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At 'Transformed Treasures,' artists turn old junk into tools, toys and art

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 5, 2016

Some lucky kid is going to get a play kitchen to die for, a big capsule for imagination on wheels made entirely from repurposed throw-aways.

A mixing bowl sunk in the counter serves as a sink. It has grown-up-size faucet handles, a painted-on stovetop, pretend oven and lots of shelves. A window above the sink is framed by curtains.

On the other side of the window is the really interesting part, a flip-up counter and stools with a chalkboard for posting the daily menu specials. It's not just a kitchen, it's a one-of-a-kind play diner where small people can actually prepare, serve and eat snacks.

"Kid's Kitchen and Diner" by Lynelle Kukowski and Ruthann Austin is one of scores of pieces that will be auctioned off at the Salvation Army's annual "Transformed Treasures" fundraiser on Saturday. The auction items are created from discarded items found at Salvation Army Thrift Stores and turned into something worth keeping through the inspiration and elbow grease of local artists.

Work on this year's treasures began in January, when selected artists browsed through the thrift stores and picked things that stimulated their creativity. They took the secondhand leftovers home and the process of metamorphosis began. Each artist received $50 for whatever they might need to complete their projects, which were shown in a preview in April.

Much of the finished work has some practical use, such as beautiful felted mittens by Sherri Stein, quilts, clocks, coat racks, furniture, lamps and shelving. (In fact, there's a whole challenge category for shelves; one looks like R2D2.) But as utilitarian as such things are, they have an artistic character and vitality.

Boxes by well-known artists Ann Gray and Margi Hugi-Lewis remain boxes, but they have also become works of art.

Gray found her bright pink box at the thrift store on Northern Lights Boulevard. "It was quite sturdy and smooth," she said, a perfect candidate for refurbishment. "I decided to paint small flowers on the box because it was not a big object. I chose the Alaskan Wild Rose and added the bee and the butterfly for fun." She used a small sample-size can of wall paint for the base, executed the bugs and roses with acrylic paints she had on hand, then varnished the piece to give it a quasi-lacquered look.

A plain little peasant-style side chair caught Lorri Davis' interest. "A craftsman spent a lot of time lovingly making this chair, and I knew, right away, it should not become a castaway," she said. She cleaned it up, tightened the joins, painted a bird on the back and called it "Simple Treasure."

Many pieces in the auction are purely decorative: paintings, sculptures, chimes, jewelry made from silverware. Forks, knives, spoons and kitchen gadgets were abundantly repurposed by several contributors. Jerelyn Miyashiro's fanciful portrait of an owl named "Gizmo Swoops" contains a whole drawer full of culinary accessories.

"I saw bird feet in a candle holder, a body in the wine bottle cage and his face in the base of a chafing dish," she said. "The corkscrew 'wings' are attached so that they would still flap. His face can be turned and tilted at different quizzical angles. His tea ball heart hangs from his head and will spin in his chest when the piece is rotated. I wanted movement in the piece to invite 'hands-on' play to animate him."

It was "a bit of a challenge to get the tea ball heart set with the exact center hole on the pin tip," she said, but added, "He was so fun to create."

And a lot of the items qualify as both functional and high art at the same time. Kay Marshall's "Dream of White Horses" is a coat that one could readily wear around town, assuming it fits you. But it's been decorated by several mysterious equine figures, each hand-painted in Marshall's evocative style. The buyer might be tempted to frame it.

Then there are the toys, like the "Kid's Kitchen." Some are downright luxurious. There's a teddy bear made from what seems to have been an old coyote fur vest, and fashion dolls that have been transformed into superheroes.

Among the show-stoppers is "Charity," described by recycler Amy Murrell-Haunolt of Kenai as an "Alaskan American Girl Doll."

In fact, Charity began life as one of the first models in the original American Girl series. When found in the thrift store, "she looked a bit too well-loved to be very salable," Murrell-Haunolt said. Her face was worn. Her hair had apparently been cropped and what was left was a tousled mess.

"A trip to our favorite hairdresser salvaged her ragged hair job," Murrell-Haunolt said. The new 'do was a nice, neck-length pageboy style. The head was repaired with fresh paint on the lips and a blush on the cheeks, reflecting how Alaska kids look when they come in from playing outside.

Murrell-Haunolt, who happens to be a doll expert, made contemporary clothing for the doll, starting with a T-shirt and jeans. Then she got adventurous and outfitted Charity with a wardrobe of Alaska outerwear -- beaded moccasins, mukluks, a kuspuk, a parka made from fake fur and a pretty good replica of a Tlingit button blanket.

She wasn't trying to suggest any particular ethnic group, she said, but to let the doll reflect a range of Alaska possibilities. Different outfits, after all, are a hallmark of the American Girl franchise.

In a final touch, Charity has a husky puppy to play with; a stuffed toy, that is. No feeding necessary. In other words, all the accessories she needs to become the next character in the American Girl series. "Unofficial, of course!" Murrell-Haunolt said.

And, like everything in "Transformed Treasures," one of a kind.

TRANSFORMED TREASURES LUNCHEON will take place starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 7, in the Egan Center. Maria Downey will be the auctioneer. Tickets are available at or by calling 907-276-2515.

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