Monday, June 06, 2011

Recycling and creativity on display at "Upcycling 101" event in Casper

Abigail Schneider, left, and Kelleen Gilstad spread mortar on an outdoor table to create a mosaic with found items at Upcycling 101 on Saturday afternoon in James Reeb Park in Casper. Little Hands, a local art education group, put on the arts festival to demonstrate what can be done with recycled items. Kerry Huller photo.
While I attended the Wyoming Writers, Inc., conference Saturday in Casper, another arts-oriented event was happening across town.

"Upcycling 101" was held at Winter Memorial Presbyterian Church in north Casper. “Upcycling,” according to a story by Tom Morton in Sunday's Casper Star-Tribune, is "the uptown term for taking trash and making it pretty if not practical, said Kate Schneider, an organizer of the event. 'Upcycling is taking things that normally would be thrown away and creating useful, beautiful, fun stuff.' ”

Morton described one of the upcycling demonstrations:
A portable forge heats tools with large- or medium-size rings at one end and handles at the other.

Meanwhile, Betsy Bower places an empty wine bottle in the corner of a box and seats it in the sand at a playground during the first “Upcycling 101” event at the Winter Memorial Presbyterian Church in north Casper.

An Upcycling participant dons a glove, pulls the tool from the forge, places it over the bottle and holds it flush against the top of the box.

Bower rotates the bottle as the participant pulls the hot tool against the side of the bottle.
The tool is removed after a half-minute of turning; she picks up the bottle and dunks it in a bucket of water, where a slight crack is heard.

Bower retrieves the bottom half of the bottle for the participant to sand smooth the edge, creating a unique drinking glass.


Besides the turning-wine-bottles-into-glasses miracle, Bower had on display a creation that wasn’t particularly useful, definitely not beautiful, but certainly fun.

She enhanced a child’s bicycle by mounting a blender on a wooden platform on the rear bumper and running a vertical axle from the blender to the top of the rear tire, which would drive the axle to power the blender. Sort of margaritas on the go.
Betsy actually made smoothies with her upcycled bicycle. Although margaritas-on-the-go may be next.

After the writing conference ended on Sunday, I had a chance to visit with Betsy at her family's business, Bower Welding & Ornamental Iron, located in an industrial section of Casper several blocks northeast of downtown. Betsy's father Tom built the business over the course of several decades. He moved to Casper in the 1970s from Douglas with his wife Cindy, who is a board member of Wyoming Writers, Inc. Tom had some welding experience and he went to work in the oil patch. Casper was -- and still is -- a good place for a welder. He estimates there are at least a thousand welders working out of this city of 55,000 souls. It's mostly oil field work. There's one big company that manufactures truck bodies. And there is lots of residential welding to do. The work is functional and decorative. Tom showed off a fanciful stairway railing that is one of Betsy's projects. Imagine a series of intertwined steel rods, fashioned to look like tree limbs.

While Betsy's father and I spoke, Betsy rode up on her customized bike. Not the blender bike. This was a "fat-tire" style bicycle with various artistic elements welded by Betsy. I noticed the bike had no gears, which makes riding in hilly Casper a challenge.

Betsy learned her craft at her father's shop. Over time, her interests turned more toward the performing arts. She spent some time with a traveling circus, learning skills on the trapeze and twirling flaming batons. She's performed a number of times around Casper. Last summer, we had a chance to perform together during ARTCORE'S "Poetry & Music" Series. It was at the old Jazz Spot downtown. I read the first part of my short story and then Betsy performed yoga movements on the trapeze to original music. I read the second half of my story. Betsy wrapped up the evening with a dance featuring flaming batons. I will let you decide which parts of the evening got the most attention.

It was Betsy's need for a sturdy trapeze platform that led her back to the welding shop. She was rehearsing in a building where the trapeze was hung from the ceiling. As you might guess, performers need dependable equipment or they wind up on their noggins on the floor. So Betsy decided to build her own dependable and portable metal structure. She hauls it to her gigs and assembles it on site.

Besides unique bikes, Betsy builds metal tables and decorative items. Some of her work is on display in her father's business office. A twisted metal sculpture supports a thick glass table top. On the table is a welded metal flower pot with metal flowers.

Betsy plans to hit the road in the near future as a metal artist. I asked if she was going to incorporate her performance skills with her metal work. She thought that the title of "performing metal artist" had a nice ring. There are many traveling metal bands. Maybe she could be a metal metal artist?

I digress. Obviously we'll be hearing more from Betsy Bower.

Saturday's "Upcycling 101" was also a fund-raiser for an historic park.
Besides fun, the Upcycling event raised awareness for the Casper Young Professionals Network to resurrect the 1970s-era James Reeb Memorial Community Playground adjacent to the church. The Rev. James Reeb, who moved from Casper to Washington, D.C., then Boston, was beaten to death in Selma, Ala., in March 1965, and is regarded as the first white Protestant minister martyr of the civil rights movement.

The Young Professionals Network is applying for grants to redo the playground by replacing the run-down and fenced-in basketball court with a community garden and chess tables, new playground equipment, a gazebo, trees, horseshoe pits and landscaping, Brandon Daigle said.
Daigle, a member of the network and an architecture student, drafted the general plans for the park, he said. 
But he wanted the children who attended the Upcycling event to imagine what they would like and draw their ideas with the crayons and paper he made available, he said.

Even the basketball court and gravel in the park will be given new lives, Daigle said.

“The asphalt will be recycled; the gravel will be used as a [pavement] base,” he said.
Rehabbing a park named after a martyr for Civil Rights in the U.S. seems like an amazingly good cause. If you want to donate or find out more, go to

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