By Elizabeth McGowan
Where others saw a dull and dormant chair, Charmaine Jones imagined a four-legged garden. That verdant vision prompted the 28-year-old artist to cover every square inch of its exposed wood with a botanical bounty of roses, tulips, sunflowers and vines.
“It just kind of popped into my head,” Jones says about her garden chair idea while seated at her studio space at Art Enables in Northeast Washington, D.C. “Painting with all of those colors makes me happy.”
The resurrected chair will be returning “home” as one of hundreds of handmade items that local crafters and artists will be selling from Nov. 1 through Dec. 29 at Community Forklift’s fifth annual Green Gift Fair. Art Enables, a studio and gallery for emerging artists with developmental disabilities, is one of 35 organizations and individuals selected to participate in the event at the Forklift’s Edmonston warehouse.
In addition to green-themed paintings, the fair will feature an assortment of eco-friendly and affordable clothing, metalwork, woodcrafts, toys, baby gear, beauty care products, candles, greeting cards, housewares and stained glass mosaics. Prices start as low as $1.
Staffers at Art Enables often comb the Forklift’s aisles for finds that encourage their cadre of 33 artists to experiment with new media. Chairs, cabinet doors, scrap wood, ceramic tiles and glass light shades are among the Forklift finds that allow the artists to transform the forlorn to the fanciful—and make some money selling their repurposed results.
“For art folks, there are only so many times you can paint on canvas or draw on a piece of paper,” says Beth Baldwin, arts coordinator at Art Enables, who discovered the Forklift years ago as a props specialist for the Shakespeare Theatre Company. “Like any artist, you can fall into a rut, so working with something different is a good way to open up creativity.”
Mary Liniger, executive director at Art Enables, is used to fielding calls from Baldwin and other staffers seeking permission to “buy something really cool they just found at the Forklift.” She always gives them the green light, she says, because everything is so reasonably priced and nothing they carry back to the art studio at 2204 Rhode Island Ave. NE ever seems to go to waste.
“What I like about Community Forklift is that it’s so random,” Baldwin says. “It can be a challenge to find what I need but it keeps me constantly problem solving.”
Aley Hasson, gallery and outreach assistant for Art Enables, is thrilled that the Forklift selected her organization to participate in this year’s Green Gift Fair. It’s the first year Art Enables submitted an application.
“We’re always looking for new venues,” Hasson says about raising her nonprofit’s profile. “It’s about getting our name out there so more people know what our artists are doing in here.”
The Art Enables booth at the Green Gift Fair will showcase art from several artists who use reclaimed materials. For instance, it also will feature flower-themed paintings that Jones has completed on cabinet doors salvaged from the Forklift. Jones, one of the youngest artists at Art Enables, will be joined by the nonprofit’s eldest artist, Maurice “Mo” Higgs. The cheerful and prolific 77-year-old wears down dozens of colored pencils daily while drawing renditions of his “hairy eyeball motif” on paper, wood scraps or about any other available surface.
This year’s call for original artwork incorporating the themes of recycling, sustainable living and environmental awareness attracted more responses than in the previous four years, so it will be the largest Green Gift Fair yet. Forklift staffers selected the top 35 applications from a field of 48.
What are some of these artists doing? For starters, they’re turning beeswax into candles, transforming leftover metal parts into lamps, creating clothing from thrift-store finds, making painting-like landscapes and cityscapes from fabric scraps, handcrafting soaps and repurposing worn out belts and other leather goods into wearable art.
“Part of our mission is to lift up communities through reuse, so this seems like a natural partnership,” says Bea Trickett, the Forklift’s outreach and education coordinator. “This is the time of the year when the construction business slows down, while the arts always pick up at the holidays. For Community Forklift, hosting the Green Gift Fair is a perfect way to help connect our fans to local artists.”
Trickett emphasizes that the Green Gift Fair isn’t just an opportunity to ooh and ahh at the talents of participating artists. Forklift customers also will have the opportunity to participate in workshops on select weekend afternoons to try their hand at learning a new artistic skill.
For example, Isabel Smith, Madeline Santiago and Elva Rosario of Marizab’s Treasures will teach participants how to craft jewelry from wire, washers, nails and other reclaimed materials; Jamie Langhoff of Seeing in Fabric will lead a workshop on turning old clothing into wall art suitable for framing; Jill Dickens from Evolve Skin LLC will share a simple recipe for a detoxifying salt scrub; and Don Nalezyty of Wright Woods will show how to use axes and knives to shape a spoon from a green log.
The elf-like Higgs, one of the Art Enables artists, is quick to note that any money he earns at the Green Gift Fair will go toward one of his regular trips to Florida. Liniger says she has no doubt Higgs’s vacation coffer will grow because he seems to develop an avid following wherever he shows his art.
“Every day, I get to see somebody make something amazing,” says Liniger, who has headed up the 12-year-old nonprofit since February 2012. “And that’s what leads to the biggest danger. You’re watching incredible pieces of art being created and you’re here with your credit card and checkbook.”
Though she’s talking about what unfolds at Art Enables on a daily basis, her words could just as easily apply to the appeal of all of the wares at the Green Gift Fair.
“The longer I spend here, the more fun I have,” Liniger says. “I just can’t wait to see what these artists create next.”