AllThingsPretty Embroidered Hands, vintage florals
AllThingsPretty Embroidered Hands, vintage florals

Artizan ReMade is Artizan Made’s social project, a study group dedicated to elevating our waste to the status of “material”, a resource that we must use responsibly. Creatives are well equipped to collect and use these materials to create new products that are long lasting and valuable.

We are not alone! Actions start with the individual, spread to the community and become a part of worldwide efforts to clean up our world.

Mission:

To document our waste and resources that can help us create new systems of recovery and use.

To inspire each other with ideas and products which use these materials.

To create documents on our research that can be shared with the community at large.

To encourage the formation of local study groups which can strengthen and support efforts in their communities.

Where We Are

ReMade Facebook Group:  This is our main discussion area.  If you are not on Facebook, follow us on our blog and leave comments on our posts there. The sign up is on the sidebar on laptops. We will eventually have Zoom events.

Pinterest: Document inspiring links and products here. Send me the link to your profile there to join our Board.

Join us!

We will study one material a month and ask questions like: Who are the biggest polluters? Which companies are doing something to combat this? Which resources are really helpful? What can we make out of this material? What does the data say about global, regional and local sources?  At the end of the month, we will compile what we discussed into a blog post here on Artizan Made. We hope to inspire and empower!

For those of you who like to read and want to know more of my thoughts on this, read on!   This is a long post but I wanted to have my vision documented so that there is a record, even if it is just for me to keep myself focused on the big picture. If you don’t want to read it all, I highly recommend watching the videos below as they do a better job than I can at telling these stories and they do all tie in together, individually or collectively.

Rachel Biel


Local Action

Do you have local upcycling groups in your area?  Consider starting a study group that follows our monthly topics.   Locals provide an important function by gathering and distributing collected materials.  Most recycling systems in the United States are not very good and we can by-pass them by getting our materials to people who can use them.  Local exchanges don’t incur extra costs in transportation or packaging, so they are better for our environment.

There are basically three types of workers in a creative community:  Gatherers, hunters and makers.

Gatherers: they sort materials from their waste that others can use.

Hunters: they search for materials that they can use in products or which they can process for others to use.

Makers: they create products from the materials for their own use, for sale or for community efforts.

 

El Anatsui
El Anatsui – Artist from Ghana

 

El Anatsui embodies all three of these efforts:  He is a visionary maker who creates large scale installations from trash. They are massive, so he has community hunters and gatherers find the materials that he needs for each piece. He trains other makers who help him achieve his designs.  This video shows how he decides which materials to use:

 

 

I had the great pleasure of meeting Ian Berry, a British artist, when he had an exhibit here in Paducah several years ago.  He is another one who collects mountains of “waste” to do his work.  Ian creates installations and wall art made from pieces of blue jeans which he cuts out and layers to achieve shadowing and depth.  This video shows an interview with him where you get to see his studio and his work:

 

 

Artists and makers who add value to waste succeed in keeping that material out of landfills. Gatherers don’t need to be artists as they can just help save materials for the projects that can use them.  Everybody can be involved!

The value of the finished products is important.  Are we making things that will be used or kept for a long time?  I have often felt frustrated when I see some products the handmade community creates, often low end impulse buys that will end up in the trash again in a year or two.  One of my mottos:  “Not everything that is handmade should be made.”  Our best efforts keep these products in circulation, out of landfills and out of the ocean.

 

Challenge

We have huge communities online sharing the upcycled work they are creating, websites and social media groups coming together to make a difference. Yet, we are not coordinated in our efforts and much of our waste never becomes a material. How do we tackle this?  We need to spread the word about efforts that have impact or that can be replicated. Some projects only work in the climate where they are located. Example:

Washed Ashore creates large public art sculptures created from plastics gathered from the beach.  They use the sculptures for public education and to raise money for clean up efforts.  I see so much plastic flying around in my neighborhood and have thought that it would be great to do something like this, but wonder if the humidity here in Kentucky would turn something like this into a slimy mess in no time. Or become a safe harbor for wasps and other insects….  These are the challenges we need to think about when we have a great idea that might not really be the best idea for where we live…  Our group can help brainstorm about challenges that come up.

