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One person’s trash is another ’s treasure

By Matthew Artz Daily Planet Staff
Monday May 06, 2002

Recycling is theme 

at Berkeley art show 


Visitors to Saturday’s Trash to Treasures reception discovered a miniature bed spread made entirely of used tea bags, a giant bug made of assorted metals hanging from the ceiling, and a mysterious looking woman with a snake in her hands, holding court in the back corner on a throne of objects that she finds too many uses for to ever throw away. 

The annual junk-art exhibition is put on by the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse and what it lacks in pomp, it more than makes up for in energy, originality, and eco-consciousness. 

The 10th annual exhibition, on display through May 17 at the Outback Store in Berkeley, at Sacramento and Dwight streets, showcases 123 works by children, adults, families, and professional artists, all of whom use materials that would have usually found their way to the local landfill or dump.  


The organizers worked with local schools and sent out community-wide invitations for entries, which were ultimately selected by a panel of judges. Winners were selected in eight categories ranging from early elementary school student through professional artist.  

“This is meant to be a venue of diverse people that all see with a vision of how to transform trash into treasure,” said Valerie Raps, event co-coordinator.  

Emma Ramstad, who recently moved from Minnesota, was excited to contribute. She used cardboard and broken CDs to create a miniature art car parade, a technique she first learned as a child when she accidentally crushed a farmer’s lawn mower under her tractor and made him a replica mower out of cardboard.  

“It’s so cool to have the East Bay Depot to make recycled art and then to get a place like this. It’s very exciting,” said Ramstad.  

This is the first year the exhibition is at the Outback Store. Its nine-year affiliation with the Oakland YWCA ended when that building’s gallery space was converted for other uses.  

The site has been vacant for over a year, while Berkeley leaders decide what to do with the land, but in keeping with Trash to Treasure’s theme the organizers are creatively re-using it for this year’s show. 

The site also provides extra space to accommodate the exhibition’s first performance art installation by Orunamamu, which means “Morning Star” in a Nigerian dialect. 

Orunamamu is a retired Berkeley teacher, who became a full-time storyteller operating from the porch of her Rockridge home. For the exhibition, she has moved many on the objects from her home to the art space to show children that there is a story, and a hidden significance behind many of the objects people throw away.  

“A lot of things that are wasted could be used if we re-imagine what we could do,” said Orunamamu who flaunted a small snake on hand and a small mat or “magic carpet” woven from magazines in the other. 

Asked if she considered herself a pack rat, the storyteller replied that she was a collector, because pack rats pick up anything, but a collector only takes things to use for a purpose. 

A central theme of the exhibition is collaborative art, especially among adults and children. Joyce Slim, an art instructor at Franklin State Preschool, and an entrant in past shows decided to work with her 3- to 5-year-old students, and her friend Sherron Longfeather for this show. 

Their project, “What A Wonderful World” is a tribute to Louis Armstrong’s famous song, and features a figurine of the jazz great on top of a bike rim, set above seven figures of children made from tin and plastic containers, each representing a different theme from the song. 

Slim has been recycling art with children for several years, and has found that even preschoolers can understand the message embedded in the art. “Their concept light turned on when they saw the things being attached,” said Slim. “They made the connection that ‘hey that’s my apple juice box.’”  

Slim is hopeful that in addition to giving a stage for this inventive art, Trash to Treasure will change the perspectives of visitors of all ages. “These things are around us and we can use them to create something to bring joy to others.”