Your trash is Deane Valentine Bowers’s treasure. Or, at least, it could be soon. Deane is an environmental folk artist, and her creations are crafted from items she finds strewn about. She finds dual inspiration from the beauty of the Lowcountry and her desire to clean up the community.
“Inspiration is always found in the beauty and simplicity of the South Carolina coast. For this reason, I am passionate about being an environmentally conscientious artist and I make it my mission to create eco friendly art. Using mostly discarded, abandoned, and reclaimed materials, my ‘recycled folk art’ celebrates these forgotten things,” she said.
Originally from Richmond, Va., Deane now lives on Seabrook Island. Her mixed media sculptures are colorful and vibrant, and each is a fun exploration to discover how she has repurposed the items she has collected to create her art. And the fact that she’s working to clean up litter is a tremendous added bonus.
“That shattered, busted and cracked piece of metal or wood lying in the streets or on the beach is the focal point of my mixed media, found object sculptures. Items that otherwise would end up in landfills and waterways are given new and important value in my “recycled folk art.” I am constantly amazed at the abundance of materials I find and rescue within just a few city blocks. Great pride is taken in cleaning up my surroundings with the hopes of keeping the coastline beautiful and pristine,” she said.
My first piece created from found objects and recycled materials was in 2005. It was a very simple “bird shack” made from cardboard, tissue paper, salvaged wood, wire, bottle caps and sticks. I will never part with it because it is a great reminder of how far I have come in working with reclaimed items. Before working with recycled materials, I primarily focused on clay and paint. I hand built ceramic pieces for many years and sold them in many retail locations throughout the Southeast. I was growing tired of working with ceramics and the level of detail and precision it required. You have to be a perfectionist when hand building pieces to ensure they will make it through two kiln firings and not develop hairline cracks or air bubbles. It is also a very expensive medium to work in between the cost of the clay and glazes, not to mention the power needed to fire up the kiln.
On a girls weekend to the beach with a fellow artist and best friend, our beach plans got rained out and we had no back up plan. We both had brought minimal art supplies with us and decided to be creative until the rain stopped, which it never did! We had to be industrious in finding more items to work with. I began walking the beach and the neighborhoods around the beach house looking for things to use. I was amazed and delighted at what I found and how freeing working with rescued materials was. No kiln firings to worry about, no expensive art supplies to purchase and no right or wrong way to create with them. Plus, there was the added satisfaction that I was cleaning up my surroundings and picking up materials that could potentially be harmful. And these things were free, plentiful and right out the front door!
Your art is crafted from scrap items you find, often on the street. What is your most exciting find that you’ve put to use?
Metal scraps are always my most favorite finds. Especially when they are so street worn they have developed holes in places and have a wonderful rusted color to them. There is no telling how long they have been in lying in the streets or where else they have been. I respect and adore these pieces and always put them in a central spot on my found object sculptures. And I am fortunate to find these metal scraps frequently abandoned in the streets or parking lots.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in creating art from recycled materials?
Go for it and have fun. There is no right or wrong way to work with them. Give them a purpose that is totally different from their original use. Take a walk around the neighborhood and collect whatever you see discarded and go from there. I always clean my materials in very hot water and Simple Green, an Ecofriendly cleaning solution before I get started. Oh, and make sure your tetanus shot is up to date, just in case you have a mishap!
What was the last thing you were listening to on your car radio?
If you could wave a magic wand over Charleston, what one thing would instantly happen?
One thing I wish would magically happen in Charleston: I would love to see more trash and recycle bins placed throughout the city, especially in the busiest areas of the city and in the city parks. I am disheartened when I see people littering and not taking pride in keeping Charleston beautiful. The amount of rescued materials I collect from the streets, parking lots and beaches of Charleston is staggering. And when I look around, I notice there are no trash or recycling receptacles for people to put their trash in, so no wonder! And if there are trash containers available, they are often overflowing.