recycle reclaim redo rework renew re-purpose reuse reduce recycle reclaim redo
a contemporary folk, found object art & fine craft gallery
featuring the work of Lisa Nordstrom
reuse reduce recycle reclaim redo rework renew re-purpose reuse reduce recycle
From www.onthegrid.city/chicago/oak park/, a travel website curated by creatives and designers around the world.
Art Gecko is "on the grid"
An anchor of the Arts District, Art Gecko carries contemporary folk, found object art and upcycled craft pieces with many created on site by store owner and working artist Lisa Nordstrom. Be sure to check out Third Fridays, when Art Gecko and a slew of galleries and shops stay open late for family-friendly culture and shopping.
Wednesday Journal January 19, 2011
Meeting of a Great Mind: Lisa Nordstrom of Art Gecko
Where Old Becomes New Again
In junior high, Lisa Nordstrom wore an arresting accessory of her own design. Fellow peers, puzzled by her curious, colorful creation inquired as to its origin.
Lisa recounts with a laugh, “I made a necklace out of gumballs! I strung them together and dipped them in polyurethane. I wore the the necklace to school and everyone wanted one!”
Lisa chuckles as she relates an amusing memory, “This was in the seventies. I matched my pink, blue, and white gumballs to my gray elephant bell pants and a pink turtleneck!”
She shares, “I had all those crazy craft hobbies as a kid. I made candles and constructed jewelry out of recycled materials. I crocheted belts out of hardware and string and dyed them different colors.”
Soon, students were placing orders for Lisa’s treasured trinkets and fun finery. Little did she know then that she would one day go on to become an accomplished assemblage artist with her own gallery and gift shop, Art Gecko, where she would sell found object art and fine crafts created from reclaimed materials.
Lisa studied at the Ray-Vogue School of Design and went on to complete coursework at Columbia College where she dabbled in art and design as well as film. She secured a rewarding job working as an assistant film editor and eventually as an editor.
Highly kinesthetic, Lisa fell in love with the hands-on of editing and splicing, touching and cutting. But as the industry changed to absorb modern technology, Lisa’s affinity waned. She explains, “I didn’t like the digital direction it was going in.” She admits to being decidedly nontechnical.
No longer fulfilled, she made a conscious decision to leave behind the financial security and perks of her job to remodel her career. Her husband encouraged her to seek out a career path that would draw upon her creative energy as well as her love of design. Lisa heeded his advice and before long had established a successful and lucrative gift basket business from her home.
Lisa sighs and smiles, as she recalls her house becoming a basket-making factory, “My living room became my work space. I loved the hands-on aspect.” But she soon found that filling orders of dozens and sometimes hundreds of the same gift basket yielded a sterile environment for an artistic mind teeming with ideas and yearning for ceaseless invention.
At last, Lisa decided to create the perfect space for her uberous designs, Art Gecko (21 Harrison Street in Oak Park), her very own working studio. While you may not find those wonderfully peculiar gumball necklaces, you will find a magnificent menagerie of jewelry, all fashioned from repurposed materials: charming necklaces, whimsical bracelets, all one-of-a-kind pieces, all handmade on the premises by Lisa in what she affectionately terms her “playhouse.”
Lisa also conceives mixed media art pieces: 3D collages and wall art fabricated of salvaged materials, wish boxes and worry boxes fashioned of vintage items. Each seminal work of art decidedly slows you down, involves you: tattered music sheets, old love letters, discarded items; all beg the question, what is your story?
Here at Lisa’s workshop,reclaimed materials find a new identity as Lisa’s creative power coats each craft with patina and persona. She explains, “I don’t look at anything for what it is. I ask, ‘What could it be?’” Like Pinocchio come to life in Geppetto’s workshop, so each piece seems to find breath and truth in Lisa’s hands.
At Art Gecko, Lisa sits in perfect harmony with her surroundings, and the fluency between the materials she carefully selects, her designs, the final art piece, and the nostalgic atmosphere she has created is striking and salient. Her favorite part of being an assemblage artist is the juxtaposition of finding and creating, of technique and imagination. She confides contentedly, “Every day I get to spend my time doing what I like to do.”
Art Gecko: An Old World in a New Place
It was a cold, gray, about-to-rain day when I stopped by Art Gecko to talk with Lisa Nordstrom about her gallery’s recent move and her upcoming art projects. As soon as I stepped through the door, the world slowed down, despite the fact that up until then I'd been on a desperate Mad Hatter's dash to, as the Queen of Hearts would say, "murder time." The gallery, softly lit by a few lamps at Nordstrom's workstation, seemed to glow like a cottage in a Thomas Kinkade painting. Outside, the wind was beginning to howl, but inside the smell of freshly brewed tea filled the room. As did the buttery voice of a woman crooning an old love song on the radio. Stacked to the ceiling all around were faded board-game boxes packed with treasures for future collages. Hand tools, pieces of jewelry, and an assortment of seemingly unrelated objects awaited their fate at the artist's worktable.
