Posts Categorized: People

A Rare Bird: Interview with Artist Pam Kester

By Becky Idstrom

Pam Kester’s art studio is full of material ripe for creating. In just 10 short minutes she has already listed at least 15 different types of semi-precious stones, pulling open drawers and lifting box lids as she speaks. There are the river stones, the glass beads, the copper metal plates, the soldering materials, the fossils, the pictures, the coins – all different shapes, sizes, and colors.

In the 14 years I have known Pam, the precision, attention to detail, and artistry that she brings to her work – from a birthday card to a two-day educational hawk festival for the Audubon Society – has impressed me. Her jewelry is no less impressive. She mixes her varied raw materials to design and create one-of-a-kind necklaces and earrings in a collection she’s dubbed Rare Bird Artful Adornments.

Rare Bird Artful Adornments – jewelry inspired by nature and the beauty of the human soul – was born only two years ago. When Pam felt the urge to work with her hands, to create something, she turned her attention to jewelry making – something she had experimented with since age 18. Her creative passion has grown one bead at a time.

Looking at the materials she has laid out before us, it’s hard to imagine where one would begin. “I just start with one bead,” she says, “and ask—how can I use this? I choose something I’m attracted to, like this stone that reminds me of the delicate pattern on a dragonfly’s wing. Then the necklace just starts to build itself.”

Experimentation is key with jewelry building. Pam likes to bring together raw materials like fossils or river stones and embellish them with something delicate. She uses jade, garnets, topaz, kyonite, lolite, jasper, pearls, fossils, and more. She knows her materials well and chooses them carefully from all over the world. No matter what she makes, Pam brings a level of art to it. But it’s jewelry-making that she finds the most satisfying.

“I don’t make anything that doesn’t feel right. It’s good to have an outlet for my perfectionism,” she laughs, “because it wasn’t happening with housework.”

Rare Bird jewelry is more than simple precision. I look at a piece with chunks of light and bright blue kyonite along the front, the clasp a part of the decoration on the side, and a silver chain around the back. It has an almost living quality. Some women have told Pam they feel empowered when they wear her jewelry, that the piece embodies something especially for them. “It’s wonderful to create a piece and then find the person who was meant to wear it,” she says.

“The beauty of nature has always inspired my creativity,” Pam writes on her website. Her strong connection to the natural world has further sharpened her artistic eye, reproducing in her jewelry things from the natural world, like the beautiful sculpted scales in a milkweed pod or the shape of a butterfly chrysalis.

“I love that there is debris in these stones,” she says, gazing into a box of round river stones. “I’m not concerned with the perfect stone but the overall feel and look of it.”

While Pam makes all types of necklaces, she has themes for two special kinds: Amulets and Portals. The Amulets are a single round stone set in a large clasp on a chain. They have been used across cultures for centuries, Pam says, and are designed to bring protection, strength, and good luck to those who wear them. The Portals are more whimsical pieces: tiny collages or vintage photographs framed in glass or metal. They may contain mini collections of treasures, natural elements, or words and sayings.

The jewelry also tells stories. Some beautiful frosty-looking light blue and white beads, broken roughly into small rectangular shapes, tell a tale of another country. “I bought these at a bead show in Milwaukee from a family from Afghanistan,” she says. The father explained how the pieces are fragments of vessels, such as olive jars, which were transported along the Silk Road. The fragments are surfacing now after the current bombings in Afghanistan and people are finding them and making them into beads. Buried for centuries, the ancient glass has been given a texture and patina by the weather. Pam loves the idea of making something beautiful out of something that comes from such tragedy. “There is such a feeling of antiquity in the beads,” she says. “And it meant so much to this man to tell me their story.”

In the two years since Rare Bird Artful Adornment’s start, Pam has exhibited in a variety of shows and her work has grown. She is excited to see where the future will take her.

“I feel so fortunate to be standing in a landscape of creative possibilities that stretches beyond the horizon,” she says.

