’s putting in the time and playing and seeing what fits and inspires us.”
Vorce first became involved in making art via recycled objects after she left her job at a gummy bear factory in Vancouver, Wash., and moved to Wenatchee, where a friend taught her how to weld rusty metal into sculptures. Her show, called Grandma’s Garden Gate, features furniture, sculptures, and other art she says is light, fun, and nostalgic and shares her connection with family.
“My daddy was a junk man and when I was a little girl I went to the dump with him to find treasures,” said Vorce, who lives in Astoria. “I find that throwing things in the landfill is giving up on them. I think everything should have a second chance. I find it really fun to make something out of garbage. I made 34 pieces. One of the biggest things was a church pew someone had cut the end off. I thought, ‘Whoa, that’s too cool get thrown away.’ I painted it and made a nice little bench. I used a lot of park signs. I’m making a coffee table out of them. I made an end table out of milk cans and a park sign. One thing people shake their heads at is brand-new, in-the-package catheters. They are bright red and I made a heart out of them and wrote ‘love’ with the catheters.”
Vorce is also the artist behind Columbia River Creations, repurposed pieces made from what she finds along the Columbia River.
“I never thought I was an artist until I started welding things,” she said. “I thought an artist was someone who could paint a photograph.”
The Astoria Visual Arts Alliance and Recology present the work of three artists whose work focuses on recycling and repurposing objects gleaned from local transfer stations. A reception will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, in the Anita Building, 1312 Commercial St., Astoria. The family-friendly reception is free and open to the public. Food and beverages will be provided. All art will be on display for at least two weeks.