It’s no mistake that the Art Gecko Gallery has more the feel of a cobbler’s nook than a twenty-first-century slick and modern showroom. Nordstrom freely admits that she is a tactile person easily bored by the high-tech, intangible world of websites and online imagery (though she does participate in both, begrudgingly). That’s because she is a gatherer, an artist who creates works of art from repurposed items, pieces that she affectionately calls “gatherings.” Ever since she was a little girl, she has seen the potential in discarded items, the treasure in someone else’s “trash.”
“When I was a kid there wasn't enough discretionary income in our household to buy much in the way of traditional art supplies,” Nordstrom explained. “So I made art from things I found around the house and the discarded items I found around the neighborhood. While I remember coloring, painting, gluing and working with clay from a very early age, what I really enjoyed was the process of gathering things and assembling them to create my pieces.”
Looking around the gallery, it’s plain to see that Nordstrom’s vision for transmogrifying the most humble of items is inspiring. An assortment of green-hued items–children’s building blocks, crayons, a bar of Palmolive soap, a Pez dispenser, game pieces, etc.–come together to create a monochromatic wall hanging that first captures your attention and then makes you think/remember/imagine.
An old drawer with a Plexiglas cover allows you to view its contents as it hangs on the wall. An artistic reference to a household staple, the Junk Drawer, this piece features odds and ends that one might actually find in such a place—that is, if it belonged to Andy Warhol or Richard Hamilton. As a bonus, Nordstrom has purposefully left some items unattached so that the drawer can be shaken up, rearranged, and rehung. It’s interactive art, and much more fun than, ahem, cleaning out your own drawer of boring, broken, and not-so-cleverly put together “junk.”
Her jewelry, too, is a whimsical journey down memory lane. Right now Nordstrom is fascinated with making bracelets from tin. Tin anything. Tea tins. Cracker tins. Band-aid tins. Tin cans. Each bauble twists the mind to understand that what was once in a cupboard or medicine cabinet now looks fashionable and interesting as an accessory. Charms hold her interest, too, coming together as a cowgirl necklace or an assortment of religious symbols gathered to “hedge your bets” in bracelet form. Reader beware: these pieces are irresistible. I left the gallery with my own wrist wrapped in tiny trinkets.
As we sat in the back of the gallery marveling at a love letter from 1948 that Nordstrom found in an estate sale nearby, she explained that for her these items all have meaning: “I often feel a sentimental attachment to simple, everyday, discarded and underused items. An occupational hazard for me is that it doesn't necessarily need to be my own sentiments,” she said, laughing. “Well-worn game pieces, long-forgotten love letters, or much-loved toys have a story to tell on their own. I love the idea of telling a story with them . . . whether it's part of my own or a more universal story.
” Nordstrom’s own tale of becoming a full-time artist began in the 1990s after receiving an award at her first juried art fair. Before then, she had worked in the postproduction industry for fifteen years, but her passion for film editing faded once the process became increasingly digitized and nontactile. “I’m a very tactile person, and I enjoy working with my hands,” she said. “I've always been drawn to texture, the patina of age and wear, the beauty in well-used items that may have even become obsolete. So I'm naturally drawn to textural and three-dimensional work.
” In 2004 Nordstrom opened Art Gecko one door down from her current location (21 Harrison St.). At the time, she had been exhibiting at galleries and art fairs for several years and realized that she needed a permanent space to display her work. Until then, her studio had been the third floor of her home. “I was hesitant to invite strangers to traipse through the house past rooms with, most likely, unmade beds or laundry-sorting piles in the second-floor hallway,” she said.
Renting a formal space in the Oak Park Arts District seemed like a natural move. Nordstrom says she was drawn to the artsy neighborhood for the same reason that she was drawn to Oak Park in general: diversity. “Setting up shop in OPAD just felt right,” she said. “I never even seriously considered another location.”
From her new address, Nordstrom plans to participate in the OPAD Holiday Lights event on December 10–11. She will be offering hand-crafted ornaments and affordable, one-of-a-kind items for holiday gift-giving. She also plans to host classes for children and adults as a way to bring people together for fun and creativity when the weather finally turns its back on us. Private parties can also be arranged for small groups, so don’t miss a unique opportunity to create your own art from found objects–and to slow down time. As Nordstrom says so eloquently on her website:
“I am convinced that our lives are shaped not only by the few cataclysmic events that inevitably occur during a lifetime, but quite profoundly by the collective moments of our everyday, often mundane, life experiences. It is over the course of time that we gather the memories and pieces; the moments of comfort, pleasure, pain, loss, love, longing, sorrow and joy that truly make up our existence. It is in the spirit of gathering these separate pieces and bringing them together to form a whole that I create my art.”
To learn more about Art Gecko, visit www.artgeckoltd.com or email Lisa Nordstrom at email@example.com. The gallery is open Wednesday–Sunday, 12–7 p.m.
- Monica Phillips
This article originally appeared in the Buzz Café’s newsletter and is reprinted here with permission.
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