Upcycling is one the hottest trends of 2021. Meet three eco-conscious creators from the North Shore that are redefining the Three R-s of sustainability.

Making art on purpose

Colin Russell was always into art. Since high school, he could be found working on little art projects using items that he would find around his house.
His creativity continued to flourish through his adult years when he got into creating props for cosplay, which is the art of dressing up to portray fictional characters: most often from animated and science fiction.
“I had a business on e-Bay where I would create custom cosplay props for people using things like plumbing parts and car parts,” explains Russell. “It was very successful for about seven years, and then we decided to move here and had a complete lifestyle change.”
Russell and his wife were living in Ontario when they decided they were looking for a slower pace, so they moved to Nova Scotia where they bought a farm and had small animals roaming around.
But Russell’s love for art and creativity followed him, and two years ago he decided to create a workshop where he would have space to work on his projects.
He continued to create pieces of art by repurposing older items and so the name Upcycled seemed fitting for his new business.
“People will give me things like old appliances and I will strip them and use everything I can to save it from going to the landfill, and try to keep all of the parts together for one particular piece.”
Russell’s pieces are all unique but some follow a theme, like fish, or a chameleon on a wrench made from old bike chains. He creates these pieces using different parts of a washing machine and various mediums.
“I have even done some welded sculptures using old car or bike parts,” he notes.
Sometimes when searching for inspiration, Russell will search the internet and YouTube for ideas, but when he’s in the right frame of mind, he can complete two to three pieces in one day.
“For me, inspiration can come from the item I have been given or specific requests. I’ve had people give me an item of sentimental value and ask me to repurpose it into a piece that they can hold on to and cherish.”
He was recently commissioned to make something new from an
old wheelchair.
“I love seeing people’s reactions to the different elements that
I use and watch them try to figure out where each piece came from,” says Russell.
The art is always a bit of a process for Russell as he is
constantly critiquing the work, ensuring that it looks just right.
Russell’s artwork can be seen regularly at the Museum of Industry in Stellarton, the New Glasgow Farmer’s Market, or on his Facebook page Upcycled.
“I find with my pieces it’s very personal, it’s something that the customer needs to see in person and be able to touch and experience in order to make that connection with it.”

A seahorse sculpture made from car parts and kitchen utensils.

A tote that used to horse around

Suzanne Horne has always been a lover of horses. She likes to say that she takes in and reuses horses. Horne currently has two retired racehorses in her care, one hers and one her daughters; horses that retired from their career as a racehorse. But horses aren’t the only thing Horne reuses.
During the holiday season in 2018, Horne received a Christmas card from the company in Truro that she purchases her horse feed from.
I thought, “I don’t buy enough feed to get a Christmas card,” she recalls. But when she looked around, she was astounded by the number of empty feed bags lying around the stables.
“They’re such nice, heavy, woven bags and they are so expensive but also very pretty,” notes Horne. “But unfortunately, you can’t send them back to be reused.” The bags come in a variety of colours depicting pictures of horses, pastures, and the beautiful outdoors.
“That’s when I looked on Pinterest and found the idea for the totes.”
And so Tuffy’s Totes was born.
Horne uses the old feed bags to create reusable tote bags. “I have sewn in the past, but never plastic and I really didn’t know if it could be done,” she recalls.
But with keen ambition and inspiration to guide her, Horne was able to create beautiful, long-lasting, reusable tote bags.
After giving it a shot and working out the kinks, Horne posted her finished product on social media and couldn’t believe the response.
“A friend of mine told me that upcycling was really popular and that I should try to create more of these bags to sell. So with the help of my friend, we created a Facebook page Tuffy’s Totes and she even made up some business cards for me,” adds Horne.
The Tuffy’s Tote maker now has other horse owners giving her their feed bags to make the totes.
“Any sales from the tote bags go directly back to the care and maintenance of the horses,” she notes.
The tote bags are large and have been put to the test by Horne as well.
“They hold two dozen ears of corn or eight two-litre bottles of pop,” says Horne giving a perspective on the tote sizing.
As her following grows she has expanded on different sources of her materials.
“I’ve had people contact me to create tote bags for them from their dog and cat food bags or sunflower seed bags.”
The totes are for sale through Tuffy’s Totes Facebook page and there is talk of attempting to branch out and try aprons.
“Anything I can do to divert waste from the landfill is great,” she says. “It just seems so wasteful to throw away such beautiful, heavy bags. Plus, it’s nice to see children’s faces when I have the horse bags in my cart; they always have a big smile.”

While preparing the traps for her seventh season of lobster fishing, Garrett noticed all of the old rope just sitting around waiting to be taken to the dump.

Roped into recycling

If you’ve been to the New Glasgow Farmer’s Market in the last year, you may have noticed a very colourful, very popular vendor, Atlantic Treasures from LFA-32 — the Lobster Fishing Area in eastern N.S.
Gwenda Garrett, the creator of Atlantic Treasures from LFA-32, has a very unique story. Garrett moved to the area from B.C. about eight years ago with a desire to be on the east coast and put her feet in different saltwater.
While following her dream, Garrett met her husband, a lobster fisherman by trade; quite a deviation from the security company Garrett owned in B.C.
“I always wanted to go out lobster fishing, and one day I went and just fell in love with it,” she says.
It was that moment that she told her husband that if he wouldn’t take her fishing, she would join another boat.
Having no experience in fishing, it was certainly a learning curve for Garrett, but she loved every minute of it.
One day while she was preparing the traps for her seventh season of lobster fishing, Garrett noticed all of the old rope just sitting around waiting to be taken to the dump.
The rope is used to set and haul the traps in the water, and while it can be made from pretty sturdy material it becomes degraded in the water and has to be replaced.
She recalled seeing a mat that a friend of hers had made from this same type of lobster rope and something clicked.
“I thought that was pretty cool. So last July, after our fishing season ended and we had to change out the ropes, I asked my friend if I could borrow her mat,” she says.
Garrett studied the mat and researched weaving techniques online and that’s when she also discovered baskets that could be made from the old lobster rope.
She scrounged as much rope as she could and had other local fishermen saving their rope for her to use.
That’s when she set out to create baskets from the used lobster rope.
It’s an interesting process. First, she pressure washes the rope to clean it and then allows it to dry outside. The rope is then woven into the mats or the baskets and naturally comes in very vibrant colours that fade with wear in the ocean, creating the beautiful, pastel colours you see.
The mats are made with roughly 61 to 67 metres of rope while the larger baskets contain approximately 30 metres of rope.
The mats and baskets are experiencing growing popularity, with uses ranging from gift baskets to Easter baskets. Garrett has even tried her hand at weaving some small door wreaths.
“I was very surprised at how well they sold,” she notes. “I had no expectations going in, I just thought if I am making something that someone likes, then I
am happy.”
What really intrigued Garrett was the response she received from the fact that the baskets and mats are made from upcycled material.
“I would say about half of the people who purchase the baskets or mats do so solely because of the fact that they are made from upcycled material.”
While Garrett is taking a break to follow her heart on the ocean, fishing lobster, she will be back to creating her upcycled pieces as soon as her fishing season is done. In the meantime, you can catch her beautiful creations on Instagram under Gwenda Garrett.