 

 

 

Individual Action

The place to start reducing waste is at home. I take shopping bags with me everywhere and am usually the only one I see who is refusing plastic bags. So many actions are doable: use filters instead of bottled water, carry a travel cup, buy produce that is not shrink wrapped, support companies that are addressing waste, repair, reuse, shop at thrift stores, buy clothing that will rot, grow your own food and so on.

Shop local! Shipping materials are a huge source of waste.  Avoid services like door dash or take-out restaurants that use Styrofoam. Covid changed our shopping behavior and people depend much more on delivery services which usually means more packaging.

Destash!  This is where I carry major guilt.  I have been hoarding supplies for years, hoping that someday I would have the time to make “art”.  I have bins of fabric, yarn and other materials that I have collected and don’t really use.  My circle of friends is an aging one who bemoan that their kids and grandkids are not interested in their supplies or art.  I heard that there is a support group for quilter’s husbands who have no clue what to do with the fabric nor what it is worth. Before we go, we should share the wealth with those who might really use it.  I’m not there yet, but I think about it….

Individual actions can lead to community efforts if enough people take an interest.  Maker spaces are great ways to get materials to the people who will use them.  I shop a lot at thrift stores. A project in Sweden combines these two into a huge mall where the community can drop off their unwanted stuff, which then gets sorted, upcycled and sold. They teach classes on how to use these materials in creative ways and they have repair areas where people can get their electronics fixed, their shoes resoled and so on. Dead spaces come back to life!  A mall like this one has the capacity to employ people at all levels, from nonskilled labor to experts.

 

 

Action Based Community Development Institute

John Zeigler, mentor and Chicago activist
John Zeigler, mentor and Chicago activist

I have been wanting to create income generating projects locally for quite some time and have had many ideas but they never went forward, mostly due to some health issues and other challenges.  A good friend of mine, John Zeigler, has allowed me to bounce ideas off of him and he gently let me know that I was approaching things in the wrong way. I wanted to start something NEW, but the ABCD Institute’s model has shown how the smart thing to do is to build up on the assets that are already in a community. This fits in well with the idea that we need hunters, gatherers and makers on a local level.

I wrote about John and what he taught me a few years back in my personal blog. I have more info in that post, but it is worthwhile to listen to this TED Talk by Cormac Russell:

“Managing Director of Nurture Development, the leading Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) organisation in Europe, and faculty member of the ABCD Institute at Northwestern University, Illinois. He works with local communities, NGOs and governments on asset-based community development and other strengths-based approaches, in four continents.”

Early on he quotes Rosabeth Moss Kanter who said:

“When we do change to people, they experience it as violence but when people do change for themselves, they experience it as liberation.”

This statement resonated with me! The arts are uniquely positioned to effect change and to do it in a fun, nonviolent way that transforms a community by engaging them in the process.

 

 

Creative Placemaking

I’ve been following how the arts have been used to stimulate economies through a model called Creative Placemaking.  I bought a study manual that has exercises on how to evaluate what the assets are in your community and realized that they were using the ABCD Institute’s ideas to create change through the arts. If you do a search on YouTube for videos on Creative Placemaking, you will find hundreds of them reporting on efforts happening all over the world. This is something that captures my attention because it takes this concept of transforming waste into a material into a whole different level, where whole neighborhoods are salvaged and brought to life. It’s exciting because blighted areas are transformed into vibrant spaces which create new economies through creativity.

Jason Jackson, an architect, shows how they revitalized a neighborhood, Soulsville, in the Memphis (USA) area, by rebuilding the birth home of Memphis Slim and making it into a recording studio for the community.  Have a listen to Memphis Slim first to get into the mood….

 

 

Jason Jackson tried to save the house but it was falling apart and had foundation problems, so they did a rebuild, but they used whatever salvaged materials they could which gave the house a connection to its past history. Then, they painted the street and sidewalks with neon colors that changed the mood of how that strip was experienced. That led to other people coming in and opening businesses. There is such a feeling of accomplishment to see projects like this one!

 

 

Product Development

Using this ABCD Institute’s model and how creative placemaking can inspire us, my hope is that some people who participate in this study group will want to experiment with our waste materials to create products that can be sold, that last and that are valuable. I can envision small start-ups, cottage industries and larger employment efforts that can bring economic development to our communities.  We have a lot of blight in Paducah, where I live, and most of the jobs available are low paying and entry level. At the same time, it’s hard to find capable workers because they are so unskilled or are dealing with addiction and criminal behavior.

