The Great Bottlecap Caper

Public Art Long Beach, NY  - Mural made from 24,000 bottle caps - Artist Lisa Bey - Photo by Robin Cembalest  (2013) via Tumblr
Public Art Long Beach, NY – Mural made from 24,000 bottle caps – Artist Lisa Bey – Photo by Robin Cembalest (2013) via Tumblr

One of the places I find myself revisiting on the Protopian Pickle Jar is the intersection of “Upcycling” and “Hoarding.” In my brain, “Upcycling” has the connotations of “Environmentally Friendly! Creative! Not Wasting! Good!” On the other hand, “Hoarding” has the connotations of “Mess! Junk! Pathology! Fire Hazard!”

I find myself wrestling with accumulating discarded objects for upcycling projects (“Look, shiny thing!”) with the knowledge that a) not only may I not get around to attempting the activity, but b) that there is something vaguely wrong about wanting to keep and organize these things (bottle caps, buttons, safety pins, etc.) in the first place.

I’m not inherently all that conscientious when it comes to tidying my personal items. Exhibit A: Random clothing, boxes, shoes, magazines and “stuff” strewn about my bedroom floor, oozing from the closets and creeping out of drawers. I really hate throwing things out, especially if I have a nebulous idea that it could be useful to someone in some way. However, if I know the “mess” is hampering other people’s abilities to use the space or be at ease, I am much more likely to implement a plan of action to organize it.

I was thinking about the pile of recyclables for Golem-building that I amassed in the Isabella Freedman art room. I carefully culled the recycling bins of the retreat center for items that would be useful for our projects with kids (toilet paper rolls, rinsed yogurt containers & milk cartons) and stored them in the art room. Each week, I would attempt to reign in the towering pile, or organize it in some fashion. However, it almost always ended up in a chaotic heap in the corner between a shelving unit and dresser, threatening to explode from its assigned nook.

It made me happy to think about the creativity kids would discover from using their imaginations on the pile of “junk,” even as I struggled with the physical containment of the growing stash. How could I balance the need for organized space with the potential payoff of storing reused art materials?

On a recent post, Hush, Lola! reblogged a fascinating piece about a woman in Russia who has covered her house with a mosaic of plastic soda bottle caps. I was completely entranced by this image, and ended up registering for Pinterest to gaze upon the many, many pictures of upcycled bottlecap art that exist on the internet.

(Sorry. Just lost an hour looking at bottle cap art again. It can be very seductive.)

Anyway, I was seized with the desire to start gathering colorful plastic bottle caps to make my own murals. Especially those really cool bright ones that come on baby food pouches. That the recycling company won’t take. (Or just can’t take yet.) Which just end up in landfills. Or in the tummies of albatrosses.

Then I stopped short. Because I don’t actually have the space to save all of the amazing objects that I think would make cool art projects. For me. Or for somebody. But what if there was a large-scale version of the Isabella Freedman art room? With organized drawers and bins and shelving and labels, where people could come to get free or low-cost repurposed art materials.

Before I lapsed into a fantasy of running my own reuse art materials warehouse, a quick internet search revealed there were *many* projects like this across the country. One of the oldest (founded in 1976), SCRAP (Scrounger’s Center for Reuseable Art Parts), is located in San Francisco. I didn’t get to visit on my recent trip to California, but hope to have to chance to see it in the future.

I found out there is a local reusable materials center (RMC) maintained by Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City. You can donate clean items to the RMC (they have a list), which the center makes available for low-cost to educators and kids groups. Some of my bottlecaps (and buttons andrandom corvid-esque caches of things) may have a new home in the near future!

Also, for your enjoyment, Bert and Ernie on upcycleables. I’m definitely more Ernie than Bert on this one, even though it all started with bottlecaps…

Story about Image:
Bottle Cap Mural by Artist Lisa Bey in Long Beach, NY.


One thought on “The Great Bottlecap Caper

  1. They actually have places you can donate unwanted art supplies to?! Oh my! That is WONDERFUL! Art supplies are so very expensive, and teachers usually have to put their own money into projects…which isn’t fair at all.

    Liked by 1 person

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