Culture Undiscovered: Found Art at the Made in Arizona Art Festival

Because I’m from Scottsdale, I try to stay as far away from it as possible. Its unique combination of high-end plastic surgery and relentlessly entitled prep-school kids appeals to a very specific group of people -- one that I’m not a part of -- and usually offers little in the way of arts, culture or sanity. However, I was willing to venture back into the land of cougars and Porsche Cayennes for the Made in Arizona Art Festival from Feb. 10 to 12. Made in Arizona brings together more than 100 local artists and vendors annually, and it’s held in Old Town Scottsdale, which is almost not even in Scottsdale anyway (at least that’s what I told myself).

Made in Arizona’s selection of oddball odds and ends was enough to keep even my notoriously short attention span engaged. Amethyst oil diffusers! Buddhist charm collections! There were even bars of earth-scented lotion (NOT soap, I was told emphatically) to puzzle over. How could I find just one artist to profile with all of these things to choose from? Well, my intense love of all things creepy wouldn’t let me pass by a table full of what I can only assume were girlified voodoo dolls, which happened to be conveniently located next to Sherry Maguire’s art boxes.

Sherry’s boxes are made of found objects, something I didn’t really understand until she explained it to me. Her inspiration, an exhibit at the ASU art museum, used recycled pieces to create art in unexpected ways. Using that as a starting point, Sherry decided to try her hand at creating art from recycled and found pieces. Sherry wanted to make an environmental statement, so she began by looking for art objects and natural items such as seashells at thrift stores -- “things people got rid of.” She ended up finding primarily plastic toys and trinkets, which have become the focal points in many of her best pieces.

Now, she says, it’s usually the item itself that inspires her to begin work on a box. Her newest collection includes a piece made entirely from debris found on Japan’s Tanesashi Coast, an area that was devastated by last year’s massive tsunami. The beaches there were almost entirely covered in plastic trash even before the tsunami, but their state has only worsened since. Sherry is currently collecting debris from other beaches in preparation for several sister pieces, and is also about to create a box on water, all suggesting that she may be getting back to her environmentalist roots.

There are a lot of things that I expect to see (and hear) when I visit Scottsdale; what I didn’t think I would find was art that’s passionate about the environment, owes its ability to captivate to the magic of thrift stores, and had its beginnings right here at ASU.

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