Local Artists Encourage Recycled Art

Monica Caram, a local artist who often works with recycled materials, regularly turns used glass bottles into household items, molding this beer bottle into a sage burner. Photo courtesy Monica Caram.

Stefanie Girard likes to joke that she’s been cutting things up and putting them back together since she held her first pair of scissors. At a recent event, she told local community members how taking similar actions can reduce waste.

The event, held on Thursday as part of the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission’s Virtual Burbank series, involved a series of presentations by the artists and local environmental advocates. Commissioner Suzanne Weerts and Amy Hammes, a recycling specialist at the Burbank Recycling Center, encouraged community members to avoid disposing of items, pointing to their guest artists as examples of creative reuse.

Reusing or donating objects, Hammes said, is a preferable option to disposing of them — even more so than recycling. And it’s with reused or donated materials that Girard and other artists often work. Also critical, speakers said, is to refrain from purchasing unnecessary things that could eventually make their way into a landfill, such as the one in Burbank.

“I think our natural instinct, if you’re not an artist or otherwise, is if you need something, to go buy it,” Girard said in a phone interview. “So I like to always ask myself a question when there is a need — beyond just creating art, just in your general life — [and that] is to say, ‘What can I use that I already have on hand?’”

Girard has earned some local fame for turning a vending machine into an art dispenser. Visitors to her yard at the corner of West Oak Street and North Fairview Street can buy small pieces of art from the machine — which has attracted collectors even from outside the city, she added.

But that “art candy machine” is far from Girard’s first recycled art piece. She describes herself as an “eco-artist” who tries to work exclusively with recycled materials. She has also worked as a set decorator for children’s television, specializing in repurposing items to create alien environments.

Some of Girard’s pieces are made out of materials gathered from thrift stores, and she often visits EcoSet, a Los Angeles-based organization that offers free used materials to artists and helps entertainment production agencies avoid waste. More recently, Girard has also received items from local “buy nothing” Facebook groups, whose members donate unwanted items to other residents.

“It truly is the unexpected,” she said. “It’s like treasure hunting.”

Some artists let the materials they have guide them, while others look for materials they can use to create a project they have in mind. Girard said she’s done both, while Monica Caram, another local creator, said she usually takes the former approach.

Caram, who before the pandemic taught children how to make robots out of recycled materials via the city’s Parks and Recreation Department classes, often receives donations of glass bottles from people who know her. Using a kiln, she melts the glass and turns them into household items, such as dishes and wall clocks. She then sells the pieces through her Amazon shop, Moonstone Craft.

Though she has long been an artist, Caram started working with recycled materials in 2015, after she became “overwhelmed” with the amount of trash she realized consumers were producing.

“If we can do something … it’s our responsibility as consumers to do something,” she said. “That is why I started doing this, because this is my way to contribute.”

Caram said she particularly enjoys turning glass bottles into sage holders, which are typically made out of abalone shells. Being vegan, she wanted to make something that didn’t use an animal product, and soon found that many customers were happy to use a glass alternative.

“Thoughts and Prayers,” an art piece by local resident Stefanie Girard, hangs at the Glendale Geo Gallery. The rosary beads-shaped piece is made out of 61 recycled gun triggers and is accompanied by an altered Constitution with the words “We the People” replaced with “Thoughts and Prayers.” Photo courtesy Stefanie Girard.

Though Girard said the response to her art candy machine has exceeded her expectations, she admitted that “your most recent [art piece] might be your favorite to some extent.” One of her current artworks — a collection of 61 gun triggers stringed in the shape of rosary beads — is visible in the Glendale Geo Gallery.

The piece, titled “Thoughts and Prayers,” is a project that took three years to complete, Girard said, and is a reference to a phrase she felt the public was hearing far too often in reaction to mass shootings.

“It seems like, unfortunately, a time to exhibit it,” she said. “That piece has elicited quite a response so far from people who have either seen it in person or see it online, and that’s my goal in the piece, is to evoke a response, because unfortunately, we seem to be able to do nothing in reality.”

But while crafting such a piece is an option for artists, Girard acknowledges that not everyone has that career. Still, she hopes that those who attended Thursday’s event about the impact they have on the environment by what they buy — and what they reuse.

“The goal is also to think about consumerism in a slightly different way and try to reduce your consumerism,” she explained. “The less we consume, the less we have to worry about repurposing and recycling and putting out into the waste world.”