More info at www.rarebirdjewelry.com.

Get in the Rink: Rollerderby!

Strap on your quads; We’re goin’ derby

By Aryn Henning Nichols . Photo by Studio J Photography

Photo by Studio J PhotographyBy day she’s the housewife. The attorney. The writer, the stylist, the chef. She moves with confidence, a fresh bruise merely a reminder of her latest battle, and like a rogue superhero, she can’t wait to pull on her fishnets and hot pants, slap on some red lipstick and get back in the rink to kick some derby ass. It’s just the way she rolls.

In a post-feminist era where romance is no longer a dirty word, but yes, the lady still just might want to mow the lawn, roller derby seems a natural fit. It rides a line between burlesque and brawn: the girls are sexy AND tough. They come together from all kinds of backgrounds and in all kinds of packages, united by their love of all things derby. Or they just like beating the crap out of each other while on old school quad skates. Either way, it’s not exactly your grandmother’s roller race.

Inducted in the 1930s by Chicago businessman Leo Seltzer, roller derby experienced a series of highs, lows, and evolutions over the decades until the 60s and 70s when the spectacle of it took precedent over the sport. Roller derby’s popularity fizzled out. Revival efforts didn’t take until 2001 when a group of Texas women pulled it out of its grave and gave it a whole new look.

The game goes like this: Two teams of five players are on the track, each with one jammer (she has a star on her helmet and is the one who scores) and four blockers (the blocker with a stripe on her helmet, the pivot, leads her blockers). For every opponent the jammer passes, her team scores a point. But short of throwing elbows or making human clotheslines, these girls are doing everything they can to keep the opposing jammer back and get their jammer through.

“One of the reasons roller derby is so popular is because of the explosive, fantastic combination of sport, entertainment, female aggression, and (dare I say it?) sex appeal,” says Decorah native Regan (Johnson) Jacobsen. “Let me be explicit – this is a real, full-contact sport.”

Jacobsen, aka Tammy Faye Undertakker or more often, TFU (a tribute to Ms. Tammy Faye Bakker, the late overly-made up televangelist), lives in Madison and has been skating with the Mad Rollin’ Dolls going on four years. For her, all it took was one bout. She wanted in.

“The second I walked in the door I was hooked. I just KNEW I had to do this,” she says. “I didn’t for a second consider the time, the money, the injuries, or the fact that the closest thing I ever played to a sport was marching band.”

The Mad Rollin’ Dolls (MRD), kicking off their sixth season the end of January 2010, were Midwestern pioneers of the sport alongside other leagues like the Minnesota Roller Girls (MNRG). Leagues like these frequently have thousands of people come to see them skate (at a recent MNRG bout, they had nearly 4,000 attendees!), but it definitely took a lot of work getting there. And as with most things, being a pioneer has its pros and cons.

Zara Danz, aka Candi Pain (“I picked my name because it seemed sweet and bad ass. The play on words thing is pretty big with derby names. Also I really like candy!”), has been with the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Roller Girls since day one. She says being one of the first Midwestern teams had some physical perks.

“I decided I wanted to be the one hitting the hardest, not the one getting knocked over. That motivated me,” Danz says. “I was lucky though, because at the point I started it was new to all of us. We were the first league to bring derby to Minnesota. Now when rookies start, they get pounded by seasoned vets.”

Jacobsen says MRD had to blaze a wide trail for leagues that would one day join the ranks.

“Madison didn’t have any blueprints, any mentors, or any limits. That’s been a challenge and also a great responsibility – to help the leagues that formed after us learn from our mistakes, improve on what we did right, and succeed where we have failed,” she says.

According to Jacobsen, everybody has a “fresh meat” story – “I was scared as hell when I started. The first time I went to a practice with ‘veteran’ skaters flying by me on the track on all sides, their wheels clacking up against my wheels… it was terrifying” – but teammates work hard to train new players.