I’ve worked with several fair trade groups over the years who have tackled some of these issues and grown their projects beautifully.  One of my friends once said that success is measured through the next generation, in seeing that the children of the makers have more life chances, access to education and health care and experience community.

Let’s look at how the hunters, gatherers and makers contribute to product development. I recycle metal, paper, and plastic 1 and 2, knowing that our recycling systems are not very good and that my carefully rinsed containers will probably end up in a landfill anyhow. We do not recycle glass here.  I keep looking at these things that I am tossing out and know that they are excellent materials!

tin cans for sale on etsy
Tin cans for sale on etsy

Example:  I generate one tin can a day to feed my cats.  A nice tin container that is well made and durable, ending up with about 30 a month. What can I make with that?  Pincushions?  Sure! There are tons of tutorials on how to make pencil holders out of tin cans and glass bottles. All low end stuff.  They might get used for a couple years and then will end up in the garbage, no doubt about it. But, I don’t have time.  Right now, I could be a gatherer and collect them for someone else.

I found one smart seller on Etsy who is saving similar cans and selling them in his shop, 45 for $18! He’s listing all kinds of waste: other cans, computer parts, etc. I checked his sales history and sure enough, these cans are selling!  His keyworded title:  “Aluminum or Tin Cans Set of 45, Empty Cat Food or Tuna Cans, Empty Candle Holders, Metal Craft Supply, Candle Holders, Same Size Containers” 

Description:  “For sale are a set of 45 empty aluminum and steel cans without the lids. Nearly all of these are steel. All these cans are on the smaller size. They will have some leftover glue from the labels on them and some ink markings in places. All have been cleaned in the dishwasher. All will have a sharp metal edge on the inside where the lid was cut away so be careful handling them.

These are usually referred to as tin cans but there is actually no tin in them. Use them for craft and art supply, to store stuff in or target practice.”

Garden Greens by Rachel Biel
Garden Greens by Rachel Biel

This guy understood that our waste is a material and that it has value.  He has made gathering into a living.

How can we transform this little can into something of value? Instead of pincushions, how about making it into something that is higher end and might be collectible? I thought of a soft piece I made once (the green one shown here) that would have been interesting with the metal base.  The cans can be drilled and attached to each other by wire or glued and end up as a large wall piece. An avid gardener bought the one I made for $250!

Nzambi Matee is a Kenyan trained mechanical engineer, environmentalist, hardware designer, inventor and serial entrepreneur.”  So starts Wikipedia’s entry on this amazing woman!  I first saw a video about her several years ago when she was tackling only plastic bags.  Now, she has expanded to several other single use plastics, making pavers and hoping to expand to roofing tiles and other construction materials. The challenge is that these products still end up contributing to micro plastics in the environment!  (and I wish she and her workers were using better protection in their factory…)

 

 

My art piece and her pavers don’t really make a dent into the problem unless we can scale production up to massive quantities and yet, every small effort does count!  There are materials that are really hard to find in thrift stores now because the artist hunters are picking them up as fast as they come in.  Wool sweaters, for example, can be fulled, a shrinking process that changes the fabric to a felt material which can be cut, won’t unravel, and is fun to work with.  I shop at thrift stores for most of my clothing and it’s getting harder to find garments that use natural materials. Everything seems to be synthetic these days!

Large Scale Projects

Converting our waste into construction materials or fuel are two of the most efficient ways we have to deal with the trash our planet is producing.  European countries are at the forefront of developing new technologies in both of these areas.  Sweden, once again, shines in using garbage as fuel.  From How Stuff Works (2023 article):

“In the U.S., nearly 53 percent of the stuff we discard in the trash ends up being buried. The Swedes, in comparison, only put only 31,000 tons (28,122 metric tons) — less than seven-tenths of 1 percent — of their 4.7 million tons (4.26 million metric tons) of municipal solid waste into the ground in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available.  …

The remainder — close to half of Sweden’s household trash — is burned in the nation’s 33 waste-to-energy, or WTE, plants. Those facilities provide heat to 1.2 million Swedish households and electricity for another 800,000, according to Anna-Carin Gripwall, Avfall Sverige’s director of communications.”

The article goes on to discuss issues of concern with this method, but they are constantly working on solutions, including decreasing waste from the production side.

A town near me, Mayfield, Kentucky, was flattened by a tornado in December of 2021.  They are still rebuilding.  See an update here.

