Artist Calder Kamin makes sculptures out of recycled Summit County waste
Work to be unveiled at Breckenridge International Festival of Arts
Calder Kamin wants people to take better care of the planet. Breckenridge Creative Arts’ newest artist-in-residence works with recycled plastics and other materials to transform trash into art to bring awareness to the amount of waste people produce.
Through Aug. 22, Kamin will lead workshops and host open studios. Kamin is also currently working on her first public art installation for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts, which will be viewable on Moonstone Trail from Aug. 12-21. The town of Breckenridge’s sustainability goal of 40% landfill diversion by 2032 will be aided by the town working with Kamin and implementing a program with Precious Plastic.
Kamin grew up in Austin, Texas, and was immediately influenced by the urban and wildlife culture that surrounded her. She became passionate about nature in part due to her proximately to and hometown pride for animals like the Barton Springs salamander and Congress Avenue Bridge bats.
“I was a little ‘Captain Planet’ eco-warrior,” Kamin said, adding that nothing has changed from her ’90s childhood to now. “I’ve been making fantastical, colorful creatures since I was a little girl.”
She made comic books and sketched out beasts, but it was rainbow-colored polymer clay that attracted her the most. Kamin sculpted a lot of bats and enjoyed working with her hands to make her own toys. Those toys echo the work of her namesake, Alexander Calder, who is famous for his mobiles.
“In a lot of ways we’re alike,” Kamin said. “… It defined me pretty earlier on.”
When Austin locals would celebrate the life of Elvis Presley, the kid found herself with a waitlist for busts of Presley eating donuts sold out of a folk art gallery.
“At 10 years old I was getting checks and putting it in 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 familiarity with the business side of the art industry led her to become a career services manager at the University of Texas, helping other artists learn business skills so that they can make their passion a career.
One of the biggest skills that Kamin has learned firsthand is that art is not created in a vacuum. Her career drastically changed after graduation all because of a new hobby: birding.
Kamin became interested in crowdsourced bird watching and feeding the birds in her Kansas City yard, looking at species she didn’t see in Texas. She got engrossed in their calls and behaviors, particularly how some would take trash from the neighborhood and build nests. She saw trash as a human, manmade issue that doesn’t exist in nature and was then inspired to take post-consumer waste and make it into art.
“I’ve always made animals, and clay suddenly felt very arbitrary, very heavy, vey fragile, silly and expensive,” Kamin said. “We all need to think more like birds.”
A board member of the Austin Creative Reuse center, Kamin uses all sorts of materials for her works like beer cans, packing paraphernalia, yarn scraps and anything else that people struggle to dispose of. She also crochets plastic bags and uses other textile byproducts. Sometimes she gets her own supplies — though she has learned to not pick up random garbage off the ground — while other times people mail in items 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 such as Temple Grandin to make her art as accessible as possible. One of her next projects includes collaborating on a cryptozoology petting zoo of creatures in folklore. Kamin has also been making stop motion animation, hoping to do public service announcements about recycling in between kids programming.
A highlight of her career is working with Disney, who she said one day randomly called her to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “The Little Mermaid.” She sculpted a portrait of Ariel out of Mardi Gras beads and appeared in two promotional commercials on the Disney Channel. Kamin hopes she was able to inspire the next generation to transform trash into art.
“Trash being a problem was in the zeitgeist when I was a child,” Kamin said. “I’m 37, where did it go? … My message is really gentle, not asking for perfection but just asking for consideration.”
Coincidentally, Mardi Gras beads are also featured on a unicorn Kamin is sculpting for the Breckenridge International Festival of Arts. The discarded beads were found right in the forest on Moonstone Trail that will be the home of her public art.
Called “Once Upon a Time in the Future,” the beads will form part of the exterior of the piece while the interior is papier-mache made of copies of the Summit Daily News as well as to-go boxes, bottles and Pringle cans. The hooves are made out of coffee cans while the wings are cut out of plastic sleds and saucers with a jigsaw and pliers.
At first, picturing a sled made out of wood and steel, Kamin rejected the item until she saw that the sleds were different than what the Texan imagined. Kamin is also transforming the sled material into fur for a separate fox piece that she is creating. Other tools Kamin used include a hot glue gun, crochet needle and scissors.
Kamin aims to have a zero-waste studio. When she ran out of glue, she would simply put the empty bottle onto the unicorn frame. She also wants to recycle her marker caps, hard plastic beer can holders and other scraps by melting the plastics down into a filament she can use with a 3D printer to make frames for new animals.
Surrounding the unicorn is a fairy circle of papier-mache mushrooms that were made by workshop participants.
More free community events will happen Saturday, July 30, and Aug. 6. On Aug. 13 and 20, Kamin’s workshops switch gears to spider brooches for artists Ben Roth’s festival installation.
“It’s not an art practice in isolation,” Kamin said. “I have an entire community helping me collect trash. … We’ve left a massive mess for the next generation.”
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