Webs, Weeds and Wisdom with Kate Walker | June 21

Recycling stuff has always been an interest of mine. It was encouraged by my mother, whose experience of the Great Depression meant she recycled 1lb (half kilo) Bushell’s coffee jars for her dry cooking ingredients like flour and sugar. She’d adapt clothing; even my brothers’ pjs were recycled to suit a daughter! Socks darned were needle art. Accumulated soap scraps were made into bars of soap. My Mum even hoarded brown paper and string, pretty Christmas cards, rubber bands, old nylon stockings and small boxes, to be recycled into wondrous things. Rubbish is a treasure in a different hand, she’d say. Recycling was ingrained!

When designing the terraced wall on Shaw Street, at the bottom of my garden, my family tossed around a number of ideas and Peter and I spent hours researching and photographing examples around the region. What impressed us the most were a couple of local examples. And surprise, surprise! These walls were concrete, recycled concrete. Now you may be like me; I have always considered concrete so harsh, gray and boring. I’m not a fan of the brutalist angular blocks of raw gray concrete like that of the National Gallery. Recycled concrete has an entirely different feel. Its colour varies depending on its former use or its composition. It can be a range of ochres from light to dark. It can contain blue metal or brown stone. And what I really love is that the insightful builder crafts a balanced composition of concrete shapes that together create a new, beautiful product. Rubbish is transformed.

So, excited by the success of recycling concrete, I’ve now set myself another recycling project. One of my dear friends is moving house. The move involved some down-sizing. An old piano had to find a new home. Who would want an old, hard-to-keep-in-reasonable-tune piano? Her fall-back plan was to chop it up and take it to the tip. Well, thought I, ivory and ebony keys could be made into special small boxes perhaps? Burl wood veneers would make some pretty furniture. Brass hardware and piano wires? Imagine jewellery! Such fabulous stuff! Oh yes, I realise I’m not the first person to think about end-of-life pianos, just ask Google! And to underscore this, type recycled pianos into Pinterest. You’re sure to discover a world of recycling ideas. Now all I need is a 3D printer that would deconstruct my piano and turn its parts into my new treasures!

 – Kate Walker


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