Karen Yaremkewich delights both art lovers and environmentalists with her work. A Squamish-born artist, she uses every day waste and magically transmutes them into art. She explained the artistic process in an interview with the Reporter.
Q. Where were you born and raised ?
A, I was born and raised in Squamish. My parents immigrated here in the 60s. My father, John Knudsen is retired now, and my mother, Late Hedi Knudsen, was a well-known weaver and a local textile artist.
Q, So, did you inherit artistic sensibilities from your parents, especially the ideas about recycling and upcycling?
A, Yes, recycling and reusing things is the way I and even my parents were raised. My grandmoms were seamstress, and when they had their kids in the 1930s, there wasn’t a lot of money to go around. So, you had to fix things and recycle them and upcycle them.
And that was how I was raised. My mother’s dress became my dress, and the bits and pieces of clothes went to my doll.
My father worked with wood to make our beds and book shelves.
My mother was a weaver, and she spun her yarn, and wove with a hand spun yarn. I still have the spinning wheel from my grandma.
Q, When did you think of upcycling as an art and a business?
I guess only three years ago, I was laid off from job and I was and have been a single mom for six year. So, I dusted off my sewing machine and started hemming pants, and doing alterations. I also started making costumes, and bigger pieces were the art work jackets, the mad hatter jackets, etc.
I didn’t have a lot of money and I had to be creative. It’s not a conscious thing for me, it just normal.
Q. Tell me about Endure Upcycled designs?
Well, it started with a costume party called the Tim Burton Ball, and I didn’t have money to buy something elaborate. So, I bought a linen jacket and a denim skirt, and some piece of upholstery material, and buttons, and started bringing them together.
I got some great feedback, and then Cara Barth from Galileo came to me with burlap sacks and I started making these banners and wedding decors with them.
They were quite popular, and then I started going to farmer’s market and it led to Endure Upcycled design. That was in 2010.
How do you get material for Endure?
This is all locally source material, waste products, the burlaps sacks from the Galileo coffee company, vintage clothing and wedding dresses. My friends donate things and give me ideas, one of my friends recently bought tea cups and I made chandelier out of that with her suggestions.
What kind of art have you made from waste?
I have made these mirrors from broken tea cups and china, tile, etc. The burlap banners are really popular, then you have mad hatter jackets, and tea cups chandeliers.
For example, I hem people’s pants, and if I have some cut from the pant, I will use it to make a little purse, a wristlet.
I also make aprons out of recycled curtains, men’s neck ties for straps, etc.
I have a wedding show I’m going in April, and I’d be brining wedding dresses and make a garter out of that.
How are you operating it as a business?
I launched my online store in Oct. 2011, and it’s getting quite popular. By the end of august, I will ship it to the States, Australia and Squamish Farmer’s market is another option.
Then, we have retail shops that carry my art, Bird on a Wire, in Vancouver, White Dog Gallery in Function Junction, and then in Squamish, I have the mosaic mirrors at Stock Home gallery.
How do you think you are affecting change?
I haven’t weighed anything, but there is lot less waste going in the landfill. Now, I will sometimes go back home and find people have left stuff on my porch they think I can use.
How can we all do it ?
My plans is to inspire people to think twice, if they have something, there is a patch, fill it with something nice, and keep using it, same with furniture, learn how to sew, talk to your grand ma.