“Derby is very ‘Three Musketeers’ in that regard,” Jacobsen explains. “Don’t get me wrong, we want everyone to improve so it’s more of a challenge to knock them down and more exciting to watch, but we want everyone to improve, regardless. It’s just not fun to knock down someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Ok, it is, but you don’t feel as accomplished.”

Closer to home, smaller cities like La Crosse are founding their own leagues. The La Crosse Skating Sirens, not even one year old yet, look to teams like MRD and MNRG for guidance and advice. Because starting a roller derby league isn’t easy: it’s a business. You need organization, recruits, money. Skating Sirens founder and president Melissa Larivee, aka Skin Kitty, is proud of how far they’ve come in just a few short months. They have great sponsors (“The people who back us, back us.”), skate all their home bouts at a great venue – the La Crosse Center – they have enough members for two teams on their league, and they’re improving on the track.

“We got our asses kicked at our first bout,” Larivee says. “But we’re getting better. We’re losing by less now.”

At the interview, Larivee’s left wrist is in a cast, and her nose is healing nicely after a dirty bout punch, she says.

“She’s our league clutz,” jokes Skating Sirens vice president Marghie Arttus, aka Hiss’n Kitten.

“No, I’m just aggressive,” Larivee retorts. The two agree they are complete opposites, but because of derby, they’re best friends.

“It’s all about the comraderie,” Larivee says. “We want women to have a place to go to be athletic and skate. Women can dominate this sport. It does take a certain kind of woman, you just don’t know who that is exactly. There isn’t a stereotype for it. You can have your basketball star and your Goth out there on the track together. But I think it’s popular because it’s all women – the guys are in the minority.”

So the fact that men’s leagues are starting to form across the nation naturally raises the derby dander a bit. Jacobsen explains.

“When I first heard about men’s derby leagues popping up, I was upset. I felt, “Can’t we just have one thing!?” because women have traditionally been so excluded from sports; and women’s sports and women athletes are not given the same clout or attention as men’s sports and male athletes. I was afraid men’s roller derby would surpass women’s derby in popularity and co-opt all the hard work derby leagues have done to popularize the sport and bring it into the mainstream.”

She continues, “But, then I saw men playing roller derby… let’s just say my fears were waylayed. It’s an entirely different animal than all-female derby. And also, derby is fun. I don’t want to discourage anyone from having fun, working out, and participating in a community. Seriously, though, have you ever seen a six-foot tall man with hairy legs in hot pants? Yikes.”

Beside men, the derby leagues all have their rivals. For Danz, it’s the Mad Rollin’ Dolls.

“As far as our Allstar traveling team, our biggest rivals would be Madison,” Danz says. “Madison has an amazing league! We have a fantastic fun-loving border battle with them.”

MNRG has four home teams that play each other, and Danz is the captain of the Dagger Dolls. “I think this year we’ll be the force to be reckoned with. We have some amazing rookies and killer vets!”

MRD has six teams in their league, and Jacobsen skates for the Unholy Rollers. She’s her own biggest rival (“I am constantly trying to improve my game”), followed by MRD’s Reservoir Dolls. (“There is no team I enjoy beating more than the Res Dolls.”)

The Skating Sirens are still figuring out their opponents. “We don’t have any real rivals yet,” Arttus says. “Although we’ve played some pretty dirty skaters, most everyone is having fun.”

Fun is the emphasis for skaters and attendees at derby bouts.

“Everyone goes to see derby,” Danz says. “There are bands, games, giveaways, food and delicious PBR! I think there is a serious cool and fun factor that nothing else out there has. I could go on and on. Roller derby fever is contagious!”

Perhaps it’s the short skirts and stockings. The racy names. Or the motley crew that is the roller derby norm. But it truly does seem to kick ass.

