The Vintage Matchmaker

Sturgeon Bay artist and crafter Katie Starr.

If you’ve been at a flea market, estate sale or thrift shop, there is a good chance you’ve seen items of a bygone era – books, old green bottles, magnets, mirrors, buttons and more. But almost as quickly as the item’s appeal washes over you, so does the question of where and how it could ever possibly come to use in your home.

That’s exactly where lifelong Sturgeon Bay resident Katie Starr comes in. The vintage crafter extraordinaire has made a business out of bringing together the old-school finds she has collected during the past decade and turning them into quirky, one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

That business, Reacquainted, is not something Starr can easily define with words. She has always had a love for vintage pieces and display, and an amazing skill for marrying together two seemingly unrelated pieces to create functional works of art.

“I’ve always loved to decorate and make things,” Starr said. “I think it’s just who I am. I honestly just sit down, take a bunch of stuff out, and start making things. It’s not something I can really describe. I love collecting – I see a color and it just connects them. It’s all over the place but somehow it makes sense together.”

That knack for display also works in her favor at home – her workbench includes a large shelf with dozen of cubbies on which she props the items that inspire her – old photos of her grandparents, the wooden head of a baby doll, old cameras and buttons. They might be awaiting their perfect place in one of her yet to be created projects, but the sight of that shelf alone is pure art.

New uses for old things: old ties with whimsical sayings.

In fact, her entire home could have come out of a 1950s comic book, with bright pops of color, patterns and graphics adorning every corner of her quaint workspace. She loves creative display and it’s obvious – there isn’t an inch in her home that hasn’t been thoughtfully arranged.

That creativity has made its way into the greater community, specifically through Starr’s display work at Sturgeon Bay’s Greco Gallery. She also sells her quirky creations at the gallery and her vintage items at pop-up shows, and has started renting out some of her vintage items for weddings and parties through her rental business, Borrowed Relics.

At the gallery, you can find what Starr calls her Reacquainted “staples” – vintage bottles, glass dome magnets, puzzle magnets, handmade gift tags, mirrors with painted-on quotes, button flower books, and purses. She has a special place in her heart for items from the 1940s and 50s for their graphic appeal and color.

“There are a lot of witty things that people did,” Starr said. “I have a lot of old autograph books so when you were in high school, instead of texting someone or writing them, you would write in their little book. Everything rhymed, so when you wrote in the book, you would write something clever that rhymed. Something about that is so cool.”

Starr considers herself a matchmaker of crafting, and in many ways, there is no better way to describe her. Like professional matchmakers for romantic love, sometimes it takes awhile for Starr to bring some of her relics together.

“The hard thing for me is I can buy something and not use it for 10 years,” Starr said. “It might be something I’m interested in and I don’t know why I need it or what I’m going to do with it but in 10 years I’m going to re-find that piece and be like, ‘Oh, I have the perfect thing for that.’

Vintage items found their home in this creatively decked-out glass bottle by Katie Starr.

“I definitely try to make things that you can live with and use,” she added. “They’re pretty to look at but they’re useful. The bottles you can use for flowers. It’s not just an art piece that no one can touch.”

Though she hasn’t stopped collecting and boasts garage shelves, a storage building (and part of another), a basement and a closet full of vintage items from decades long gone, her organizational skills ensure that when the time comes, her cherished items will see the light of day and be married into a one-of-a-kind piece of art.

Check out Katie Starr’s assemblage art pieces at Greco Gallery, 24 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay, or on Facebook by searching “Reacquainted.” Her rental items and styling business can be viewed at “Borrowed Relics by Katie Starr” on Facebook.