Inside Woodwalk’s “Repurposed” Exhibit

A new show of previously-loved or forgotten materials

Woodwalk Gallery’s latest exhibit is perhaps best represented in the work of Stephanie Wessels, a self-described “assemblage artist who owns way more costume jewelry than one girl should be allowed.” 

Wessels has taken that jewelry and transformed it into elegant and sparkling wall hangings. 

“I am a Wisconsin-based artist who creates upcycled pieces with previously-loved vintage jewelry, reclaimed frames, and other repurposed materials,” she wrote in her artist statement. 

Each piece, she said, has its own rich history and story to tell. 

“What was once cherished by another is combined with other historically esteemed pieces to create a collaborative new treasure,” Wessels wrote. 

Woodwalk Gallery. Photo by Rachel Lukas.

That’s the theme that runs through “Repurposed” – a new show of old materials at Woodwalk Gallery on County Road G in Egg Harbor. Gallery owner Joslyn Villalpando has curated the exhibition by selecting artists who use found materials to create collages and assemblages.

One of those artists is Dale Smith, who has exhibited at Woodwalk for more than 15 years and who creates large wood structures using elements such as bottle stoppers and bird houses. 

Smith drives up from Chicago’s North Shore to deliver his latest work each May. A retired advertising executive, he donates his share of the sale to the Open Door Bird Sanctuary in Jacksonport, co-founded by Jillaine Seefeldt, the gallery’s former owner. Smith shows in four other galleries and in each case donates his proceeds of the sale to a local educational nonprofit.  

Another of the artists in the exhibit, Lauren Douglas, is in her first year as a Woodwalk artist. She likes to work with old photographs and, more recently, with 45 rpm records as the basis for her designs.

“I usually use old photographs and build around them with paper, fabric, sometimes paint and sometimes words,” Douglas said. “I started out doing oil painting and it just got a little boring. I wanted to do something different and I have always loved old photography, old anything. I sometimes use words in my pieces to create a narrative and stimulate the imagination of the viewer.”

One of her images is “Will O the Wisp,” a vintage photo torn in half but held an inch apart on a textured paper background by threads sewn through the edges of the photo. In addition to working on her art, she volunteers at LifeStriders, which provides horse intensive therapy for children and adults, including vets with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Bird sculptures by Deana Bada Maloney.

“We get kids with emotional problems and teach them how to ride a horse and the horse’s energy is just awesome therapy,” said Douglas, who worked as an art teacher and then, after her boys went off to school, as a veterinary technician.

Artist Roger Van Boxtel first came across scrimshaw on a visit to Maui. While scrimshaw was originally carved into ivory, Van Boxtell creates his exquisite small designs drawn on a field of plastic piano keys and then finishes the works with oil paints. His subjects include flowers, cherries and Door County lighthouses. Since 2006, Van Boxtel said he has sold 5,087 framed pieces, and repurposed 26,445 piano keys.

Sculpted ceramic birds on old spice tins and on spring coils might not immediately strike the viewer as an environmental message, but artist Deana Bada Maloney said a theme in her work is animals having to adapt to a new landscape cluttered with trash. That concept is more apparent in a sculpture of a fat raccoon reclining and holding a discarded plastic drinks bottle.

Artist John Borrero describes himself as a storyteller. He works with “forgotten things.”