Local artist reuses vintage finds
Cereal boxes. Soda bottles. Whipped cream cans and lids. The list sounds like items in a landfill, but thanks to Amelia Houser and her propensity to reduce and reuse, mounds of potential trash have been upcycled into art. “The way I was raised, we were always recycling – before it was cool,” Houser said. “We all just reused everything.”
Her Fountain Lake home is where she creates in the kitchen and stores supplies in the basement. She said artistic endeavors have always been a part of life, but her recycled art has been where she's become a part of the Spa City community fabric.
She has entered and won the Hot Springs event Discarde D'Arte Recycled Sculpture Contest, with her most successful piece being “The Bottles on the Ed Sullivan Show,” taking top prize in 2007. The artist's sense of humor shows in the play-on words of its title, which has cans and bottles formed and painted to look like George, Ringo, John, Paul, Ed Sullivan and a happy audience.
In 2010, she started selling carved wooden pendants at the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market, but that was hardly her first foray into sculpting natural elements. She taught herself to carve peach pits into wearable items at age 19, adding blocks of wood when she was 21.
With no formal art training, she calls herself a folk artist and said sometimes projects are born from material she's collected.
This was just the case with a birdhouse kit she sold for some time at the market. Her material was wooden boards that had been broken during tae kwon do classes. She began amassing them to keep them from being tossed away, then had the birdhouse idea. She cut the boards into the necessary sizes and sold them disassembled as a kit, held together with ribbon.
From stacks of empty cereal boxes, Houser has had inspiration aplenty. She's created berry baskets, cut from the cardboard using a pattern, to display fruits at the market, and little houses for use in wintry scened wreaths. Another pattern is for tiny travel trailers – all the rage during the most recent Handmade Holiday Shop pop-up store's annual sale.
She even cuts out letters from the boxes to use at a later time. She said, “Who keeps trash like that? It's really kind of nuts.” But then she has materials for future ideas.
Some of those letters have made their way into what is now her most beloved interest – refurbished travel cases. She said, “Years ago, I noticed those old brown suitcases and fell in love.”
She held on to them for a while, then found a set of antique paper dolls with outfits from around the world. Houser decoupaged them onto a suitcase and a new passion was born. “It's still the suitcase I travel with,” she said.
After remaking her first case, more than 20 years ago, she started collecting them. She had refurbished a couple cases to use for her tool boxes and people at the market saw them and requested their own.
Now she is known for the creations within the local arts community. She said of her penchant, “If I did nothing but cases this year, I'd be so happy … Every case I do, I get excited about it.”
Some of her favorites have been a former 8-track case that she gutted. “That was when I first realized, oh wow. You can totally gut this stuff,” she said, grateful for the revelation they didn't need to maintain their original use.
Another community offering to which Houser gives her time is the annual Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival. The case she worked on during an interview was a gift for the band she'd adopted for the 2015 festival – Young Buffalo.
She stenciled the outside of a hardshell briefcase with the band's name and a Hot Springs scene. On the inside, she decoupaged a map of Mississippi, as its five members hail from the state. A buffalo picture and definition were cut from an old children's dictionary, as a nod to their name, and robot paper was added because of a recent video the band released.
Her case materials come from everywhere – old maps, books that have begun falling apart, old advertisements, fortunes from fortune cookies, stamps – Houser keeps cut out images in folders to store for later use, like images of birds from a book with cover that was missing.
The artist imagines she keeps around half the items she makes and, of course, none go into the trash.
By Lorien E. Dahl, photography by Mara Kuhn