OOOH HOW I love me some dumpster diving.
This is certainly the season for it around here, as the the lanes fill with abandoned treasures from SCAD kids who move out for summer and leave a trail of valuable detritus in their wake.
WHEN ELSE can you snatch up a perfectly good sketchbook, empty except for one lonely, armless charcoal nude, or a mostly-intact acrylic paint set with every shade of green missing?
Back in the days before I became a respectable upstanding citizen (oh, just play along), I used to spend hours scouring my neighbors’ trash bins. While I preferred not to explore head first, I wasn’t above climbing in and picking around if the stench wasn’t too overpowering. Such creative resourcing was necessary because I was ramen-poor, but it was also about the awesome scores:
My porch full of slightly frayed wicker furniture only poked you in the back if you sat in it wrong. I once hosted a party featuring a stack of just-expired cherry pies salvaged from the back of Whole Foods. My favorite hat in all the world is a corduroy newsboy cap I dug out from a plastic bag of old clothes (yes, I fumigated it.)
When my husband and I were dating, I dragged him along on a hunting expedition that almost made him run for the hills. “I’m from the South. We don’t do this,” he said disdainfully as I combed through a pile of cast-offs behind someone’s garage.
Still, he helped me carry home the wooden headboard that became our marriage bed for the next decade.
Later we lived near a sheared oak tree that everyone in town referred to as the Free Stump, a sort of magical hippie exchange port that amassed books, tie-dyed clothing and the occasional garden gnome that disappeared as fast as they turned up. He didn’t seem to mind that the Free Stump provided our family with Halloween costumes and a sweet collection of Beatrix Potter, but this giving tree wasn’t without its hazards; someone once walked off with our kid’s carseat while I was cleaning out the van.
These days it’s not just socially acceptable to rummage through others’ refuse, it’s encouraged—yes, dear, even in the South. How’s that for cultural shift? Garbage is the new black, baby!
The recognition that rescuing discarded materials for more life instead of further clogging our already-taxed landfills makes sense not only environmentally but economically. Some enterprising locals make a sustainable business of reclamation, like Ramsey Khalidi of Southern Pine Co. and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore (see story on page 12.)
Others, like Mike Brown and Katherine Sandoz, turn it into art, and Savannah Arts Academy’s Junk 2 Funk has been showcasing it as fashion for years. Emergent Structures recently helped a group of design students create pieces of gorgeous office furniture out of excess IKEA wood for the Creator’s Foundry.
As of this week, there is Starlandia Creative Supply, linking the supply chain with the demanding conscious consumer, who might prefer to keep her hands clean to peel shrimp for a barbecue later.
Located in the former Respect for Life Bookstore on Bull and 41st streets, this fuchsia-and-yellow wonderland is stocked with gently-used brushes, barely-squeezed paints (in acrylic, gesso and goauche varieties), bright swatches of fabrics and plenty of weird anomalies like Barbie legs and piles of keyboard letters.
Prices are lowlowlow, and almost everything has been reclaimed from the street or donated by other artists, who receive in-store credit for more art-making stuff.
(Hear that, SCADdies? Pass up the dump and turn those Foundations discards into next semester’s Fine Arts thesis!)
The Starlandians do the dirty work of sorting, packaging and prettifying, recognizing the potential in a random patch of sequins or a slightly dog-eared Alphonse Mucha coffeetable book. Items are then cataloged and brought out to the super-organized retail floor.
“It’s a mining operation, really,” explains owner/founder Clinton Edminster. “We take in raw materials and filter out the diamonds and gold.”
He points to a mushroom of green nylon on a shelf. “And if this doesn’t work out, I have a parachute ready!”
If you’ve met Clinton, you know he can fly just fine on his own. The flamboyant force behind Art Rise Savannah, this son-of-an Alaskan fisherman has made a career out of his passion for art, community and sustainability. The 24-year-old is also a little-known financial genius, bankrolling his new venture with Apple stock he bought when he was 11 and reading economic theory for fun.
“The thing about economics is that it’s not about money, it’s about relationships,” he muses as he puts price stickers on a bin of old trophies. “This store won’t work without the relationships we build with the community and the neighborhood.”
Starlandia already fits in just fine with its neighbors, surrounded by the Old Savannah City Mission thrift shop and vintage utopia The Vicar’s Wife.
It also has on its side Non-Fiction Gallery co-founder Heather MacRae-Trulson to handle logistics and back end management. A painter herself, Heather is that rare artist who is as facile with Quickbooks as she is with watercolors.
“I think this concept is perfect for Savannah,” says Heather, who expects a slow summer roll as the store builds inventory for the fall art rush. “Creative people always want to be able to say, ’Look what I found today!’”
Such fervor for dreck might smack of a Portlandia sketch (heheh—Google “Shepard Fairey used art supplies.”) But whether we dig for hand-me-down prizes ourselves or leave the messy excavations to the pros, extracting value in what others throw out has become thrillingly current.
My spouse is extra pleased, since he thinks this will keep me out of the alleys this week.
You know I’ll have to peek in a can or two, just to keep my scrounging skills fresh.