“Derby is like the Island of Misfit Toys for grown-ups,” Jacobsen says. “We’re all a little nutty, injured, socially inept, what have you, but we came together because no one else would accept us or no one else was doing what appealed to us. We accept each other for better or for worse, and together we make something phenomenal.”

Aryn Henning Nichols thinks it would be amazing to start a Decorah derby league. I mean, WTFDA rhymes with UFFDA…can you think of a better sign? Now…to find the time…

Repurposeful: Recycling in Winneshiek County

 

Terry Buenzow

Terry Buenzow

 

By Aryn Henning Nichols

He’s been called the Willy Wonka of recycling. Terry Buenzow walks around the Winneshiek County Recycling Center pointing at different contraptions that squeeze, shrink, shred, and generally squish all sorts of recyclable materials. With a friendly, teaching sort of voice, he talks over the clang of cans and the whir of forklifts, explaining the path of the cardboard box or number one plastic ­– “You’re wearing number one right there. Polyester!” He names off numbers and details on each item like he’s listing off grandchildren; this guy really loves recycling.

For nearly a decade, Buenzow has been watching the paper/plastic/metal/textile/glass market to analyze what’s going to happen in the recycling world and how to most effectively and efficiently put items we no longer need or want back into use or back on our shelves. Since the Winneshiek County Recycling Center (WCRC) became a public facility on April 1, 2009, interest in the center has increased dramatically. People are stopping out to drop off items, learn a little (or a lot) or to just say hello.

“Our direct traffic out here since April 1 has tripled,” Buenzow says. “A lot of people in this county feel some ownership now. Which is good. That’s the kind of attitude you want in this business.”

Perhaps it’s this attitude that makes the area’s recycling so consistently high quality.

“People in this county are really great about recycling. Things are clean and there is very little public dumping,” Buenzow says. “As far as the recycling jobs in Iowa, I got the best one. This is it. I don’t complain.”

Other counties have a harder time, especially with appliances, and when it’s $15 a pop for disposal, this can really add up. “We are fortunate we don’t have to deal with that very much,” Buenzow says.

That being said, Buenzow has seen some interesting items come into the center over the course of his time there.

“You name it, I’ve seen it in here,” he says.

Barbie dolls?

“Tons of ‘em.” (FYI: you CAN’T recycle Barbie dolls – take them to a second hand store for reuse.)

Toilets?

“I’ve seen a toilet come in here,” Buenzow says. “But they’re hard to fit in the bins anymore ‘cause we made the openings smaller.”

The things they do accept have a varied life. Each state has its own recycling policies, Buezow says, and most centers are county-run. The different materials go to manufacturers across the US and Canada, and it is an ever changing market. The sale of recyclable plastic, for instance, is entirely tied to the natural gas market. The type of paper you’ve got in a bale can more than double its worth. Textiles can go to another country for reuse or cut up to be repurposed. It’s an amazing world of working with what you’ve got – something people seem to be relearning these days.

Luckily, the path can be pretty short for recyclables in Northeast Iowa. There are many manufacturers just a short truck route away. International Paper in Cedar Rapids. the largest cardboard recycling mill in the country, second in the world, is just 90 miles away.

“I’ll have a dedicated semi-load of cardboard in six days, same with paper,” Buenzow says. “Most likely it will go to Cedar Rapids, and it can be there in just a couple of hours.”

Check out Inspire(d)’s illustration of sample paths many of the things you put in those bright blue bins might take. Buenzow says that although people around here are educated about recycling, the center could accept even more materials. He hopes his latest education efforts – like entering the social networking world by putting WCRC on Facebook – will help people learn even more and in turn recycle even more. Check them out to learn more about recycling or how your tax dollars are being spent. Or stop out and say hi. Better yet, volunteer to help and really take ownership of this publicly funded organization.

“It’s great if you want some therapy – just come out and smash or shred stuff,” Buenzow says, (after signing a liability form, of course, he adds). “Junk is fun!”

Aryn Henning Nichols was excited to win the golden ticket and visit Terry Buenzow and the Recycling Factory.

