Turning trash into recycled beauty

Artist Julie Schenkelberg lectures at Akron Art Museum, exhibition planned for Emily Davis Gallery in Folk Hall.


Courtesy of Julie Schenkelberg

The artist’s work features full-room installation pieces created from recycled and reclaimed materials.

By Eric Trimble, Writer

“My pieces are completely organized chaos,” said sculptor Julie Schenkelberg while referring to her artwork.

Schenkelberg visited the Akron Art Museum on Jan. 31 to showcase her art and to talk about her artistic process. Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Schenkelberg received a degree in art history from The College of Wooster.

Schenkelberg spent years in theater working on set production in various places, including for the Cleveland Playhouse. This helped lead to her current work in sculpting and her use of multiple and complex materials in her artwork.

She was first asked to do her own solo show, called “Bad Blood,” while in graduate school. This show took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she was a resident artist for a curatorial group called SiTE:LAB.

Schenkelberg has been sculpting for 10 years. The maturation of her artwork is on obvious display — from changing colors to the use of different materials.

As she explained, her art has moved from a dark period to a light blue period. Over time she has also learned to move her installations from place to place, which can be incredibly difficult due to the size of them.

“My pieces are getting larger. They are getting more compact, more mobile,” Schenkelberg said .

Schenkelberg uses old domestic items, reclaimed metal and wood, items from surrounding communities and almost anything to put into her artwork.

Her installations are massive in size, sometimes consuming an entire level of a building, which are inspired by her childhood and collective experiences. She said she draws inspiration from Cleveland’s beauty of crumbling architecture, blue skies, steel rust and its own natural beauty.

“When I was a child my father took us — in the early 80s — walking around steel mills and down in the flats. So this explorative nature that I was exposed to as a child and in my early 20s — I just saw this whole world, a palette that I wanted to draw from,” said Schenkelberg.

Stacked plates, coffee cups and folded material is a reoccurring theme throughout her sculptures. The use of these items originate from her childhood.

She remembers seeing cupboards stacked full with plates in her grandmother’s home. “The plates point to the feminist qualities of my work,” Schenkelberg said.

She sketches and plans every intricate detail of her installations before construction. Everything she puts into her installations has meaning — from the plates and cups to the large debris piles.

The objects Schenkelberg chooses for her installations blend together beautifully, making the viewer forget the intended purpose of the original material. She turns what some consider junk into a beautiful piece of artwork.

“The size and detail in her work is amazing,” said 21-year-old Akron resident Elizabeth Taylor. “The way she plans out every little detail beforehand is very impressive. This was my first art lecture, and because of Julie, I am sure it will not be my last.”

Schenkelberg’s work has been on exhibit in multiple states, including the Asya Ginsberg Gallery in Manhattan, New York and at the Art Basel in Miami Beach, Florida. She also has a current installation, “The Color of Temperance: Embodied Energy,” on display at The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Schenkelberg is currently participating in the Myers Residency Program at The University of Akron, where she works with students to create an installation in the Emily Davis Gallery.

A public reception and gallery talk by Schenkelberg will take place on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Emily Davis Gallery, Myers School of Art on 150 E. Exchange St. in Akron.

Julie Schenkelberg’s work can be seen on her website at julieschenkelberg.com.