The Art of Upcycling

From Can-Can Dolls to doll-part installations, two friends animate their creativity by giving life to found objects

Joy Snyder jokes that she and her partner-in-art, Kathryn Gilbert, are the “old ladies” of Emergency Arts. The 63- and 67-year-old, respectively, are one of the building’s original tenants, where they co-run a tiny gallery called Sporadica Designs.

“It’s a great vibe,” Snyder says of being immersed in the youthful downtown art scene. “It’s been creatively pushing—there are so many young people around, it rubs off on you.”

About a decade ago, Snyder retired from a 30-year career as a nurse, which left her more time to explore her artistic side. (Creativity runs in the family; Snyder’s son Dana voices Master Shake on Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force.) At first, Snyder began to dabble in collage, but it wasn’t until a mutual friend introduced her to Gilbert that she became more serious about art.

At the time of their meeting, Gilbert was doing mainly watercolors. But that changed after the two women began to share ideas, moving toward assemblage art and jewelry design. Before opening their gallery, the artists showed their works in exhibitions at local libraries.

Gilbert’s sculptures and relief pieces have an unintentionally Steampunk vibe, often incorporating old tools, nails and machine parts, and almost always reference birds in some way. Snyder’s creations vary, from multi-textural tapestries to bold, abstract acrylic paintings. Despite their different styles, the two artists share a similar approach, using found objects and recycled materials, and they ensure their individual pieces on display in Sporadica hew to a common aesthetic.

“We usually pick a theme or object that we’ll focus on each month and just both go with it,” Snyder says. “What we end up with, we end up with.”

Their most prominent creations are the “Can-Can Dolls.” These hybrid creatures are created Frankenstein-style from antique tin cans, vintage doll parts and random objects, and they cost $75 to $250. Along with their other sculptures, paintings and jewelry, Gilbert and Snyder have established a fan base of diverse proportions.

“We have had a range of clientele,” Snyder says. “Other artists, tourists and those people who like the upcycled, recycled and eclectic nature of most of our work.”

Snyder and Gilbert will unveil their first true collaboration at March’s First Friday, “Out on a Limb … Artopsies.” It’s a large-scale installation opening in Emergency Arts’ ground-floor common area. Exploring the cyclical nature of life and death, “Out on a Limb” features discarded doll parts coming out of the ground to form a tree of literal limbs, which overtake an entire wall, measuring about 8 feet high and 12 feet wide. Verbiage scrawled on the parts themselves intends to draw people in, so they can spend time with the piece.

“We have all these body parts sitting around,” Snyder says. “With my nursing background, I thought about the fact that when limbs are removed in a hospital, they are cremated.” “They lend themselves to being branches,” she says of the doll parts. “They’re legs and feet.”

Snyder and Gilbert have each created four assemblage pieces tied into the theme of the installation, which will be featured in Sporadica Designs and available for sale. Given their success so far, it’s unlikely those creations will be adorning the gallery walls for long.

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