Rocking Horse Winner: An industrial design career takes an unexpected turn

story by Samantha Wittchen | photos by Albert Yee WHILE PURSUING an industrial design degree at the University of Cincinnati, Carrie Collins had an epiphany: She was making waste. “You’re being trained to design trash,” says Collins, acknowledging that industrial designers are often employed to create short-lived consumer products destined for the landfill. The realization caused a career crisis for Collins, and she decided to take time off from school to reconsider her future.

Three months later she returned to enroll in a new sustainable design course being offered by her favorite professor. The class changed everything for Collins. She finished her degree, and for her senior thesis created a business model for Fabric Horse—a business that would connect design with her passions for sustainability and sewing.

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Season for Art: Philly artists showcase eco-themes in current exhibits

Elaine Kurtz, Untitled, 2002, Image via Canary PromotionLast week, we reviewed South Philly artist Shelley Spector’s “Dreck Groove” exhibit on display at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery. The exhibit (February 17 to March 30) features Spector’s use of reclaimed materials to display embroidery representing recent natural disasters. 

But Spector isn’t the only artist showcasing environmentally-centric work this month. 

Philadelphia artist Elaine Kurtz, known for her nature-based work, has two exhibits at the Woodmere Museum this spring. A Retrospective is a celebration of her abstractions that use mud, sand and pulverized minerals. Elemental will incorporate other Philadelphia artists who also use nature as inspiration. The entire exhibit, A Retrospective and Elemental: Nature as Language in the Works of Philadelphia Artists, will be open Feb. 17 to April 22.

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Green Weaver: Shelley Spector turns reclaimed fabric into environmental art

Photo by Ken Yanoviak, courtesy of Bridgette Mayer Gallery  For Shelley Spector, scraps of discarded fabric are more inspiring than a blank white canvas any day. Bits of boldly-patterned textiles serve as Spector's foundation for her latest exhibit, “Dreck Groove”. The exhibit is a patchwork of reclaimed materials the South Philly artist gathered from her closet, neighbors’ recycling bins and local thrift shops. Ever since she began her art career as a woodworker, using recycled materials was a no-brainer for Spector.

“A plain white piece of paper or a plain sheet of wood is more intimidating to me than something that already has character and purpose,” says Spector. “So it was just easier for me to approach something that had the mark of this previous existence."

 As NextFab's current artist in residence (a Breadboard proram), Spector had access to more than 50 state-of-the-art pieces of equipment at the University City workshop, which hosts and offers classes for builders of all kinds. Maintaining the environmental awareness present in many of her past exhibits, Spector used a digital sewing machine to embroider images representing recent natural disasters onto 21 different swatches of fabric framed by reclaimed wood. A yellow tornado on tweed from an old purse signifies 2011’s tragedy in Joplin, Miss. A red, orange and yellow teardrop on teal plaid shorts illustrates a satellite map of radiation from last year’s earthquake in Japan. The effect is aesthetically pleasing, yet environmentally alarming. In addition to her textile creations, Spector has wrapped the exhibit with eclectic wallpaper she made from colorful discarded food packaging laser cut into geometric shapes.

To see more of Spector's most-recent creations, visit “Dreck Groove” on display from February 17 to March 30 at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery, located at 3600 Market Street.