From Garbage to Gallery

Nicole Morris, left, and Nancy Judd collaborated on the project "Consumption".

April 8, 2012
By Kathaleen Roberts / Journal Staff Writer
Read article on-line.

Nancy Judd turns trash into treasure.

In 2008, the Santa Fe artist and environmental teacher pieced together a coat from Obama campaign signs that landed in the Smithsonian. Now she’s turning her transformative eye to interior design. On Friday, Judd and Santa Fe artist Nicole Morris will open “Consumption: An installation exploring waste,” Judd’s first work of recycled furniture and objects, at the New Mexico Arts Centennial Project Space. The exhibit is being funded by a grant from Art in Public Places of New Mexico Arts.

Walk up the steep staircase next to the Haagen Dazs store on the Plaza, and you’ll discover a cowboy children’s room with a hint of Japanese style. At first glance, it may look like a chic designer showroom. But deeper layers hide beneath its sleek surface.

If you go:
WHAT: “Consumption: An installation exploring waste” by Nancy Judd and Nicole Morris
WHEN: Reception 5-7 p.m. Friday, April 13 to May 4
WHERE: New Mexico Arts Centennial Project Space, 54 1/2 E. San Francisco St., Suite 2 CONTACT: 699-4914

Judd culled everything in the room from the trash. For nine months, the artists and the Santa Fe Solid Waste Management Agency staff have been conducting a reuse study documenting the amounts and types of waste Santa Feans dump into the garbage.

During the study, the artists were allowed to pull items for the installation, with the goal of amassing information for a reuse center. National studies have shown that reuse is one of the best ways to both conserve resources and reduce trash.

The idea germinated from a New Mexico Environment Department-sponsored class last spring. In return for free tuition, Morris agreed to volunteer for 30 hours.

“I was looking for a project,” she said. “Nancy started talking about this public art thing she was interested in.”

Artists Nicole Morris, right, and Nancy Judd create a south-western wall piece from rusted corrugated metal, a painted sun, a cactus made from window blinds and a canvas vulture.

Judd was eager to switch from dresses to design. The two artists pieced together a wall-sized saguaro cactus from recycled venetian blinds. Morris visualized the mesa scene decorating the bedroom’s wall. A rusted piece of corrugated steel forms hills and hollows. A “vulture” crafted from old canvas perches on a cactus branch.

Even their Shop-Vac was a garbage rescue.

“It works, except we were missing a hose,” Judd said. “We found out we could buy a hose.

“There’s a chair that I’m reupholstering,” she added. “I’ve been draping the chair as I would a dress frame with some old canvas.

Environmental price tags dangling from each exhibit object describe the time it would take it to decompose and the “off gases” that would leach into the environment in the process.

Santa Fe’s dump abounded with discarded children’s items.

“There’s a little kitchenette,” Judd continued. “Some things needed cleaning. Some need a little more work.”

An old rocking horse required cleaning and oiling. A pair of scuffed brown cowboy boots completed the vignette.

“It’s going to have this sort of Southwest cowboy theme, but done in a very clean, Japanese way,” Judd said. “It’s not like howling coyotes.”

To complete the corner kitchen, she added a counter top from found aluminum siding. She tipped an old wheelbarrow vertically to form a child’s mini-closet. To clean the rose-bordered girl’s dress it shelters, Judd washed the garment and hung it in the sun for some solar bleaching.

Insects had discovered some of the items well before Judd and Morris found them. To fumigate without using chemicals, they placed the objects in plastic bags and left them in the sun for three weeks to exterminate any multi-footed guests.

The two artists discovered a cache of more than 100 overstocked children’s books inside two construction trailers. Everyone who comes to the installation will get a free book.

Santa Fe Solid Waste education and outreach coordinator Lisa Merrill took on the task of escorting the two artists to the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station dressed in protective wear and goggles. The trio stopped and approached people trucking in their waste for permission to scavenge it for re-usable objects.

“If they saw anything they wanted, I jumped down and got it before it got smashed,” Merrill said. “It’s just a shock how many people throw away perfectly good items. One man –– you could tell he had just cleaned out his mother’s house –– brought a beautiful crystal punch bowl.”

Merrill said she did not know what would come of the study because there was no room for a reuse center at the transfer station. She encouraged residents to donate usable items in good condition to a thrift store, battered women’s shelter or another charity.

Judd is known primarily for her dresses made from recycled materials. She made a “jellyfish dress” pieced from plastic bags, a flounced flamenco dress from fanned pieces of junk mail, a cowboy skirt and vest woven from phone book pages, and a flapper dress sparkling with teardrop-shaped “sequins” sliced from aluminum cans.

The onetime coordinator for the city of Santa Fe’s recycling program, Judd also initiated her own company, Recycle Runway, and helped launch Santa Fe’s annual Trash Fashion contest and Recycle Art Market. She began creating recycled garments to promote these events.

Today, she gives workshops on recycling and other environmental issues throughout Santa Fe’s schools and youth organizations. Her Recycle Runway traveling exhibit has been showcased at airports around the country, opening at the Albuquerque Sunport in 2007. Travelers can see 21 of her dresses at the Atlanta airport.

Judd’s passion for recycling started with an art school Coke machine.

“I watched the garbage can next to it fill up with cans,” she said. “Though I wasn’t a big environmentalist, I thought it was wrong.”

She started an independent study in recycling and solid waste and a career was born.