Lo­cal artist reuses vin­tage finds

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Front Page -

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

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