New art made from old stuff

First Published      Last Updated Jun 27 2014 10:46 am

Artist Kali Mellus says her neighbors in Murray wonder what she's doing when she walks the dog.

"I'm the crazy lady in the neighborhood who comes out to pick up a handful of sticks," said Mellus, one of the artists whose work is on display in the Artist Marketplace at the 2014 Utah Arts Festival, which started its four-day run Thursday in Salt Lake City's Library Square.

Mellus also goes into the canyons to collect fall leaves, which she then presses in phone books to preserve. Ultimately, the leaves, sticks, flowers and sometimes metal bits are put in casting resin, and made into framed artwork and wearable pieces — pendants, earrings, belt buckles and the like.

Mellus is one of several artists in the Artist Marketplace who work in recycled or "upcycled" art, taking found objects and turning them into something beautiful.

Some are big enough to put out on the lawn. Among these are the gnome-destroying metal monsters of Salt Lake City's Fred Conlon, or the rusting skeletal figures of Lewiston, Utah, artist Malen Pierson. Others, like Mellus' work, can dangle off the ears or around one's neck.

Micki Shampang-Voorhies, from Blue River, Ore., takes scrap metal to create "Kinky Shoes," decorative conversation pieces in the form of high heel shoes.

She got the idea seven years ago. "There was a pair of high heel shoes I found that I couldn't afford, so I made one [out of metal] and traded for it," she said.

Since then, Shampang-Voorhies spends time taking collected junk — "anything I find in a scrapyard or Dumpster" — to weld into her shoe sculptures.

The most fun, she said, are the toe pieces, which can be made of anything: Bicycle gears, machine shop tools, you name it. Because of the industrial feel, she said, "I sell as many to men as I do to women."

Another industry, watchmaking, appeals to Carlos Montanaro, of Indio, Calif., who incorporates old watch parts in his jewelry.

"I've always loved the old style of how things used to be made," Montanaro said. "I like making something so that people can appreciate the beauty and the mechanics."

Some of Montanaro's works are fully restored old pocketwatches, mounted on '70s-era leather wrist straps to fit modern usage. Others are rings and pendants that show off the beauty of the inner workings of the watches.

Montanaro scours watch and clock dealers across the country, looking for watch mechanisms that he can either restore or transform. He gets some from Europe, but prefers to work with American-made watches.

"It has the history of our country, the Americana," he said.

Mixed-media artist Liz Collins, of Nevada City, Calif., works scraps of old maps into her colorful pictures. A patch of blue is more often a map of an ocean than a dab of paint.

"I love the texture," Collins said "It gives you a sense of place. It gives you a place to land. It's kind of like a feeling of home."

Collins uses different maps for different effects. A topographical map may evoke the wrinkles of clothing, while a city map can provide a structured grid pattern.

Collins used to hunt for maps, but now people send her so many of their old maps that she only occasionally has to search for more.

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Creative celebration

The 2014 Utah Arts Festival continues all weekend.

Where » Library Square, 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City.

When » Through Sunday, gates open noon to 11 p.m. each day.

Tickets » $12 for adults; $6 for seniors (65 and up); free for children 12 and under.