One man’s trash: Two approaches to turning recycled materials into treasured art pieces |

One man’s trash: Two approaches to turning recycled materials into treasured art pieces

"Silver Penciled Rock Rooster," a piece made by husband and wife team Sundie Ruppert and Brad Ruppert at their Des Moines, Iowa, studio. The mixed-media art includes hat maker's felt remnants, metal flashing and carved wood.
Sundie Ruppert | Associated Press | Sundie Ruppert

What have you not seen recycled into an art form? Everything from T-shirts to trash finds new life, as artists and crafters scramble to create something new out of something old.

Here’s a look at two couples who have found interesting ways to turn recycling into art and enjoy doing it together.

Rock on

Jennifer Wozniak and Mark Serwinowski, of Denver, scour antique stores and record swaps for vinyl records and album covers, which they turn into purses in their garage.

Wozniak had been developing ideas for making a beautiful purse that was sturdy and could hold a lot of stuff. “It’s been evolving, but when my husband figured out how to cut the vinyl, that’s when this really got going.”

Serwinowski uses a small Dremel saw with a diamond blade. Toward the end of the project, he drills the holes through which Wozniak hammers decorative rivets that help hold the purses together. Wozniak recycles leather belts picked up at thrift stores into the purse handles and uses album liner notes to line the insides.

She recently started making mini purses with smaller 45’s, or record singles, and she opened an Etsy online store, ShesARainbowCO. Otherwise, she sells her vinyl record purses in boutique shops and at summertime art markets.

Avid recyclers who work in parallel fields — Wozniak works for Xcel Energy and Serwinowski is a sustainability consultant — the couple tries to toss as little waste as possible.

“I have been passionate about recycling before recycling was the cool thing to do,” Wozniak said. “It makes me sad that a lot of people have this throw-away mentality, and it’s not a sustainable practice for our environment.”

Wozniak often pieces the vinyl record purses alone in her heated garage, but she welcomes when Serwinowski is right there beside her.

“There are a lot of little plastic flecks flying around when he’s using the saw, and if we’re cutting a Bruce Springsteen record, we listen to Bruce Springsteen,” she said.

“Music is such an important part of the fabric of our lives and a song can take you back to a memory, like a smell can,” Wozniak said. “It’s very powerful.”

Furry felt

Brad and Sundie Ruppert, of Des Moines, Iowa, are longtime graphic designers who spent 15 years making folksy art pieces together before taking a turn toward fine art. They found their inspiration when, while installing a hand-crafted sign at the Greeley Hat Works shop in Greeley, they stumbled on piles of thin felt strips trimmed from hand-built cowboy hats.

The felt “wasn’t much to work with; literally, it was the outline of a circle 1-inch wide,” Sundie Ruppert said.

They took a pile of felt strips home, and Brad played with them in his workshop. He created a crow and then a feather, followed by a rooster. After the third sample, the couple knew they’d hit upon their own art form, and now they create a menagerie of mostly furry and feathered animals: birds of all colors and sizes, farm animals and wild creatures such as foxes and bears.

“Why do we do animals? I think it’s because the material itself is fur-like,” Sundie Ruppert said.

They sell their work at art fairs and on their website, Vintage Sculpture.

Sundie Ruppert designs the pieces and adds the details — eyes and beaks, for example, generally fashioned from metal — while Brad carves the wooden bases and builds up layers of colored felt to fashion the bird or beast.

The limitations of the material sometimes prove liberating.

“The tiny pieces of felt force us to figure out, ‘What in the world can you do with almost nothing?’” Sundie Ruppert said. “We don’t have a big sheet of something to cut a shape out of, which would be the easier and faster way to accomplish a piece of art. That drives our art.”

The Rupperts work closely together on a project, but not side by side. They have separate workspaces, but consult with one another.

“The fact that it goes back and forth between the two of us — (a project) doesn’t seem to get stuck as often,” Sundie said.

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