 

Mayfield Kentucky tornado damage
Mayfield Kentucky tornado damage

I asked some guys who are savvy about the construction business if they knew what happened to all of the debris.  Was it salvaged and reused.  Nope. They said it all goes to the dump.  We have seen and will continue to see many storms that wreak major destruction on cities around the world.  Where does all of that wreckage end up?

One of my heroes is Michael Reynolds, a renegade and visionary architect who created the Earthship Biotecture approach to building. They use reclaimed materials and waste to build beautiful homes that are almost completely self sustainable.  Thick walls of earth rammed tires insulate the homes from the elements, keeping the inside temperature comfortable.  They cut feather shaped pieces from dead appliances and use decorative riveting as roofing.  Glass and plastic bottles become ornamental elements within the walls.  It’s delightful and mind boggling.  And, it’s illegal in most of the United States.  As far as I know, he can only build in New Mexico because this process violates building codes everywhere else. They have built structures in many other countries and have a huge training institute here in the US.

 

 

While building earthships are illegal in most of the US, we can take elements from what they are doing and incorporate them in our yards and as decorative elements in our homes.  Bottle glass walls, for example, are gorgeous!  In time, hopefully there will be enough public demand to change our laws so that we can build earthships anywhere.

These examples all show how one person had an idea that found a following and made an impact.  We can spread their stories and inspire others to think about our materials in new ways.

 

Natural Materials

Gone Rustic botanically dyed garments
Gone Rustic botanically dyed garments

Natural materials can include upcycled ones, too, and they are important in that they are available in nature, either as found products or as harvested ones.  We can grow what we need and whatever is left from the process can go back to earth.

I see this mindset as part of a lifestyle where we not only do what is the least invasive for the planet, but we enjoy its bounty! Many in my community of artists grow much of their own food, use botanical dyes, raise sheep for their wool and so on.  Several of our Artizan Made members focus on natural materials to create their products, with Rita Summers of Gone Rustic shown here.  (Australia)

Not all of us are able to jump in at full throttle in this type of a lifestyle, but we can all choose a few things to focus on and do those well.

 

Vintage Products – Saving History

Antique Textile Mill Bobbins - Saltwater Notions
Antique Textile Mill Bobbins – Saltwater Notions

Many handmade techniques are disappearing around the world as the experts die, taking their knowledge with them.  Many of these techniques take a lifetime to master and young people do not have the financial security or interest to learn them.  Although we have wonderful groups stimulating a revival as they find consumers who can support these efforts, it’s a challenge. Even with documentation of past works, we risk losing vital information on these production processes.

I was in a discussion once where someone pointed out that old saris in India used be woven with actual metal threads (special ones for weddings, etc.). When they wore out, they were being burnt to reclaim the metals.  I think this was in the 1950’s. This stopped when the gatherers who looked for these damaged or discarded pieces realized that the technique itself had value. They started making new work using the remnants or selling the sari borders and other textile remnants to makers.  Salvaging old handmade work and tools saves our history. We have a reference to compare with what is made today.

Elena Rosenberg is both a maker and a hunter.  She has built a wonderful business selling antique notions, tools, magazines, etc. in her shop on Etsy.  Nostalgia city!

Artizan Made’s Role

One of my goals with Artizan ReMade is to have a way to connect my local community to the online world I enjoy. I have been working with the handmade community for over 30 years and know a lot about how to make things, what sells, what the competition is, and how to do all of those tedious tasks that go with selling online. I did very well on Etsy and eBay for many years, but I just got tired of it. Artizan Made’s structure grew out of that experience and I love having our Market without having to deal with sales, customer service, shipping, etc.  I like to tell the stories about our members and that’s my strength, promoting them.

I am hoping that I will find some other people who want to learn some of these skills and who can help talented local makers get online with their work.  Maybe create a local co-op. They can then become Artizan Made members and we can see what kind of a response their work gets.

Other groups might do the same in their area. Find the people who don’t have the tech skills, get someone to lead a collective effort and we can test them out here, too. This will develop over time, but for now, anyone who is interested in this idea can contact me and we can start imagining how it could happen.

Building on Strengths

I know that all of this can seem overwhelming, but if we break things down into smaller bits, we can end up with something larger.  Most importantly, we should not get sad, depressed, or become judgmental in what we do. Living a ReMade life is an opportunity to have fun, to play, to test ideas and to find some other people who like to do that.  Those of you who have a PhD in being an Eco Warrior can help us, but please don’t be mean or intolerant, something I see often in communities that have achieved Nirvana already….

