The United States generates more than 250 million tons of trash daily. One Columbia University study estimates that Americans throw out seven pounds of garbage per person every day, which equates to 2,555 pounds per American each year. In Flagstaff, sled debris from the Fort Tuthill area alone filled 55 truckloads by the time the snowplay area closed for the winter.
Through its upcoming Upcycled Road Show, Flagstaff’s Mother Road Brewing Company, in collaboration with local art gallery The HeArt Box, is working to do its part in mitigating the waste we produce in a time when there’s enough plastic to cover entire ocean floors. By way of artists who put to use scraps, found materials and an abundance of items that might otherwise be forgotten and discarded in a landfill, both organizations are homing in on the possibilities that exist within reuse.
Employees at Mother Road had the idea for the show a couple months ago, according to Amy Loebig, director of hospitality for the company. It didn’t take long for Jill Sans, owner of HeArt Box and an artist herself, to jump on board, offering to collaborate on the exhibit and bring in artists that were on her radar as well as lend her gallery.
The mediums among the 11 participating artists range from jewelry and metal work to clothing and fabric; from rusty junkyard bits to old records embossed with vibrant acrylic paint.
Linden Eller is a contemporary collage artist who moved to town in April after living in Japan, Australia and New Zealand for the last five years. She uses found materials to create delicate layering of slips of paper, old magazines, leaves, wool, thread in pale hues. Memory architecture, she prefers to call her medium. Onion skin and tracing paper lend each piece translucence, old letters and train tickets that she stitches onto paper chronicle past and current lives.
The items come from her own life but just as often that of a stranger’s.
“Sometimes it’s the personal elements, anything that feels lovely or melancholy or joyful I hang onto. I collect or people send me things—friends, my family. It’s a whole salad mix,” Eller said. “What’s magical to me is something like a grocery list that someone has discarded, but it says so much.”
Eller pulls each piece together like a chance map, aligning things from her collection at random. The randomness, she said, reflects the nature of memory itself, the way a memory of an event might resurface after years of being lost, or how an experience muddles each time it is mined.
Ben Craigie’s work is almost the polar opposite from Eller’s in weight and appearance. Heavy, thick, rusty and solid describe many of his sculptures, but the two artists share the act of gathering.
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Craigie comes to the exhibit with a background in fabrication, antique restoration and furniture making, and he often finds his materials in the woods, on his shop floor or in landfills. His pieces in the Road Show incorporate an oft-used, found handsaw and old clay that had been worked many times before it landed in Craigie’s possession.
“For me those pieces are about tools and how everything we touch affects something else, and affects the object itself,” Craigie said. “The older the better, too. I’ve drug entire T4’s out of the woods, pop cans—always so shiny because the aluminum doesn’t rust. I’ll come home to things people have stacked in front of my garage, things my friends have found and know I’m always looking for.”
Like Eller, Craigie has just two works in the exhibit, but both with years of history.
Employees from Mother Road also wanted the exhibit to connect with the larger community in some way. They decided to do so by donating a portion of the profits from food and taproom sales during the Road Show to local nonprofit Tynkertopia; the STEAM maker space relies on recycled materials to help kids and adults in their creations, too.
“With this show we wanted to promote awareness about the importance of reusing and keeping things local and just reducing waste in general, so we decided from that to come up with the Upcycled Road Show, and we decided we’d have all artists that reuse materials that could have potentially ended up in landfills or wasted and repurpose them,” Loebig said.
Some artists, including jeweler Erin Lockward, even incorporate Mother Road products into their recycled art. Tear drop earrings with the colorful designs of the company’s cans and shiny La Croix leftovers converted into earrings are just a couple of Lockward’s creations.
“How can I as one person do as much as I can to leave the earth better? I mean, I know I’m still making a footprint, but I hope every little bit helps,” Lockward said.
The former avian biologist saw firsthand the ramifications of excess waste.
“I was constantly walking around the desert when I was surveying birds, a place where people think there’s nothing. But everywhere there are tiny footprints in every bush. There are birds, tortoises, kit foxes. Everything is affected by everything that [humans] do,” she said.