Reuse, recycle, redesign!

Edward Burtynsky

Edward Burtynsky, Densfield Oil Drums #4, Hamilton, Ontario, 1997

Perhaps inspired by my daughter’s field trip to the recycling depot last week, I’ve been more conscious than usual about things we reuse. The depot itself reminded me of the film Manufactured Landscapes, and the related photography of Edward Burtynsky. I was in art school when I got to see Burtynsky’s exhibit and watch Manufactured Landscapes, and I was awestruck by the beautiful images created from man-made materials and waste. If you haven’t had a chance to see Burtynsky’s photos, you have to check them out!


Reuse #1 – Reclaimed wood shelves

We’ve had a crafty sort of autumn around our place. My husband made these lovely shelves out of reclaimed wood, which we have been thinking about doing for a couple of years since we bought our house. I love that he figured out a way to put them up without the shelving support being visible. And I love that we were able to reuse wood that had been discarded when Fort Langley’s walls were replaced last year.

New shelves and recovered chair

Reuse #2 – Old furniture

We recently acquired some used furniture from a friend – in fact most of our furniture is reused. I discovered that reupholstering chair cushions is something a regular person like me can do – it just requires math and precision – which are not my forté, but possible if one really tries, and watches a few youtube videos.

In the process, I learned a thing or two about zippers: for one thing, sewing a zipper into a cushion cover is not that difficult. And secondly, I fixed the zipper on my Smoking Lily skirt that I’ve been wearing with safety pins for a couple years (with a slip, just in case). I spontaneously attempted fixing it last night and succeeded.

Reuse #3 – No qualms about used clothes

I have rediscovered the joy of thrift store shopping. Some of my favourite clothing pieces are from thrift stores but I haven’t really had time to shop in them since the children were
born. I’ve picked up eleven items this fall for a fraction of their worth. We also have no qualms about reusing children’s clothes and passing them on to others.

Reuse #4 – Dust rags – they make great puppets.

antique items

A few of my souveniers from the farm

Reuse #5 – Old photos and “stuff” for artwork.

All this to say I love reusing things! Next challenge: reduce acquiring stuff in the first place. One look at Burtynsky’s recycling images in China, and you’ll understand why. A lot of the stuff we recycle ends up in a pile somewhere.

Thoughts on loss

My experience with grieving is fortunately quite limited. I have lost all three of my grandparents since moving to British Columbia in 1999; all of them having lived full, long lives, with the final loss of my paternal grandmother on Friday.

Grandma and I in 2004 at my grandfather's burial.

It happened on our wedding anniversary, 11 years, and the eve of my being responsible for an event at work – no time to take abrupt leave of absence or let down my guard. After that, I had only part of Thanksgiving Sunday to try to gather some meaningful words to share at the funeral, via my brother. That done, I turned my sights to a frenzy of home improvement projects – reupholstering a chair, completing reclaimed wood shelves and arranging things on them, and launching into fall cleaning.

Chair I reupholstered, on which I learned a thing or two about sewing and zippers.

I commented that I didn’t know if this was appropriate behaviour for someone who just lost a loved one. My husband said that we all deal with grief in different ways. Now that I have a lot of the busyness out of my system, the more sentimental thoughts are starting to be processed. Not melodramatic, but the kind of important stock-taking thoughts that need to be thought at a time like this.

When Grandpa passed away seven years ago, I was able to fly home for the funeral. Read my brothers’ words. Absorb the scenes of the farm and rural Ontarian community. As mentioned in an earlier post, a lot of what I absorbed came out through my artwork since that time. This time, my brother read my words and I have been quite distant from the actual funeral proceedings.

View from my Grandparents house in 2004, just after Grandpa's funeral.

My thoughts have mainly been on the farm – partly because of my current painting, an aerial abstract landscape of the farm – and partly because I can’t help but be connected to the land where generations of my family have lived. I was thinking about who lived in my grandparents’ house before they did, and it was Grandpa’s grandparents. I did a little research into who they were and of course got engrossed in the journals and letters I have. Discovered that my great-great grandfather was raised by an aunt and uncle (brother/sister), kind of like Anne of Green Gables.

Fields, October 2004, colours of loss.

So apparently I deal with grief by creating art, making things, organizing things, and keeping very busy. I’m hoping the next few days will be spent at a slower pace, letting this new existence sink in, having laid a generation to rest.

Related posts: Grandpa‘s story; A Letter from 1924; For Grandma; In Memory of Grandma