It’s not new, but it’s something that should be acclaimed for not only its beauty but its contribution to a greener planet. It’s reuse art, and this month I was able to chat with world renowned reuse artist Michael Hapner out of Wabash, Indiana to see what motivated him to produce art that gives back to the planet in more ways than one.
What type of art do you produce?
I call my work reuse because I work closely with Wabash solid waste district and stand by the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. My mainstay for many years is molding record albums into flowers. The first ones were on a bed spring, and then 7 years ago I began to place them on sticks. I’m self-taught with my own style called spots and dots. I started molding albums in 1968—my brother’s albums—and it took him two weeks to realize what was up. I really started making them into flowers around 2001. Folks knowing what I painted would give me different reuse items and different albums, and a few weeks later— bed springs. I paint on so many different reuse items. Later, I started painting bikes and each would have a theme.
What motivated you to start doing reuse art?
Bikes. Everything that I do mostly comes from my youth. In many ways I am reusing my own past. I look at the world through the eyes of a child many days. Fun, happy, carefree, things that bite, and fishing adventures with my father, but most of all my bike. When riding, instant creativity abounds. Freedom, air, and imagination!
How long have you been a reuse artist?
I built railroads and concrete highways for years. During that time I was buying and selling antiques, and refinishing furniture in my own restoration shop. When primitive furniture was in so much demand I started painting and distressing furniture and overstaining and muting colors to make items look older. That’s how my first product line of wooden carved fish with reused tin metal started. That was 27 years ago. Then I was called a whimsical folk artist even though I was reusing.
What materials do you utilize most in your art and why?
I search for reuse items or items I call orphans because many are broken from misuse, which then makes them affordable. One place I frequent is guitar shops. I take in the broken ones, repair them, and find each one a good loving home. There again the power of reuse prevails. I wanted my own rideable art bike, so they began in 2012. All of the wood products I design come from picking piles during spring and fall clean up. I have also cut a deal with a few construction sites in the area that let me into their dumpsters to get the wood they throw away. This benefits them by sending less waste to the landfill, and me so I can give something new life. I’ve made many pieces from these materials, including my cowboy birdhouses, and wall art made from chrome steel racks from industrial ovens off construction sites.
What advice do you have for young reuse artists who might just be starting out?
Go to the mission stores, rummage sales, and anywhere you can purchase reuse items, keeping them affordable for yourself and your clients. Try to specialize and be different in your style so you can stand out. For me, being self-taught and having no art background, one thing I did have was a style no one else did. Widen your market and don’t limit yourself and think outside the box. 27 years is not an overnight success. Calling myself a green artist was merely a paint color to most back then. There is a market for it now. Don’t give up if something you make won’t sell—listening to people and their wants pays off. Don’t think that takes away from your creativity.
That sculpture called the purple people eater was winter of 2012. The base was bought at a rummage sale for $5.00. The tree-like part was a pruning of a bush. The plant stand base was a high school wood shop project from the 40’s. I bought it from the son of the man who made it. That project took about 40 hours.
My first bike was a fishing bike. I dreamt about it and bought a vintage mercury prewar ww2 for $25.00. It had a salmon fish head mount. An alligator gar fish…adapting those to fit the bike. I used some old leather I had for legs and tail. I painted the frame and both fish in a straight through 37 hours. Yes, that was crazy but I was so pumped up I would take naps between drying times. So excited!
7 years ago at Easter, the large flowers on the sticks/pruning from Doud’s apple orchard came to life. I give Dave the utmost credit for steering me to the sticks…
If you are interested in contacting Mike about his art, please to so at https://www.facebook.com/mhhapner
Have you ever made an art piece from reused materials?
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