• 2021-09-03

Fredericton artist recycles waste into works of art

Recycling is at the heart of what we do here at Recycle NB, and we like to think that for the most part, it’s as easy as ABC. It just so happens that Fredericton artist Sheila McPhee thinks so too, which is why for September, in keeping with the “back-to-school” theme, we wanted to profile her work. This creative, energetic dreamer is on a mission to teach school children about the ABCs of recycling.

“It’s a passion, a purpose,” she said. “Anyone can do their part. If you can make recycling fun, that’s the best way.”

Sheila has been painting for nearly 20 years. She adores colour, and her pieces are largely inspired by nature, depicting flowers, bumblebees, and animals. Recently, about 30 pieces of her work were showcased at an exhibit at The Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews by-the-Sea. Sheila spent a weekend there during the exhibit, during which time she set up canvases on the historic hotel’s veranda and painted on site.

“Hotel guests really seemed to enjoy watching me paint,” she said. “I was inspired by my waking up each morning with joy, gratitude and creativity in my heart, especially when I’m by the ocean.”

Sheila said the idea for using recycled waste in her art came about quite by accident. One day, her patio table blew over, shattering the glass. As she was picking up the pieces, she couldn’t bring herself to throw them out. She thought the glass was so pretty, and she started to envision it as part of a painting. By the time she was done, she had used not only the glass, but stir sticks and pieces of egg cartons. She absolutely loved the finished product – yellow and brown tiger lilies on a pale green background.

Soon, Sheila was making a name for herself and her eco-art. At some point, she realized that not only did it appeal to adults, but younger audiences as well. That’s when she got the idea for Eco ABC 123, an eco-alphabet featuring 26 small canvases, each highlighting a different animal character. The letter E, for example, is for Rumbles the Elephant, made with hearing aid batteries for toes and hairpins for a trunk. The letter I is for Iris the Fish (and H2O the Seahorse), which incorporates orange netting from a bag of fruit for a fish tail and bright blue buttons as scales.

“As soon as kids saw eco-art, they went nuts and they wanted to make their own projects.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheila wanted to do something for elementary school-aged children. She had the idea to produce art kits that students could enjoy at home. Each contains two canvases depicting pre-sketched art by Sheila herself, as well as a reference image, a set of highlighter markers, stickers, magnet pieces, a bookmark and more.

“It was super-important to me to bring eco-art into the classrooms and influence the little ones because they are our future.”

Sheila is originally from Chipman but moved to Fredericton several years ago. She works full-time as a hairdresser at a senior’s home. Sheila’s art has been on exhibit at Government House, as well as at the Fredericton Cultural Centre.

For more information about Sheila’s works, you can check out her website at www.sheilamcphee.ca. Happy recycling everyone, and happy back-to-school!

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