Simon Sinek motivates people to focus on their strengths and this is advice that I think is exciting and kind:

 

 

 

“Waste is merely displaced abundance.”

-Aurora Robson

 

 

 

 

Backstory

I grew up in Brazil as a missionary kid, 1962-1980. That was a period of insane development in that country. My parents, both farm kids from Minnesota (USA), witnessed change that took Brazil from deforestation, rugged roads, shacks, donkeys on the street to the rapid development of vast areas of rich farmland, modern expressways, skyscrapers and innovation.

Tin can tramp art - Rachel Biel collection
Tin can tramp art – Rachel Biel collection

One of my earliest memories is of my father making ornaments from tin cans in our kitchen.  He was making samples for a group of inmates at the local jail. The ornaments were in the style of tramp tin can art from the 1950’s.  I remember being entranced by his cutting the tin and then curling the strips towards the center.  When I was older, I wondered how the jail would allow these men to work with sharp tools, but apparently they did.  Much later, I found several pieces like the one pictured here that I kept for myself.

My father was an inventor, an idea person, and I am a lot like him in that way. He, my brother, sister and I, all had the junk gene. We LOVE thrift stores, markets and finding the odd thing to bring home.  My brother had a sticker on his bumper, “Caution! Quick stops for garage sales!”  My sister has found amazing furniture in her New Jersey alleys.  Her oldest son has the junk gene and his eyes sparkled at spontaneous adventure, while her daughter once said, “Mommy, can you stop digging through the garbage and take us home now?”  My mother, like my niece, does not have that gene. She shuddered at thrift stores and at cheap prices. She instilled in us the need to buy quality and to buy less, things that would last, even if they were more expensive.

Fast forward to the mid 1970’s.  I was in high school and we were already talking about climate change and deforestation. “If we don’t do this, this will happen…”  All really bad stuff. Fast forward again to the present and it’s all happening, beyond what any of us could have dreamed and worse to come unless we make some drastic changes. I am still connected deeply to Brazil, at least on an emotional level and the destruction of the Amazon and of its Indigenous people rips me apart. It was so big, so permanent, so indestructible, and now those trees have been burning and will leave behind a desert….

Forest fires in Latin America in 2019
Forest fires in Latin America in 2019

And, then there is plastic, choking our oceans, breaking down into micro pieces so that they even choke us. Google says:

“How much plastic are we ingesting? Some scientists have estimated the average person might eat 5 grams of microplastics in a week—about the weight of a credit card. Another study breaks that down to up to 52,000 particles annually from various food sources.”

It is a dismal picture, one that can make us completely lose hope, especially for the next generations.  I am 62 now and very conscious of my mortality. I really don’t want to see what is coming 15 years from now.  But, as long as I am here, I want to try to make an impact.  Most of this is happening from greed, ignorance, apathy, and inefficient systems that can deal with our waste.  Satellite images of what they call “cemeteries” for the garment industry, appliances, tires, airplanes, and so on are shocking to behold. Yikes! Big corporations are not doing anything about it. Government efforts are pathetic. So what do we do? Sit by the wayside and weep?

Well, we CAN make a difference!  We just need to be smarter about how we do it. I’m an artist, a maker, an idea person and when I look at our waste, I see MATERIALS!  As gatherers, hunters and makers we can come together to change things, even if just a little.


Links and Support

Facebook Group: This is our main discussion place right now. Join us and share your ideas if this interests you. You do not have to be an artist to join as these projects will all need support people who can help save materials, do research, and who can give feedback on products. This is an international effort. The translators are pretty good these days, so you can communicate in your own language.

Pinterest: Those who are active there can save pins to our group board.

Blog Post: This was the first post I wrote looking at this idea. It has several videos that are worth watching.  New updates on the blog about this project will be tagged Artizan ReMade.

Artizan Made already has a nice upcycled collection on its Market.


Much of what I do is an unpaid labor of love.  If you would like to support me in that, here are some ways:

Or, donate any amount:

Zelle: 270-994-7606

CashApp: $RayelaArt

Venmo: @Rachel-Biel-32

Stay at the Green Roof International House in Paducah, Kentucky!