Artist Calder Kamin creates sculptures from recycled Summit County trash

Guest artist Calder Kamin of Breckenridge Creative Arts of Austin, Texas poses for a portrait at her studio at the Robert Whyte House in Breckenridge on Monday, July 25, 2022. Fireplace is a reusable sculpture and uses recycled objects in the creation of her artworks. Kamin is passionate about showing that there is still magic in the world, but also a lot of trash.
Jason Connolly / For the Summit Daily News

Calder Kamin wants people to take better care of the planet. Breckenridge Creative Arts’ latest artist-in-residence works with recycled plastics and other materials to turn trash into art and raise awareness of the amount of waste humans produce.

Through August 22, Kamin will be leading workshops and hosting open studios. Kamin is also currently working on her first public art installation for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, which will run on the Moonstone Trail August 12-21. The city of Breckenridge’s sustainability goal of diverting 40% of landfills by 2032 is supported by the city’s collaboration with Kamin and the implementation of a program with Precious Plastic.

Growing up in Austin, Texas, Kamin was immediately influenced by the urban and wildlife culture that surrounded her. She developed her passion for the outdoors in part because of her pride in animals like the Barton Springs salamander and the Congress Avenue Bridge bats.

“I was a little ‘Captain Planet’ eco-warrior,” Kamin said, adding that nothing has changed since she was a kid in the ’90s to the present day. “Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve made fantastic, colorful creatures.”

She made comics and sketched beasts, but it was rainbow-colored polymer clay that drew her the most. Kamin formed many bats and loved to work with her hands to make her own toys. These toys reflect the work of their namesake, Alexander Calder, famous for his cell phones.

“We’re similar in a lot of ways,” Kamin said. “…It defined me quite a bit before.”

As Austin residents celebrated the life of Elvis Presley, the kid found himself with a waiting list for busts of Presley eating donuts that sold out at a folk art gallery.

“When I was 10, I was getting checks and putting them into an account that I was going to save for college,” Kamin said.

Kamin studied ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, and her early exposure to the business side of the arts industry led her to become a Career Services Manager at the University of Texas, where she helped other artists learn business skills so they could their own passion can make a career.

One of the greatest skills Kamin has learned firsthand is that art is not created in a vacuum. Her career changed drastically after graduation because of a new hobby: bird watching.

Kamin became interested in crowd-sourced birdwatching and would feed the birds in her Kansas City backyard and view species she didn’t see in Texas. She delved into their calls and behaviors, particularly how some picked up neighborhood trash and built nests. She saw trash as a human, man-made problem that doesn’t exist in nature, and was then inspired to take post-consumer waste and make art out of it.

“I’ve always been making animals, and clay suddenly felt very random, very heavy, very fragile, silly and expensive,” Kamin said. “We all need to think more like birds.”

Valerian Vixen, created by guest artist Calder Kamin, is pictured in her studio at the Robert Whyte House in Breckenridge on Monday July 25, 2022. Valerian Vixen is made from shards of broken sleds and other plastics, and Kamin focuses primarily on creating life from large animals that eat garbage.
Jason Connolly / For the Summit Daily News

A board member of Austin Creative Reuse Zentrum, Kamin uses all sorts of materials in her work, such as beer cans, packaging paraphernalia, leftover yarn and anything else that people find difficult to dispose of. She also crochets plastic bags and processes other textile by-products. Sometimes they get their supplies themselves—although they’ve learned not to pick up random junk off the floor—while other times they send in things they no longer need.

Kamin wants to share her work and ecological message with people of all ages. She has worked with children’s museums and is inspired by people like Temple Grandin to make their art as accessible as possible. One of her next projects involves working on a cryptozoological petting zoo with creatures from folklore. Kamin has also done stop-motion animation in hopes of making public announcements about recycling between children’s programs.

A highlight of her career is working with Disney, who happened to call her one day to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Little Mermaid. She sculpted a portrait of Ariel out of Mardi Gras beads and appeared in two Disney Channel commercials. Kamin hopes she inspired the next generation to turn trash into art.

“The fact that garbage is a problem was already in the zeitgeist as a child,” says Kamin. “I’m 37, where did it go? … My message is really gentle and doesn’t call for perfection, just consideration.”

Coincidentally, Mardi Gras beads can also be seen on a unicorn modeling fireplace for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts. The discarded beads were found right in the woods on the Moonstone Trail, which will be home to their public art.

Entitled “Once Upon a Time in the Future,” the beads will form part of the piece’s exterior, while the papier-mâché interior is made up of copies of the Summit Daily News, as well as to-go boxes, bottles and Pringle cans . The hooves are made from coffee cans, while the wings are cut with jigsaw and pliers from plastic sleds and saucers.

Kamin initially envisioned a sled made of wood and steel, and rejected the item until she saw that the sleds were different than what the Texan imagined. Kamin also turns the sled material into fur for a separate fox piece that she creates. Other tools Kamin uses are a hot glue gun, crochet hook, and scissors.

Kamin strives for a zero-waste studio. When she ran out of glue, she simply placed the empty bottle on the unicorn frame. She also wants to recycle her marker caps, hard plastic beer can holders, and other scraps by melting the plastic into filament that she can use with a 3D printer to make frames for new animals.

Surrounding the unicorn is a fairy circle made of papier-mâché mushrooms made by workshop participants.

Additional free community events will take place on Saturday, July 30th and August 6th. On August 13 and 20, Kamin’s workshops switch to spider brooches for artist Ben Roth’s festival installation.

“It’s not an isolated art practice,” Kamin said. “I have a whole community that helps me collect garbage. … We left a huge mess for the next generation.”

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