Artist Calder Kamin Makes Sculptures From Summit County Recycled Trash

Breckenridge Creative Arts guest artist Calder Kamin of Austin, Texas poses for a portrait in his studio at the Robert Whyte House in Breckenridge on Monday, July 25, 2022. Kamin is a repurposed sculpture and incorporates recycled objects during the creation of his works of art. Kamin is passionate about showing how there is still magic in the world, but also a lot of trash.
Jason Connolly/For the Daily News Summit

Calder Kamin wants people to take better care of the planet. Breckenridge Creative Arts’ newest artist-in-residence works with recycled plastics and other materials to turn trash into art to raise awareness of the amount of trash people produce.

Until August 22, Kamin will lead workshops and host open studios. Kamin is also currently working on his first public art installation for the Breckenridge International Arts Festival, which will be on view on Moonstone Trail from August 12-21. The City of Breckenridge’s sustainability goal of 40% landfill diversion by 2032 will be aided by the city’s collaboration with Kamin and program implementation with Precious Plastic.

Kamin grew up in Austin, Texas and was immediately influenced by the urban and wildlife culture around her. She became passionate about nature in part because of her closeness to and her hometown’s pride in animals like the Barton Springs salamander and the Congress Avenue bridge bats.

“I was a little ‘Captain Planet’ eco-warrior,” Kamin said, adding that nothing has changed from her childhood in the 90s until now. “I’ve been making fantastic, colorful creatures since I was a little girl.”

She’s done comics and drawn beasts, but it’s the rainbow-colored polymer clay that has caught her the most. Kamin carved many bats and enjoyed working with his hands to make his own toys. These toys echo the work of its namesake, Alexander Calder, famous for his mobiles.

“In many ways, we are alike,” Kamin said. “…It defined me pretty early on.”

When Austin residents were celebrating the life of Elvis Presley, the child ended up with a waiting list for busts of Presley eating donuts sold at a popular art gallery.

“At 10, I was getting checks and putting them in an account that I was going to save for college,” Kamin said.

Kamin studied ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, and her early familiarity with the business side of the art industry led her to become a career services officer at the University of Texas, helping d ‘other artists learn business skills so they can turn their passion into a career.

One of the greatest skills Kamin has learned first hand is that art is not created in a vacuum. Her career changed drastically after graduation because of a new hobby: birdwatching.

Kamin became interested in crowdsourced birdwatching and bird feeding in her Kansas City backyard, watching species she hadn’t seen in Texas. She became engrossed in their calls and behaviors, especially how some took neighborhood trash and built nests. She saw waste as a human and man-made problem that does not exist in nature and was then inspired to take post-consumer waste and make art out of it.

“I’ve always made animals, and clay suddenly felt very arbitrary, very heavy, very fragile, silly, and expensive,” Kamin said. “We all need to think more like birds.”

Valerian Vixen, created by guest artist Calder Kamin, is seen inside his studio at the Robert Whyte House in Breckenridge on Monday July 25, 2022. Valerian Vixen is made from shards of broken sleds and other plastics, and Kamin mainly focuses on creating life- large animals that eat garbage.
Jason Connolly/For the Daily News Summit

A member of the board of directors of Austin Creative Reuse center, Kamin uses all kinds of materials for his works like beer cans, packaging accessories, wool scraps and everything that people have a hard time getting rid of. She also crochets plastic bags and uses other textile by-products. Sometimes she supplies herself – although she has learned not to randomly pick up litter – while other times people mail in items they no longer need.

Kamin wishes to share his work and his ecological message with people of all ages. She has worked with children’s museums and is inspired by people like Temple Grandin to make her art as accessible as possible. One of his next projects includes a collaboration on a cryptozoological petting zoo of creatures from folklore. Kamin has also done stop motion animation, hoping to make PSAs about recycling between children’s programs.

A career highlight is working with Disney, who she says called her on a random day to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “The Little Mermaid.” She sculpted a portrait of Ariel from Mardi Gras beads and appeared in two Disney Channel promos. Kamin hopes she was able to inspire the next generation to turn trash into art.

“Waste being an issue, it was in the air when I was a kid,” Kamin said. “I’m 37, where did he go? … My message is really sweet, not asking for perfection but simply asking for consideration.

Coincidentally, Mardi Gras beads are also featured on a unicorn that Kamin sculpts for the Breckenridge International Arts Festival. The discarded beads were found in the forest on Moonstone Trail which will be the home of his public art.

Called ‘Once Upon a Time in the Future’, the beads will form part of the exterior of the piece while the interior is papier-mâché made up of copies of the Summit Daily News as well as take-out boxes, bottles and cans Pringles. The hooves are made from coffee cans while the wings are cut from plastic sleds and saucers with a jigsaw and pliers.

At first imagining a sled made of wood and steel, Kamin dismissed the article until she saw that the sleds were different from what the Texan had imagined. Kamin also transforms the sled material into fur for a distinct fox piece she is creating. Other tools used by Kamin include a hot glue gun, crochet needle, and scissors.

Kamin aims to have a zero waste studio. When she ran out of glue, she simply put the empty bottle on the frame of the unicorn. She also wants to recycle her marker caps, hard plastic beer can holders and other waste by melting the plastic into a filament that she can use with a 3D printer to make frames for new animals.

Surrounding the unicorn is a fairy circle of papier-mâché mushrooms that were made by the workshop participants.

Other free community events will take place on Saturday July 30 and August 6. On August 13 and 20, Kamin’s workshops will switch to spider pins for the installation of the Ben Roth artists’ festival.

“It’s not an isolated art practice,” Kamin said. “I have a whole community that helps me pick up the trash. … We left a huge mess for the next generation.