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
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.snake
    Lannis Smith of the Leslie Science and Nature Center in Ann Arbor shows off a python last week at Stair District Library's Summer Reading Program.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Pipeline Spread
    LINED UP—Lengths of pipe were put in place last week along the route of the Rover natural gas pipeline that will stretch from Defiance, Ohio, to Ontario, Canada. Topsoil was removed before the pipes were laid out. The 42-inch diameter pipeline is scheduled for completion in November.
  • Front.F.school
    PROGRESS continues on the agriculture classroom addition at Fayette High School. The project will add 2,900 square feet of space and include an overhead door that would allow equipment to be driven inside. The building should be ready for the start of school in August. Work on ball fields and a running track is also underway.
  • Front.rock Study
    ROCKHOUNDS—From the left, Joseph McCullough, Sean Pagett and Jonathan McCullough peer through hand lenses to study rocks. The project is part of Morenci Elementary School’s summer camp that continues into August.

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