The Rise of the Eco-Savvy Customer

Box Heart Gallery’s anniversary exhibition in June featured cardboard space shuttle sculptures and paintings by Ryder Henry in its window displays.

Eunice Wallar wasn’t sure what to expect from her call for entries to “Think Green,” a juried show in May featuring work inspired by nature, environmental issues and recycled materials at Waverly House Gifts and Gallery in Springfield, Mo. First, she was surprised by a record-breaking 108 entries (with 52 works from 42 artists making the cut). Then came opening night.

“We had our best turnout ever, and sales were great,” she says. “This show created so much interest. A reporter said the press release made him think, ‘Oh, ho hum.’ But at the show he told me, ‘You’ve hit a home run!’”

What made this show special? After all, American crafts have a long tradition of recycled and natural materials—think quilts, baskets, ceramics and wood. The difference is timing. Today, concerns about climate change and toxic materials make green popular and political. The economic downturn means quality counts even more. And good design has caught up with good intentions.

“Green was slower to grow because it didn’t have the same type of packaging or style as other products,” says Melanie McIntosh, retail consultant and president of Inspire Retail Solutions in Vancouver, B.C. “Now artists are making beautifully designed natural products. As green becomes more mainstream, the movement will continue to grow.”

Wallar carries green work year round, like Peggy Wyman’s pine-needle and foundobject sculptures and Kevin Kloppenburg’s molded ornaments from recycled paper. Nicole Capozzi, owner of Box Heart Gallery in Pittsburgh, Pa., regularly shows Sherry Rusinack’s Steampunk jewelry series and Alex Lobus’s salvaged wood collages.

“They’re great artists—they just happen to reuse materials,” she says. “For example, Alex finds that the dirtiest, grimiest, most forlorn looking piece of wood often yields the most beautiful results.”

For more of “The Rise of the Eco-Savvy Customer,” pick up a copy of the Summer 2009 NICHE Magazine.

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