For found-object artist and Voorhees resident Suzy Sherbine, the old saying rings especially true — one person’s trash really is another person’s treasure.
While most would simply walk by an old hubcap or discarded bottle on the ground, for the past seven years Sherbine has been collecting that debris and using it in her artwork to craft pieces that draw attention to social and environmental wrongs.
Now, after seven years of collecting and crafting, Sherbine’s art and the issues raised from it were on display for all to see at a Dec. 2 art show hosted by the art task force of Sustainable Cherry Hill, a non-profit that uses community outreach to highlight sustainability issues on a local level.
Sherbine’s journey into found-object art began seven years ago after she attended a SCH screening of the film “Poet of Poverty,” which focused on the poverty and degradation of the city of Camden.
Motivated by the film, Sherbine volunteered with the Center for Environmental Transformation in Camden, and one day while helping with the cleanup of some empty lots, the pieces of metal and bolts and rusty chains Sherbine found began to inspire her.
“I started finding all this stuff on the ground and I just felt so inspired by this debris … that in the suburbs you wouldn’t find lying around, and it spoke to me artistically and I started making pieces,” Sherbine recalls.
Sherbine now calls her artwork “ArtofFACTS: Trash Transformed to Teach,” as each piece also has a small placard through which she describes what materials she used, including the resin identification code of any plastics.
For her art, Sherbine said she also likes to use material that’s difficult and ugly to work with, such as an old tire one might find on the side of the highway, as it’s challenging to cut or adhere other objects to, which exemplifies its non-biodegradable nature.
“That’s the thing that inspires me is when I find it on the ground, when it’s not even making it into the trash,” Sherbine said.
“It’s just there and it shocks me sometimes what I find.”
One piece Sherbine had on display at the SCH event was an old bottle designed to look like a person, with the plastic wrappings of juice bottles inside to show how humans are filling themselves with plastic.
Another piece at the event used old apartment keys to note how the poor are always struggling and scraps of paper with the titles of books on them to show the loss of Camden’s former Carnegie Library.
“The goal is to just stimulate the notion of reusing and repurposing and also to convey some of the issues of environmental injustice and social injustice,” Sherbine said.
Sherbine also works to instill those notions of reusing and repurposing in the next generation by taking her artwork into local schools and teaching students about sustainability.
Recently, Sherbine worked with a group of students from Cherry Hill’s Beck Middle School to make an outdoor tree sculpture using soda cans and the metal from the wire baskets used in planting trees in Camden.
Sherbine said the students love the idea of taking something meant for one purpose and using it in a totally different way, and if they feel any stress about the state of the environment, learning how to remake and reuse objects can help them feel better about the future.
“Recycle doesn’t always mean just dump it in the recycling bin, because that becomes like an autopilot reaction after a while, just dump it in the bin, but there can be a second life to something if you think about it,” Sherbine said.
SCH Art Task Force Director Natalie Barney said Sherbine was one of the first people she reached out to last year when first starting the art task force, which now works to hold events to communicate the ideas of sustainability through art.
“Her art speaks volumes for what we’re trying to talk about,” Barney said. “It’s great that she’s the first artist that we’re doing this with.”
It’s a mission Sherbine knows all too well.
“It’s a great thing that we’re bringing art to sustainability, making a presence for it, making a statement with it,” Sherbine said.