Alisha Niswander, co-owner of Starving Artist Exchange in Kamas, said her family never threw anything away.

"Nothing was considered broken in our house," Niswander said to The Park Record. "Things were always transformed into something else or repurposed, you know, upcycled. I've always done a lot of upcycling in the stuff that I create and I think it stems from my upbringing."

"Upcycled" is the name of Niswander's collection of works she made from various materials that will be on display and for sale during the Starving Artist Exchange's First Friday Opening reception that will be held Friday, Oct. 5.

Niswander used bicycle inner tubes, waterproof rice bags, old neckties, scraps of sample leather and computer keyboards to make wallets and clutches, yoga bags, blankets, post cards and gift cards and various wall hangings for the exhibit.

"I thought that was lame that my parents would repurpose items when I was younger, but now realize my parents were ahead of the times," Niswander said with a smile. "Because as an adult, I've always had fun to see what I could make out of something that I've had laying around. I would see how I could change its form and change its function. For this show, I used some computer keyboards and broke things up and I took a part a little kid's book that I bought at the used book sale at the library and made a coat rack. I originally wanted to make some shelves out of books, but I couldn't get it together, so I dismantled it and make the rack.

"The blankets are made from my grandpa's old neckties," she said.


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As an artist, when Niswander looks at some of the items in their original forms, she finds them ugly.

"But when I cut them up and add pieces of other things here and there, they really take on funky new shapes and designs," she said. "I woke up super early on Monday and wondered what I could make with rice bags and bike inner tubes."

Niswander found the inner tubes at a recycling center and a woman who worked as a lunch lady at school in Kamas gave her a bunch of waterproof rice bags.

"The rice bags are woven and are very durable, waterproof and lightweight and originally, I cut them up and made a couple of accessories pieces and clutches, but then I thought I could use the whole bag to make a sack to hold yoga mats," Niswander said. "So that's what I did and I used the tubes for shoulder straps."

Although Niswander has a lot of material at home, she likes those trips to recycling centers.

"I love rummaging through piles to see what they have and let the wheels spin around in my brain to see what I can come up with," she said. "The only things I do which are not upcycled are the crocheted hats and cowls."

Other Niswander-made items include chalkboards made from wood, leather and buttons.

"I get all the wood from the recycling center and then paint them with chalkboard paint," she said. "Did you know the paint comes in all types of colors now? I have a ton of different types of leather for the tree that is on the chalkboards and thousands of vintage buttons that become the tree's foliage."

Once Niswander's creative juices begin to flow, she has a hard time stopping.

"I made a tutu for a small child out of scraps of material and sewed paper onto leather to make post cards," she said. "Then I made a bunch of magnets and coasters."

The artist is especially happy with some of the wall hangings, such as the keyholders, that will be on display.

"The idea came one morning," she said. "I thought about using the keys of a computer keyboard for a piece and came up with the idea of using the letters to spell the world 'keys' to make a keyholder and there would be this dual meaning of the word keys working together. I thought it was funny, but that's just how my brain works."

All of the 100-plus items Niswander made are one of a kind.

"I don't know how to use patterns and just free flow it," she said. "I've been waking up at four or five in the morning with all these ideas and that coupled with the fact that I love coffee just gets me out of bed and creating."

The Starving Artist Exchange, 293 Main St. in Kamas, will host a First Friday Artist Opening featuring Alisha Niswander on Friday, Oct. 5, from 7:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. The event will feature snacks, drinks and live acoustic music. Admission is free.