Reduce, Reuse, Re-invent

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Artist transforms trash into functional and decorative art

Empty egg cartons. Old soup cans. Wine bottles. You know what they say - one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Southern Shore artist Nicola Hawkins makes a living with "trash," transforming household discards into functional and decorative art, while making a statement about industry, materialism and the overproduction of waste.

Artist Nicola Hawkins takes trash and other recycled materials and gives them new life as pieces of functional and decorative art. An exhibition of her work," Needle, Hook and Hammer: Life of the Handmade," opens at Devon House Sunday. - Photos by Joe Gib

Empty egg cartons. Old soup cans. Wine bottles. You know what they say - one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Southern Shore artist Nicola Hawkins makes a living with "trash," transforming household discards into functional and decorative art, while making a statement about industry, materialism and the overproduction of waste.

Hawkins is a native of England who spent 13 years directing her own performing dance company in Boston before moving to Admiral's Cove about four years ago.

She and her husband live in an old church, which they bought and renovated themselves after spotting it during a hike on the East Coast Trail while in the province on vacation.

A fine arts graduate from Brighton University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Laban Centre of Movement and Dance, Hawkins found herself drawn to East Indian art after studying it in school.

"After I left art school, I sold a few paintings and I used that money to buy a one-way ticket to India," she said. "It was always a place of intrigue for me.

"Being a poor place, people reuse everything, so nothing gets wasted. I had been brought up in that mentality - both my parents were war babies and their parents were obviously living a frugal lifestyle during the war."

Moving to this province, Hawkins said, brought her an awareness of the preciousness of THE natural landscape.

"Every time I throw something in the trash, I can sort of see the landfill that it's going to go into," she said.

In her home studio, Hawkins collects different pieces of refuse, including bottles, tea and biscuit tins, milk cartons and old silk scarves.

She uses them to produce intricately constructed pieces of art like bowls, hand-embroidered kimono-style robes, even furniture.

One of her pieces is a chest of drawers made from bean cans.

"I have maybe 20 collections (of different waste items) going at one time. I look at what I have and the work comes out of realizing, OK, I've got a big pile of this, I'd better get it down," Hawkins explained.

"I like the idea that you might have a collection of 100 food cans and it takes up a lot of room, but once you cut them up and flatten them out and pound them, they're reduced in physicality. That interests me - how the volume of things can change."

Sometimes, as in the case of her paintings and collages, it's the idea that comes before the trash. Hawkins will get a theme in mind, then keep an eye out for items that relate to it.

For her silk pieces, Hawkins sews by hand, using a simple running stitch.

It's tedious work, she said, since she has to stay focused in order to keep the stitch straight and smooth. If her mind wanders - resulting in a stitch wandering, too - she won't take it out, but leaves it there as a statement instead.

Time is also an important theme in her work, Hawkins said.

"A lot of the pieces take a long time to make, and for me, that's a very satisfying part of the artistic process, because it basically slows me down in a world that I feel is always trying to be one step ahead of itself. It has a meditative quality."

Hawkins will be displaying some of her work with an exhibit called "Needle, Hook and Hammer: Life of the Handmade" at the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Gallery in St. John's from Sunday until June 7. Coinciding with the exhibition, the craft council will feature "Art to Wear: The Nature of Wearable Art" in its annex gallery, exhibiting a collection of wearable art inspired by and showing a commitment to nature.

Pieces by artists like Stephanie Barry, Candace Fulford and Carolyn Morgan will be included.

Through her exhibit, Hawkins hopes to deliver a message about the vast amount of waste we all produce.

"In some small villages in India, a glass bottle or a jam jar would be a very useful object," she said. "I'm trying to get people to see waste differently."

tbm@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Brighton University, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Laban Centre Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador Gallery

Geographic location: India, Southern Shore, England Boston St. John's

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  • Nancy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    It a privilege to know you and what you represent; it is consciousness that we need to be reminded of and of our stewardship to our environment. you are so gifted!

  • liz
    July 02, 2010 - 13:12

    I will definately make time to visit the craft council exhibit before 7 June. You sound like such an interesting and unusual person. Good Luck in your endeavours.

  • John W.
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    I said this before and I'll say it one more time. The Government should immediately take a long hard look at the packaging industry. Everything we get is overpackaged. And really I dont think the Government gives a hoot, and I dont either. Why should I care if they dont. Let them set an example and I may follow.

  • Nancy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:07

    It a privilege to know you and what you represent; it is consciousness that we need to be reminded of and of our stewardship to our environment. you are so gifted!

  • liz
    July 01, 2010 - 19:49

    I will definately make time to visit the craft council exhibit before 7 June. You sound like such an interesting and unusual person. Good Luck in your endeavours.

  • John W.
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    I said this before and I'll say it one more time. The Government should immediately take a long hard look at the packaging industry. Everything we get is overpackaged. And really I dont think the Government gives a hoot, and I dont either. Why should I care if they dont. Let them set an example and I may follow.