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Artists turn trash into treasures in down economy

The sour economy has an upside for artists looking for found objects to use in their work — the business of estate sales is flourishing.

Photographer Barry Rustin with collectibles in his Sherman Avenue studio.

Kurtis Tate, owner of Fulton & Coard, Inc., a local business that conducts estate sales, said over 8 percent of his sales this year are a result of home foreclosures. Before the recession, that percentage was close to zero.

Many of the items found at estate sales may be considered junk to the untrained eye, but for artists and those with creative intuition, the stuff can be reused to make art.

Leah Callihan, a former chairwoman on the Arts Council for the City of Evanston and a volunteer at an estate sale on Saturday in Wilmette put on by Fulton & Coard,  says, “There is a community of people who come to these things on a regular basis, an artist community.”

Callihan said the art community is a resourceful bunch, and that she has seen artists come to estate sales looking for just about everything from vintage jewelry to old sinks and bowling balls to use as garden art.

Artists looking for materials are not the only people found at estate sales. Collectors of photographs, furniture, and other vintage artifacts can be seen scouring the rooms of the estate.

Barry Rustin, a local photographer with a studio on Sherman Avenue, was at Saturday’s estate sale in Wilmette, and said he often goes to estate sales looking for vintage photography, but that his keen eye for certain art has aided him in the collection of various treasures.

“Collecting objects is a physiological thing,” said Rustin, who has been to a few hundred house sales in his lifetime. “Objects and collecting are about remembrance and memories. I guess I’m sentimental and don’t want to let go of the past.”

Rustin photographs his found objects, and is fascinated by his most recent discovery, a stockpile of 100-year-old glass bottles of various shapes and sizes. “I’m into objects. I like being surrounded by visually stimulating things, with a historical reminder in my face.”

While the economy has caused a cash crunch for many people, it has created a wealth of art for people to take home and admire, as well as found objects for artists to create their newest masterpiece.

Reporter/photographer Santana Lopez is a graduate student in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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