Winneshiek County Recycling Center, 2510 172nd Avenue, Decorah, IA, 52101
563-382-6514

Find Winneshiek County Recycling on Facebook – there’s lots more information and even guides on how to prepare your recycled materials!

Below is some information Inspire(d) got on recycling in Winneshiek County while visiting Terry Buenzow.

Cardboard: Most of the WCRC cardboard heads to Cedar Rapids International Paper, the largest cardboard recycling mill in the country. “The cardboard industry thrives on recycled content. The International Paper mill is running totally recycled,” Buenzow says. Do accept: Basic brown corrugated boxes, cereal, cracker and cake boxes, 12-pack cartons and pizza boxes, shoe boxes and mailing tubes. Do not accept: Waxy containers like butter boxes and orange juice cartons. $65/ton

Paper: Paper comes in different grades – office paper, newsprint, mixed waste (the “I can do no wrong” paper) – the price range for paper starts at  $25/ton and runs up to $250/ton (that’s for sorted white, ledger). It might go to some tissue mills in Wisconsin or a newsprint mill in Ontario. “Our first choice is always to make a similar product.”
# 8 News – needs to be 80% newsprint – this is worth around $35 to $40/ton
Office paper – traditionally strong $165/ton at least – pure white $250/ton
And yes, you CAN recycle magazines! If you’ve passed Inspire(d) on and on and on and don’t want to save it for your “collection,” recycle it!
Things you might not know about paper recycling: don’t worry about staples or little plastic windows. Paper plates? Not recyclable, sorry.

Plastic –  #1 & 2 hold the best market value. The price of plastic is tied entirely to the price of natural gas. “Plastics are the most complicated and confusing of all the materials we take. We have to sort the plastics by their number at the recycling center because the different types are not compatible with each other when they are re-melted at a plastic processor.”
#1 – pop bottles, water bottles, etc.– might go to a place like Mowawk Carpets in Georgia Makes good carpet, fabrics, fleece blankets, etc. It’s a very strong plastic. “The power of number 1 plastic is unbelievable.” Over the past six months #1 has been worth from $120 – $175/ton.
#2 – milk jugs – can get 15,000 pounds in one bale. It squishes better. It can be made into pails, toys, car parts, or construction materials. The rest of the numbers (3-7) go into waste reduction bales along with enough 1 and 2 to make them at attractive on the market. The bales are sold to a variety of plastic processors.

Aluminum/Tin/Metal – “Metal items are some of the easiest products to recycle. In fact, almost all of them have some recycled content. The basic tin can may end up being part of a new car or made into a can again. Aluminum beverage cans usually become new beverage cans or foil. Aluminum frying pans and cookie sheets can become about any other aluminum product there is.” Some goes to processor in Eau Clair, WI, to make steel siding – you can buy that siding at Menard’s – and a lot of other metals go to Le Roy Iron.
Do accept: Food cans (the basic “tin” can), beer cans and pop cans, aluminum foil (they have an aluminum foil cubing machine), pie plates and roaster pans, metal cookware, such as frying pans, cookie sheets, sauce pans, etc., decorative canisters and tins, electric motors, electrical cords and wall chargers. Metal prices can range from $30/ton to quite a bit more for

Textiles and shoes: Take your used clothing and shoes to the Depot Outlet in Decorah (or another second hand store in your town). WCRC works closely with the Depot. What they can’t sell goes to WCRC for baling or sorting and selling. Textile bales may go some place like Toronto for resale “What’s not fashionable here might be there.”

Glass: “It’s really hard to work with,” Buenzow says. “That’s why there isn’t a market for it.” It’s not a favorite topic at recycling centers. That being said, you may take glass directly to WCRC. It will be crushed and used for landfill drainage at the Winneshiek County Sanitary Landfill. Best option? Be conscious of glass packaging you do buy. Choose plastic if possible.