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What’s Old Is New: Reinvention In Martinsville

Some might be surprised to know that the green movement has come to Martinsville, Indiana. Though it was known during the early twentieth century for its healing mineral waters, these days Martinsville, Indiana doesn't fit the regular profile of an eco-friendly community.

But an environmentalist sensibility is alive and well among Martinsville's artists.

A Sanctuary For Art And Environmentalism

Housed in a converted church in downtown Martinsville, the Art Sanctuary provides gallery space and working studios for twenty artists-in-residence. The gallery's current, juried show is The Reinvention Convention.

"The big rule was: It had to be ninety percent found or discarded items," explains show organizer Gretchen Ten Eyck Hunt. "The artists could not go out and buy materials to make their assemblages."

As Ten Eyck Hunt describes it, environmentalism is in its nascent phase in this community. "There's a good recycling program here in town, but you can't do enough to bring people aware. I think there's a very small percentage that is actually recycling."

When Art Begins With 'Should'

The Reinvention Convention was conceived as an explicitly didactic effort, a community with a clear message. But is the conscience the best watering hole when it comes to art?

"I had several artists say, ‘I really wanted to do something, but I couldn't think of what to do,'" Ten Eyck Hunt admits. "They were stumped. ‘What materials am I going to use?' 'What is my inspiration?'"

Wild Horses...

Ten Eyck Hunt's own inspiration came naturally. The artist's blind mare was grazing next to a newly installed electric fence when she slid her head under the wire and got shocked, pulling out 300 linear feet of the 14-gauge wire. The mare was traumatized, but not seriously injured.

Shortly after witnessing the incident, the horse's equally traumatized owner gathered up the wire. Almost instinctively, she began shaping it into the form of a magnificent, gamboling horse. "It didn't take very long to do it," Ten Eyck Hunt recalls, "because I was feeling such an outpouring of emotion at the time."

In Ten Eyck Hunt's case, there was a perfect synchronicity of form and function. The material at hand was a literal element of the story she wanted to tell. But sometimes the creative process, like a stubborn horse, needs a little more prodding. At times like those, having to work within parameters - only using recycled materials, for example – can actually focus the process.

...Or Houses Of Cards

Artist Bonita Snellenberger had been collecting old credit cards for years, with the idea of using them for a project. When the show's theme was announced, she was inspired. She constructed a leaning 'House of Cards' with the discarded plastic. The piece is her personal statement about the precarious state of our credit-based economy.

The show was a particular opportunity for this artist; assemblage is an aside for Snellenberger. She normally makes paintings with gold leaf.

Forging New Paths, Finding The Way Home

Other submissions to the Reinvention Convention include an easy chair made of soda cans, a surrealistic shadow-box, and pottery made of from trimming scraps and glazed with a mixture of Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids, Alka-Seltzer, and toothpaste.

While the show has some artists exploring very contemporary materials and genres, others' pieces remind us that artistic creation has traditionally gone hand in hand with resourcefulness. Christine Maxwell's rugs, for example are woven from old bed sheets and blue jeans.

"This is the original recycle," says Ten Eyck Hunt. "Our society has gotten away from it in the last 50 years, but we need to get back to it."

Suddenly, the fact that a showcase of art fashioned from detritus is on view one flight up from town's annual quilt show doesn't seem so incongruous.

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