Whether made by Third World artisans or local urban artists, recycled crafts are hot in gift shops around the area and online. This column was inspired by a beautiful angel pin made out of a Coke can and wire by disabled artisans from Kenya that I recently picked up at Mango Tree Imports in Ballston Spa, NY. Such Fair Trade retailers deal with companies that often help entire communities prosper. Some, like Ten Thousand Villages, which also has a store in Northampton, let you order online; for others, like Mango Tree, you may have to call to have an order shipped. But their websites are always interesting. That’s the case with Indigo Arts, a folk art store in Philadelphia. Their Recycled Art and Toy Bazaar offers soda can bugs from Vietnam, Indian glass bangle picture frames, purses woven from potato chip bags from Honduras, and fluffy plastic bag & wire chickens from South Africa. At One World Projects, you’ll find silver necklaces made from melted-down Austrian coins that were used in Ethiopia and other African countries for over 200 years, as well as cute junkyard critters assembled from nuts and bolts in Vietnam, recycled paper journals from Uganda, and tote bags made from recycled Mayan women’s blouses in Guatemala. And at the Eco-artware website, which carries products such as stuffed warthogs made from soft reclaimed sweaters, Scrabble tile tree ornaments, and bicycle chain bottle openers, there’s information on the more than 25 environmentally-conscious artists who make the pieces, plus a crafts how-to archive.
Inspired to try some recycled artwork of your own? Finding directions for easy recycled toys and gifts is easy -- this is one topic where a straightforward search will get you just what you’re looking for. You can also find lists of links for kids’ crafts on sites like The Imagination Factory, all about making art from garbage, which has a Trash Matcher with links organized by the type of “solid waste” you’re starting with. Scouting Web’s links will take you to directions for making melted vinyl record bowls and magazine page beads. Then there are sites that offer their own directions, such as Recycling Revolution (no pictures, unfortunately) and Making Friends, which specializes in using items families in particular tend to accumulate, like baby food jars, tissue boxes, and toilet paper tubes. Not aimed at kids per se, but still full of good projects, is the Make Things section of WikiHow, a contributor-written site; check out the sections on personal accessories and duct tape projects.
Some sites are worth looking at just for inspiration. Flickr’s Tips for Recycling and Reusing Pool, an online photo album of crafts, sometimes, but not always, includes links to directions. The math- and science-oriented Toys from Trash website, created by a science teacher in India, has photos of projects, but finding directions takes some work. And see what kids are doing at Happen’s Toy Lab in Cincinnati, where visitors put together new creations from old toy parts.
Of course, recycled gifts deserve recycled giftwrap. Artist John Boak’s Wrap Art galleries have tons of ideas on how to make your gifts look fantastic using fragments of paper and miscellaneous items from around your house. Unique gifts that make life better for all of us – what a great way to celebrate the holidays!