Heidi Drake: Garbage in the Garden

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

Few people think to decorate their gardens with garbage, but Adrian resident and new elementary school teacher Heidi Drake is different. When it comes to garbage in the garden, for her it’s the more the merrier.

Walking through her garden, it’s easy to see why.door

Heidi is a practitioner of the art she calls “repurposing”—taking everyday discarded objects, such as dishes and lawnmower blades, and turning them into something pleasant, even enjoyable to look at.

For instance, her latest project started out as a door collected from the side of the road. Over the course of about 40 hours, she added string, poultry hooks, forks, variously rendered pop-cans, and fan blades—all of them painted bright colors. The work of art resembles a window, looking out into another garden of machines.

Heidi, who teaches art and science enrichment at Morenci Elementary, hasn’t always been a repurposeur. She got into the hobby about three years ago, when she learned how cheap the art form is. Of course, any hobby that involves gathering supplies the night before garbage day promises to be cost effective.

Dumpster diving aside, Heidi says an artist can make something beautiful for little to no money, just as long as he or she is shrewd and looks for materials in all the right places.

She considers the As-is Store at Adrian’s Goodwill Headquarters a prime spot for rooting out some good, cheap supplies—such as old plates and china that can be broken and rearranged, silverware that can be bent and twisted, beat-up furniture that can be painted and made to look attractive again.

The ReUse Center in Ann Arbor is also a good supplier, but most secondhand stores don’t offer paint—a crucial element of many repurposing projects.

That’s where hardware stores come in. Heidi pays reduced prices for paint mixes that customers decided not to buy. She gets scrap glass from a shop in Clinton. Friends and neighbors also come through with “donations,” and most odds and ends she can’t scrounge up secondhand—cording, string, etc—can be bought from hobby shops at a low cost.

Repurposing makes use of several different artistic techniques—painting, sculpture, découpage and mosaic.

One of Heidi’s most impressive works is the mosaic mermaid fountain that stands right near her garden’s entrance. Constructed on concrete backing with hundreds of glass shards and broken plate pieces, the mermaid was another of her summer projects.

How does she logistically manage so many elements? Heidi incoporated a number of different mosaic images she had found on the internet into one master pattern. She then projected the image on to a wall with an old classroom projector she bought for a dollar. The last step was tracing the pattern from the projection onto a large piece of paper.

Then it was just a matter of fabricating pieces to fit the pattern. Heidi used a hand glass cutter for the glass portion of the mosaic. She was less delicate when it came to pottery pieces—smashing plates with a hammer and rifling through the resulting spread for best fits.

It took her eight straight hours in the workshop to figure out exactly which piece she wanted to go where. It took another marathon session the next day to glue each piece to the concrete with tile adhesive and apply black grout.

That’s her style, though. She says she’s not the kind of person who can put a couple of hours in every few days. Once Heidi starts a project, she wants to complete is as quickly as possible.

However, sometimes artistic sensibilities aren’t very cooperative. After a few days of work on her door this summer, things just weren’t going as she planned. What she had created wasn’t consistent with what she wanted, so instead of agonizing over it, she took a few weeks off—it was long enough to find a new vision.

What’s next? Heidi has a few more doors in the garage that are ripe for repurposing, but she’s also toying with the idea of building a wall of bottles. Right now, she’s getting used to her new position at the elementary school, preferring to reserve the majority of her personal artistic time—and scrounging—for the summer.

– September 13, 2006
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