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GC: Artist finds way to make art, educate youth about trash

By By Jessica Rodrigo/ - jrodrigo@vicad.com
June 7, 2012 at 1:07 a.m.


Growing up in a bad economy can leave people with an ever-lasting impression.

Karen Burleson, a retired art teacher, artist and member of the Victoria Art League, lives according to a recession-era adage.

"I grew up at a time when my mother cut off buttons. I guess that's how I inherited this mess," she explained. "I can't hardly toss things away without thinking,I'm killing my memories."

Burleson's solution for her problem was simple: Just reuse those memories and find ways to re-purpose them.

As an artist, she honed her skills for drawing and painting from small- to large-scale art. Eventually, she began to work with mixed media and developed a way to save throwaway materials instead of adding to area landfills.

Works of art

Burleson, who moved to Victoria in 1974, grew up in Alvin and received her bachelor's degree in art education. She taught art at Victoria High School for 28 years before retiring, but she continues to create.

She remembers a time when a friend gave her a set of doors that were more than 100 years old and rather than leave them to take up space in her home, she used them to replace her doorways with all but one.

"It was about 28 inches tall. Instead of throwing it away, I drew portraits of my family on it," she said.

Each portrait of her kids, including the dogs, was completed with colored pencil on artist paper and arranged neatly inside the door's frame. She entered it into a juried art show in 2009 and was awarded Best of Show.

Other materials she has reused include small trinkets from her childhood, Styrofoam, plastic lids, tin cans and a water sprinkler.

On a table in her Goliad home rests a unique lamp that pays tribute to her parents.

"I made a lamp out of their old water sprinkler and it's at least as old as I am," the 65-year-old said.

With hardware she bought from the store, dark green paint and a lamp shade, it was reincarnated into something with a purpose.

"People just throw old materials away," she said. "It may be easy or even convenient to buy things that are disposable, but later on there may not be room on this Earth for it."

Teaching for the future

Burleson has put in countless hours researching what happens to to our trash in a landfill. A plastic bottle will never biodegrade, and a Styrofoam cup will spend 5,000 years in a landfill before it will breakdown, she said.

"Instead of throwing things away, you can use them to make handmade gifts or objects," she said.

Together, she and a group of students built a 4-by-5 foot mural, complete with butterflies, spirals and other intricate designs made of Styrofoam cups and plates. Another project included large Styrofoam cups and a cooler to make a castle that was painted to make the resemblance complete.

"There's a need for the education," she said of her work. "I try to pick out things kids normally toss out and find uses for them."

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