Old Stuff Gets New Life

  • Tennis ball art made of 160 balls. Some of the balls can be moved around in order to create different formations. (Photo courtesy of Britten Stringwell)

Everyone has stuff. Probably too much stuff. Stuff you don’t use anymore, stuff that’s just
gathering dust in a box somewhere. Sure, you could recycle it. Or, as reporter Jennifer
Guerra discovered, you could turn some of that stuff into art:


Everyone has stuff. Probably too much stuff. Stuff you don’t use anymore, stuff that’s just
gathering dust in a box somewhere. Sure, you could recycle it. Or, as reporter Jennifer
Guerra discovered, you could turn some of that stuff into art:

Vivienne Armentrout has only the essentials in her house. A table, some chairs, a
sideboard. Maybe a vase with fresh cut flowers from her garden. But that’s it. No clutter,
no knick knacks. Armentrout doesn’t like to have stuff lying around her house. So she
gets rid of it. But she doesn’t just throw it out or recycle it:

“The thing is, it’s easy to recycle. You just load up everything take it down to drop off
center and put it in the appropriate bin. And that’s okay for material recovery. But a lot of
objects have a real use still and that would be a waste. ”

Like fabric, for example. Armentrout says there’s nothing inherently wrong with
recycling old neck ties or curtain remnants. But if you go that route, the material will
probably just end up being turned into stuffing for seat cushions:

“But I think making them into a beautiful piece of art is a much better use.”

Now you might be thinking to yourself, okay, sounds like a cool idea…but I’m not an
artist! That’s ok, you don’t have to be. That’s where someone like Britten Stringwell
comes in. Stringwell calls herself a…

“A creative, inspirational doer…or artist.”

Stringwell and Armentrout live in the same town. But they never met until Armentrout
read an article about Stringwell in a local paper. Stringwell had some art work on display
at a coffee shop, so the paper was doing a little bio on her. When Armentrout read that
Britten Stringwell used recycled materials in her pieces, Armentrout immediately went to
work. She went through boxes of stuff she had in her attic and in her basement. Armentrout
invited Stringwell over to her house and together, the two sifted through old metal gears, antique
furniture knobs and wooden beads.

Some of the items Stringwell took home with her. Some she didn’t. Stringwell’s quick to
point out that she doesn’t just take anything that’s handed to her:

“I don’t like to keep collecting things, but if I can help to inspire other people who
would use them, too, is really important.”

I think that’s key to understanding what drives Stringwell to do what she does. She likes to make connections, she likes to form relationships with people.

People – strangers – will read or hear about Stringwell and they’ll invite her into their
house. Virtual strangers! Sometimes they have her over for tea, maybe a light snack. And
then, they just talk. Mostly, about all the stuff they’ve got in their basement and their attic,
and it’s those stories – the stories BEHIND the items and not the actual items themselves – that
Stringwell says inspires her the most:

“More recently, I guess I’ve been interested in not talking so much when I enter a space,
but kind of seeing where the person leads me. And just kind of finding out what’s
important to them or what story comes up and why does this object inspire me more
or them more…”

For example, that’s how Stringwell discovered someone’s box of old tennis balls. An
older woman invited Stringwell into her home one day. The two walked through her
basement, where there were boxes of stuff everywhere. When they came to the box of
tennis balls, the older woman went on and on about her love of the game, and about how she
and her partner used to play tennis all the time when they were younger.

So, Stringwell took those tennis balls home with her and she gave them new life. She put
them in an art piece. Tennis balls that otherwise would have stayed in a box in a
basement or ended up in a landfill somewhere. Stringwell created an interactive composition of
sorts. So within the composition, the balls can be arranged by the viewer to form different
shapes and patterns:

“What’s important is that it becomes this new, physical game. What was important
to them about it. They might not be as physical as they were when they were
younger and playing tennis, but now they can take these things out and play a
matching game and they will change it around and recreate it.”

Of course not everyone is a creative inspirational doer, like Britten Stringwell. But that doesn’t mean you can’t reduce, reuse and recycle. That part’s easy. Everybody gets that. And maybe, while you’re at it, you’ll start to look at all the stuff around you in a different way. Maybe you’ll find your own way to recreate, repurpose and reimagine.

For the Environment Report, I’m Jennifer Guerra.

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