Found Objects Transformation
When you visited the park or went for a hike, did you notice some items that got lost or discarded during your journey?
It’s not unusual to find missing gloves, hats, or even shoes during your excursions. When you come across those items, you likely throw them away so that nature can continue providing unspoiled beauty.
For Mariah Reading, she sees these leftover items as an opportunity to create some art. She’s an outdoor educator and a part-time artist who repurposes those unwanted items so that they blend into the surrounding environment where they were found.
She says that her motivation for turning trash into art happened when taking a sculpture class during her studies at Bowdoin College. Her senior year was when she got the inspiration to cut down her own materials to use as a canvas for her landscapes.
After graduating with her degree, she started collecting litter from national parks across the United States to create something beautiful.
More About the Artist: Mariah Reading
Reading is originally from Bangor, Maine. She says that her passion for the environment developed at an early age. Since her community is centrally located in the state, she had access to numerous national parks.
Her family was also close to Canada and several trails. That let her grow up with the rivers and forests as her playground.
“My art is all improvised,” she said. “It’s based on what I found out there in the field.”
That’s why Reading’s work always feels new and exciting. Since she never knows what will be on the trail, her artwork series has more unpredictability.
Each national park receives its own series. For Acadia, which is right down the road from where Reading grew up, the items include a glove, Styrofoam helmet, and a Croc shoe.
Once the items are finished, she photographs them in the environment where the item was found. You can then purchase those prints or buy the originals from the artist’s website.
Reading says that she has been to 24 of the 63 national parks in the United States. Her eco-art has led her to become an Artist in Residence at Acadia, Zion, and Denali. She’s also an Arts in the Parks volunteer for the Guadalupe Mountains, helps in Yosemite, and is working on a K-12 curriculum to promote student learning.
Her works have been exhibited in several cities across the United States, including Fort Collins, Seattle, and San Antonio.
Her Work at Denali Is Simply Stunning
One of Reading’s trips took her into Denali National Park in Alaska. She says that she was drawn to that wilderness because of its close connection to zero landfill initiatives. All of the items she produced on that trip were created on Tanana Land.
Reading says that she wanted to explore the efforts people were taking to mitigate waste and create recycling opportunities in a remote location. That would allow her to display actions through the lens of her eco-art.
The artist said that she didn’t anticipate finding a lot of trash while on the trail, so she dove into the recycling center and searched through dumpsters for items.
Although she didn’t find a lot, the pieces that are in the Denali collection are as stunning as the landscapes in the background. You’ll see a few of the usual items, including camp stove lids and smartphone covers. Her best work is on a Junior Ranger badge that incorporates one of Alaska’s great peaks in the wilderness.
Reading also found sunglasses, chewing gum wrappers, and an outdated map during her hiking.
Many of Her Finds Are for Sale
When she turns trash into treasure, Reading makes the found items available for sale. Instead of purchasing a canvas to put on the wall, you’re getting something that would be more appropriately displayed in a shadow box.
Some of the items found in her collection include a camera lens cover, coffee lids, lobster traps, and Champagne bottles.
Reading says she often finds smashed beer cans while hiking, which is why you can find several items in that medium for sale on her site.
She once even found a soccer shin guard at Inspiration Point.
The lesson is clear. First, we must leave nature as we’ve found it. That means we must be conscious of what we brought so that it can disappear when we do. When someone else finds it, another person’s trash can still become another person’s treasure.