Art Smart

Issue: 
October 2010

Marty Robbins’s song “One Man’s Trash (is Another Man’s Treasure),” from the album With Love, peaked at number 72 on the charts back in 1980. Two years later Robbins was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame posthumously. Check out his website (martyrobbins.com) and decide for yourself whether the “black shirts with beautiful 4-color artwork” (which you can find by clicking on “collectibles” and scrolling past the Collector’s Coin (($34.95)) and the Christmas Cassette ((a steal at $10!))) are trash or treasure. What you won’t find at martyrobbins.com is a discography or a list of his awards, and Terra Bella thinks the Hall of Famer deserves better. She may have to start a crusade, but first she must return to first person and the matter at hand, which is introducing you to five local gals who turn trash into treasure.
I thought of using “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” as the opening lyric because I simply couldn’t help but fall in love with these women, who are so passionate about their work. These Tennessee artists use natural, recycled, and upcycled materials, and while they share a common bond in their love for Mother Earth, the results of their labors are as unique as the women themselves.
Sharron Eckert of Pleasant Hill, Tenn., creates functional art using long leaf pine needles, which she then hand sews with either waxed linen or raffia, a fibrous plant indigenous to Madagascar. She gathers the pine needles on trips to Florida, as the pine needles on Tennessee pines aren’t long enough. Eckert learned the craft from a fifth generation basket maker whom she met after moving into a retirement community, and she has since honed her skills over the past nine years. “Pine Needles are natural, earthy, abundant, and often thought useless,” says Eckert. “I am delighted that a fiber so simple can be so valued.” Two of Eckert’s pieces, “Swirl Mirror” and “Square Round Nut Basket,” will be on display in the Nashville International Airport this fall in the Upper Cumberland Art Alliance exhibit. You can also check out Eckert’s work by logging on to southernartistry.org and searching by her name.
Heather Henke of Brentwood says, “I very rarely purchase new canvasses or art supplies because I can buy them at Goodwill, and I like the idea of someone else’s painting being underneath and incorporated into mine.” Henke compares working with recycled objects to “a meditative puzzle-solving process whereby different bits and pieces of things tell me where to put them.” She’s inspired by her grandmother, Mildred, “a crafty lady who did not approve of waste.” Shaped by the Great Depression, Mildred “kept all sorts of fabric, lace, and the like.” Henke writes, “I have just finished a piece entitled ‘Maiden, Mother, Crone,’ which explores the theme of female archetypes.” Learn more about Henke and check out her work at treechild.net.
East Nashvillian Melanie Hill Guion is the mastermind behind Shoe Shrines. Guion began making her shrines about six years ago using old shoes and “all kinds of broken and otherwise useless junk.” Each shoe is embellished with beads, glass, and/or vintage jewelry depending on what she has found most recently. And  portraits range from musicians, religious icons, and Indian deities to tattoo flash and folk art. Find samples of her creations as well as pricing information at shoeshrines.com.
Kaaren Engel lost her downtown studio in the May flooding, and with it, much of her natural and recycled material and artwork. “I recycle lots of stuff — rusted metal, scraps, packaging — in my art, creating something beautiful from what others would consider trash,” she says. In addition to her artwork, Engel is also the co-author and illustrator of the self-published Herman’s Journey, a children’s book about “a caterpillar who hitched a ride in my car, disappeared after a day of adventures, and two weeks later reappeared, sitting on my backseat, a tiger swallowtail.” Engel and her Herman’s Journey co-author Jamina Carder will do two readings of their book at The Southern Festival of Books, which takes place Oct. 8 - 10 at Legislative Plaza. Learn more about Herman’s Journey at hermansjourney.com; learn more about Kaaren Engel at kaarenengel.com
Audry Deal, an artist who grew up in Franklin but now calls West Nashville home, focuses on endangered plant species and problems facing our botanical ecosystems. “While I am interested in each individual species I work with, my broader goal is always to remind viewers of the interconnectedness of the environmental world, where problems facing one species are often indicative of larger environmental issues.”
Richland Park Library’s first ever art exhibit is Deal’s, her installation of “Echinacea Tennesseensis,” on display now through Nov. 7. The photographic exhibit is her homage to the once-struggling Tennessee coneflower, which has recently been removed from the endangered plant list. To see more of Deal’s work, visit audrydeal.com.
These women are a bounty of artistic talent, and their environmentally friendly practices are simply icing on the creative cake. After seeing all of their work and reading their words, is it any wonder that I couldn’t help falling in love with them? Their talent for turning trash into treasure is most definitely cause for affection; I’m sure you’ll feel the same! 

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