The Scavenger’s Eye: Letting the Materials Guide Your Work

by Johnny Damm of DammNation Reclamation

As a child, I viewed crafting as the occupation of an alien realm, one peopled nearly exclusively by women my grandparents’ age and most vividly represented by the goods of a church bazaar: felt finger puppets and crocheted everything—objects at most tangentially useful, the sad hobbies of those with too much time and not enough taste. This was a realm that I, as a preacher’s son perpetually on the lookout for pretty much anything to rebel against, wanted no part of.
To a certain extent, this hasn’t changed. I still find craft stores, particularly the chains with their rows of fake flowers and scrap booking kits, repellant, and when a local craft show’s aesthetic tends too closely towards those old church bazaars, an old childhood snobbishness rises up within me. It would seem nearly impossible, then, for me to have been lured towards crafting, that I of all people could have become—shudder—a crafter, but that’s exactly what happened after I came upon an unlikely muse: spent bullet casings.
These appeared in the basement of an old farmhouse owned by my wife’s family, which we’d moved into to clean out and make repairs, and they sat in a large blue jar.

Spotting them, I felt a sudden and palpable attraction, and it had nothing to do with guns (which I’d never owned), much less hunting or shooting of any kind (neither of which I’d ever done). Instead what attracted me was the objects themselves—how such striking arresting forms could be found in something which normally would be viewed as only having one (frankly ugly) purpose. These were forms I wanted to take advantage of, I wanted to create something with, and after a week or so of vague and poorly conceived ideas, I finally hit upon something. With wire from old lawn flag posts and links from a broken wallet chain, I swiftly used the bullet casings to make my first craft creation and was already well on my way to becoming (somehow) a crafter.

So from the beginning, crafting has been for me less about planned projects or designs than it has been about envisioning the possibilities in salvaged objects. It was to best exploit these objects that I taught myself to use a sewing machine and gradually, most often while looking around the farmhouse, began to see that anything, everything, can suggest a potential creation.
Let me offer one other example. For some time, I’ve been using placemats in my work, not featuring them but as a usefully stiff and sturdy core in the lining of purses and cases, and one day I came across a set of particularly striking 1970’s, avocado green ones.

Their oval shape, the light-reflecting shine coming off the slick vinyl, and most of all that perfect color: I immediately saw in the five mats a wealth of possibilities and, after grabbing them up, headed straight for the set of shelves where I keep other finds salvaged in this fashion. I quickly dug out a ripped 1980’s white pleather purse and a baby blue trench coat with a large brown stain across its back. By the next day, my line of mutant bags featuring the placemats had been begun.

What I’m trying to suggest here with my examples is a very basic tenet for the creation of trashion crafts: your work may be found through the materials. Try this for me: look around you. What bits and pieces do you see? What might be destined for a landfill if you don’t find another use for it? Start there, and you’ll begin to glimpse the myriad of potential creations that already exist around you. All it takes is a scavenger’s eye.

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re-maker said...


GreenWorks said...

Great vision! I'm still developing mine and this post is inspiring. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

infectious and winning--what an imagination!