If you take the gear off your bike and hold it up to the light, you may be taken aback by the beauty of its symmetry. If you polish it off and assess its artistic merit as a piece of metalwork, you may be struck with inspiration. As a base for a mobile or a candle holder, an addition to a sculpture or to a steampunk accessory, the gear becomes much more than the greasy part that turns your wheels — it becomes a material for endless creative possibilities.
Featuring a table with polished bike gears hanging from a display tree, Art Parts Creative Reuse Center is all about exploring artistic potential in pre-loved items. In the first room of the center, items are grouped together by raw materials in an attempt to disguise them from their previous use. Clustered around the room are bags of glass beads, sheets of antique papers, little bowls filled with stones, feathers, keys or porcelain doll legs. In the fiber room, grade-A leathers, fur pelts, fabric bolts and yarns drape across tables.
At Art Parts, donated items from industry surplus, estates of artists and local creatives are discounted 33-90 percent. Customers can buy whatever quantity they need, whether that be one glass bead or a few individual sheets of watercolor paper. In addition to keeping the cost low, it also prevents waste from overbuying.
Denise Perreault, the founder and executive director of Art Parts, says that while utilizing reclaimed materials in art is nothing new, the genre has recently gained recognition and respect.
“Many of us love the patina of age and antique and vintage goods that new goods try to emulate but really just can’t,” she says. “Pre-loved items have a beauty and an energy, a juju all their own, that a new thing in a plastic bag just can’t match.”
After watching a window treatment company where her husband works struggle with conscientious ways to handle surplus, Perreault was inspired to save items with creative potential. At the end of the week, excess material from curtains would go into the dumpster, including a bold of Italian brocade worth $125. When Perreault noticed that the business didn’t have the manpower to find a worthy home for the excess, she realized that other businesses in the Boulder area must be struggling with the same problem.
So, she started calling quilting friends, letting them know that if they came by the shop before 5 p.m. on Fridays, they could have all the high-end upholstery and fabric bolt ends they could carry. Soon enough, Perreault began collecting donations in preparation for the reuse center.
Art Parts is 97 percent volunteer-powered, with everyone from high school students working for their graduation requirements to community service volunteers who are part of restorative justice programs. The community involvement is important to Perreault, and Art Parts often makes donations to schools and organizations across the country.
The reuse center also hosts Bricolage Gallery, which features exhibits with art made from at least 60 percent recycled materials. Alongside galleries in Los Angeles and New Orleans, the Bricolage Gallery is one of three in the country to highlight assemblage, mixed media and bricolage artworks. A recent exhibit featured working guitars made from cigar boxes. The current show, Altered Alchemy, displays assemblages and sculptures by Littleton artist Michelle Lamb.
“It’s wonderful to have a gallery where we can not only provide inspiration to our customers, but we can also support reclaimed material artists, give the exposure and basically support the whole reclaimed material, upcycled art movement,” Perreault says.
Though Art Parts received nonprofit status in 2011, it took four years for the center to open. Space for donations is limited, and the pricey Boulder rent takes 77 cents off every dollar customers spend in the center. After working for the past seven years and spending 50-70 hours a week in the shop, Perreault received her first paycheck last month.
Still, Art Parts has diverted over 36 tons of waste from the Erie Landfill. While this may not seem like a lot considering 7 tons are dumped at the landfill daily, Perreault believes that the mission of Art Parts extends beyond waste diversion numbers.
“This is about the creative potential in most discarded, vintage, interesting goods, about the artistic possibilities inherent in those interesting discards and about providing a second, loving home for these really great materials and the art that can be made from them,” Perreault says.
With art supplies, antiques and items waiting to be discovered, Art Parts offers materials for all ages to get creative.
“We have entire families come in together, knowing that from the little kids to the retirees, they will find it entertaining and interesting,” Perreault says. “There’s something in here for everybody.”