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New West’s Garden Gals are turning trash into art

Garden Gals have been creating nature-inspired paintings and art installations in New Westminster for 18 years now. For their new show, they challenged themselves to do something new: make visually-striking art with old and discarded objects.

Merril Hall is used to painting with acrylics. But for one of her recent works, she decided to rummage through her trash can for art materials.

A pair of her old running shoes, old earrings, empty face cream jars, a frying pan from a garbage can outside her house, and an abandoned bucket from her friend’s garage have all made it into her artwork — a three dimensional owl.

“I found an old hinge on the ground as I was walking by my car. And I thought, gosh, this looks like a beak,” said Hall. She used the hinge, and attached the tag that her old family dog used to wear when she was a little girl.  

“It just builds and builds. And in the end, you have this fun, fantastic looking creation.”

Hall’s owl will be among other such “funky” birds at the upcoming Earth2ART exhibition at Queen’s Park.

How did Garden Gals begin?

Creating a whole art show with repurposed materials is a new challenge for Hall and her friends at Garden Gals. 

The all-women group is a subgroup of the over 80-year-old New Westminster Horticultural Society. It was, in fact, Hall who had started the group.  

Hall, who has been a member of the Society for 25 years, recalled, “As a happy garden club [Horticultural Society] member, I reached out to some other members who I thought might be interested in sketching at other members’ gardens. We started to do casual meet-ups and sketch.” 

And the group just never stopped meeting. 

The group has always had around eight to 15 members — a good mix of hobby and professional artists — who gather every month at the Lower Gallery of Centennial Lodge in Queen's Park to paint flowers, trees, and more. Besides the fixed monthly meet-up, the group also makes ad hoc plans.

"If it’s a gorgeous day, and the flowers are blooming. Of course, we're out there sketching,” said Hall who is a trained visual artist.

They have done several public art installations in the city, including one that they put up in the peak of COVID. The installation included paintings done by the members, on the theme ‘Positivity during COVID’. They were displayed on the windows of Anvil Center for passersby to see.

But scavenging for materials to create art? That's new for the group.

Focusing on sustainability in art

It all started earlier this year, when they were selected to be part of the ‘Green Art: Sharing Sustainable Approaches and Practices’ at Langley Centennial Museum. The show challenged them to creatively re-purpose and reuse items that would be otherwise thrown away without a thought.

“It made me think differently,” said Hall. “So, this year, the paintings that I've had on display have been done with natural ink."

Hall and two other artists from Garden Gals have been, in fact, making the ink themselves with seed heads and barks gathered from a friend’s garden. 

To make her DIY ink out of rose hips, you simply boil the seed pods in a solution of water, vinegar and salt, and add a store-bought stabilizer into the mix, she explained.

“It’s been really fun to experiment and try new challenges, but I am not going to throw my acrylics (which is non-renewable) away, by the way,” she said with a laugh. 

However, their upcoming show is the group's effort to be more earth-friendly.

Their artworks celebrate nature, said Hall. And by sharing it with the public, they get to share that celebration. “I have always felt it [the public shows] to be like gardening in my front garden, rather than just gardening in the back. It's a gift to the community.”

 

Earth2ART exhibition, organized by the Arts  Council of New Westminster, will be on from August 4 to 7 at Queen’s Park Farm. The event will also include demonstrations, workshops, kids drop-in art class, and a pop-up shop. To register, send an email to programs@acnw.ca.

Want to join the Garden Gals group? You’ll need to first register as a member with New Westminster Horticultural Society. Visit the website for more details.

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