ArtEverywhere

Michelle Stitzlein’s Industrial Nature exhibition turns trash to treasure at the Springfield Museum

By Brittany Erwin

Photo: ‘Grevillea Fringe,’ made from garden hose, wire, plastic, and other recycled materials

Old bicycle parts. Plastic bottle caps. Rubber garden hoses. While you may see junk, artist Michelle Stitzlein is already re-envisioning these objects and transforming them into art, making manifest the old cliché that one woman’s trash is another’s treasure. Her mindful, yet whimsical works push that adage into surprising new territory. Stitzlein derives inspiration from nature and her travels: fashioning moths, trees, South African plants, and Moroccan rugs from rubber hoses, bottle caps, and other odds and ends originally destined for the landfill. Her forthcoming show at the Springfield Museum of Art, Industrial Nature: Works by Michelle Stitzlein, will feature installations from four previous series: Moth, Lycan (trees), Fynbos (flowering South African plants), and Boucherouite (Moroccan rugs made of recycled materials). On display Jan. 21–May 28, viewers can take all of them in at once.

Above all, Stitzlein is deeply committed to creating resourceful and sustainable artwork with minimum impact to the environment. Her colorful works highlight just how inventive one can get with the unlikeliest of materials. She hopes her pieces will not only delight and surprise, but also encourage viewers to think creatively about what materials and concepts they might give second life to. She believes we are all capable of creative sustainability in our own ways; we just need to reconsider what materials are already at our disposal. “Resources are valuable, and things can be reused, and it doesn’t apply to just artwork,” she reflects. “It can apply to life, to your job… reusing materials can, maybe, outdo using new materials. It’s an opportunity to rethink about our resources.” The ingeniousness of her creations could prove just the creative catalyst you need.

So, how does one reconfigure ordinary garden hoses and hubcaps into installations resembling plants, rugs, and trees? For Stitzlein—who works out of a restored 1950s grange hall in Baltimore, Ohio, serving as both studio and living space—the process is a playful one. She explains, “I might start with an idea or sketch, but when I get into the materials, the scale is off. For me, playing and experimenting with materials gets me to the spot I need to be in better.” Her techniques often contain this same element of improvisation. “Everything is drilled, nailed (I try not to use glue)… and self-taught techniques. I get a lot of technical assistance from my husband [who has background in carpentry techniques]… I kind of have to find my way… it’s just a matter of experimentation,” she says. In other words, she lets her skill, imagination, and material be her guide.

Stitzlein has followed this artistic path since she began making art, a profession she has been able to pursue full-time since 2000. As someone who attended art shows and festivals as a child with her mother (also an artist) and went on to graduate from the Columbus College of Art & Design, art has always been part of Stitzlein’s life. But utilizing recycled materials as part of her process has always resonated with her.

“I have always been attracted to being resourceful and the patina of used, recycled materials,” she says, “and I think it’s good for the environment and these materials have always drawn me in. I will always be working with these materials.”

Stitzlein relies on a variety of sources. While she often peruses places like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, she also mentions relying on friends who happen upon a pile of unwanted items or donations. As with her approach to art, Stitzlein is all about joyfully using what is around her.

“I do hit a lot of yard sales,” she says. “The garden hose [in the current Springfield exhibition] came from the people in the community.” She then notes, “I collected hundreds [of rubber hoses] and have used 95 percent of what I received from the community.”

Stitzlein and the community’s combined efforts will certainly reward visitors who come to the show. The 14 installations are large—one measures 30 feet wide—and arresting and will make you look at least twice, reconsidering what you see each time. For Stitzlein, this is the point: “It is whimsical, but it’s also very much about pattern and color, and there’s always an element of surprise… There’s a lot of scavenge-hunting once you realize these are from recycled materials… This image they first saw as an insect is created by hundreds if not thousands of [pieces of] detritus.”

In Stitzlein’s beautiful and sustainable universe, plastic and metal become a moth’s wing, while rubber hoses transform into exotic textiles.

For viewers, attempting to figure out the magic of her alchemy is part of the fun. Stitzlein fervently hopes that curiosity breeds creative action. If her history is any indicator, her aims will be met. Having published two successful books for children that teach how to turn bottle caps into art—“Bottlecap Little Bottlecap” and “Cool Caps!”—Stitzlein can and already has inspired others, no matter their age, to turn trash into treasure.

“If this exhibit encourages thought about how to utilize resources that come across in our daily life (you know, in grocery shopping, offices, clothing, etc.) there are a lot of materials that could have a second life,” she says. “And it doesn’t have to be artistic, though it does require some creative thought.”

So, open your eyes to the so-called detritus all around you. Michelle Stitzlein will show you how it’s done.

Industrial Nature is on display through May 28 at the Springfield Museum of Art, 107 Cliff Park Rd. in Springfield. Admission is $5 for adults and free for members and children under 17. For more information, please visit ArtGrange.com and SpringfieldArt.net.

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Brittany Erwin
Reach DCP freelance writer Brittany Erwin at BrittanyErwin@DaytonCityPaper.om

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