Natasha Vanderzwan literally relishes making trash into treasures.
Her latest masterpiece – which just won her top honours in Township of Langley’s Upcycle Design Challenge – is created from about 500 tin cans and some scrap copper.
It’s an eagle, called Focus, that took the better part of five months to create in her garage (a.k.a. home studio), Vanderzwan explained.
The inspiration for her eagle came one day, when she and her husband, George, were out for a drive.
‘We were discussing what I was planning for this years upcycling challenge, when we saw a hawk sitting on a post out in a field,” she recounted, noting that her entry last year was a hawk sitting on a post.
“Then all of a sudden a bald eagle swooped down to grab the hawk. The hawk moved out of the way just in time and the eagle started chasing the hawk. I had never seen that before,” she said.
“My husband just looked at me and said ‘I think you have your answer’.” He was right.
Vanderzwan started with the tin cans to form the body shape, then used some scrap copper tubing to form the wings and claws.
“All the feathers are made from tin cans that I warmed with a torch to achieve the colour,” the artist shared.
“Once I had made all the feathers, I used copper wire from an old extension cord to weave the feathers together and solder them to the form.
“I had started the eagle a while ago, just a piece here and there. I usually work at night, if I have some free time, or if I feel like I need to. But as the deadline for the competition drew near, I had to work on it a lot more then I thought,” Vanderzwan told the Langley Advance.
“It took an incredible amount of feathers, and I was running out of tins. Luckily we have a family of six, so coming up with more cans just meant different dinner ideas,” she added with a chuckle.
A Langley resident since she was nine months old, the now 42-year-old artist has enjoyed past triumphs in the local upcycle challenge.
The first year she entered, 2014, she won second place for her MTI Tugboat.
In 2015, she won first place and people’s choice for a pirate ship made from a rusty wheel barrel and an old burning barrel. That piece was entitled Rudy’s Revenge. Both those pieces have since been sold.
Last year, she received honourable mention and the people’s choice award again for her project called Stella.
It’s the red-tailed hawk that she referred to earlier. It too was made from soup tins (at least 200 of them) and a bunch of scrap copper wire.
“Stella was a family pet when I was young and my mother would be very upset if I sold her,” she explained.
This year, Vanderzwan won first place in best in show as well as the people’s choice award for Focus.
“I was a little worried that Focus did look a lot like Stella. They are both birds perched on posts. But I really wanted to try to make an eagle of that size. I just wanted to try and see if I could make something that big,” she said, noting that it stands six feet tall and has a wing span of about four feet.
“I’m glad that I tried, because even though they were similar, the larger scale was a challenge for me and I learned a lot,” Vanderzwan added.
As for what’s next, Vanderzwan isn’t too sure yet.
She works in a lot of different art forms. She has also made pottery, created stained glass, carved in wood, and tried her hand at painting.
“I don’t like to stay in one medium. I like to try them all,” Vanderzwan said. “Although I really enjoy working on sculptures.”
Admittedly, this art form she’s chosen for her last two upcycle project has been incredibly challenging for the artist, and honestly carried with it some health risks.
“I had a lot of little cuts and scratches from working with the tin and wire,” she said. “It is kind of my own fault for not wearing gloves. But, I do not like using them. I also have a couple burns from solder. Thankfully, nothing serious and no hospital visits.”
Either way, she has really enjoyed the upcycle challenges, where she and other aspiring artists take garbage, and not simply recycle, but upcycle – making something better than it was before.
“I like this art form because there are so many ideas and so many different materials you can use,” Vanderzwan added.
“The possibilities are endless and there is no high costs for material. I also like that it is a way to view your garbage in a different way. It’s literally turning trash into treasures.”
As for Focus, she’s currently found a home in the family’s living room, albeit temporarily.
“Focus was sold, but the buyer backed out when it was time to drop off. So, she is back at my house and up for sale for $1,850,” she said, noting that she and her husband sell antiques as well as her art through their Facebook page for Black Sheep Antiques.
Other artists applauded
Awards for the upcycle design challenge were presented in mid-May, and the pieces were on exhibit at Willowbrook Shopping Centre from May 10 to 21.
In addition to Vanderzwan being applauded for her artistic efforts, Robert Maitland earned honourable mention in best in show for his piece called South Facing Chariot.
The most practical awards went to Dorothy Clark for her reusable bags woven from plastic bags. Honourable mentions in that category went to Caleb MacDonald for his tire stool, and Darla Bracklow for her quilt made from old table cloths.
As for the best use of styrofoam, Phyllis Sabean won for a wall hanging, Vision Quest. Honourable mention went to Shirley Sawatsky for her Guardian of the Garden.
The best youth award was given to Michelle Quan for her mixed-media piece of a burning city.