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Jewelry made from “upcycled” cans

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In this photo taken Aug. 5, 2011, artist Amy Chrisman of Danville Ill. is seen at  a booth at the Danville Farmers' Market in Danville with some the jewelry she makes from "upcycled" aluminum beverage cans.   "As far as I know there"™s no one else around

In this photo taken Aug. 5, 2011, artist Amy Chrisman of Danville Ill. is seen at a booth at the Danville Farmers’ Market in Danville with some the jewelry she makes from “upcycled” aluminum beverage cans. “As far as I know there"™s no one else around here making this type of jewelry,” Chrisman says.

Commercial-News, Kelbi Ervin, Associated Press

DANVILLE, Ill. — Local artist Amy Chrisman, well-known for her water color paintings of Danville landmarks, has added a jewelry line that is both affordable and environmentally friendly.

She "upcycles" used aluminum beverage cans to create brightly colored lightweight jewelry — and sales have been brisk since she introduced her unique pieces at Arts in the Park in June. Currently, she sells her jewelry line at the Saturday Farmers' Market in the Danville Public Library lot. Prices range from $6 to $25.

"I'm kept very busy just trying to fulfill all my orders," Chrisman said. "A customer will buy a necklace one week and ask that I make some matching earrings by the following Saturday, so I try to accommodate them.

"As far as I know there's no one else around here making this type of jewelry," she added. "My sales at the Farmers' Market have exceeded my expectations, and I gain new customers and friends each week."

As an artist who is known for the vibrant colors in her paintings, Chrisman has been impressed by the intensity of colors and graphics used on beverage cans in recent years. This spring, Sleepy Creek Vineyards challenged area artists to create art incorporating metal containers for its annual "Sow's Ear Challenge" art show.

"I decided to see what I could make using aluminum cans," Chrisman said. So she submitted a bouquet of irises made from cut-up Bud Lite and grape soda cans.

Not confident that she could move many bouquets of aluminum flowers, Chrisman came up with a more marketable product. "I know how much my friends and I love jewelry," she said, "so I started experimenting with different tools and soda can varieties to see what I could make."

Her ideas and designs created over a period of five months culminated in the debut of her upcycled jewelry at Arts in the Park, which drew enthusiastic response from many visitors.

Chrisman said the fact that aluminum cans are found everywhere and are inexpensive to obtain makes them an affordable medium to work with. Her greatest expense has been the variety of tools she's purchased to cut, shape and emboss the metal, as well as the jewelry "findings" (clasps, earring wires, chains, etc.) and embellishments that visually enhance the design.

Chrisman relies on friends to bring her the rinsed and undented cans. She also purchases beverages in cans with colors and graphics that she particularly likes.

"Most of my friends drink colas and diet drinks, but these cans tend to be less colorful than the fruit-flavored sodas such as grape and orange, and the iced tea drinks with vibrant pinks and greens," Chrisman said. "My workshop has a bookcase stacked with hundreds of cans by color — all ready to be cut up," she added. "It's become the equivalent to my tubes of paint, with several shades of each hue."

Recently, Chrisman spent six hours outside in the hot sun washing 206 cans with antibacterial detergent. She uses special gloves to protect her fingers while cutting the desired shapes from the cans, and then each piece is burnished and filed to remove the sharp edges.

"I appreciate quality in a product," Chrisman said, "and I've worked hard on developing ways to create a fairly sturdy product from a thin piece of sheet metal." Some of the ways she makes her pendants stronger involve adding decorative elements and embossing, which crimps the metal and strengthens it.

"I am striving to create a striking piece of jewelry that people will want to wear and talk about," she added. "And if it inspires others to recycle more, then I'm really happy."

Chrisman saves all the scraps of aluminum and pop tabs that are left from her cut-up cans, which she plans to "upcycle" in the future.

Currently, the artist makes necklaces, earrings, pins and bracelets with mostly butterfly and flower designs. And she has many more items in the planning stages, including hair accessories, gift boxes and a large variety of flower bouquets.

Many people are amazed that Chrisman didn't paint her jewelry and that the pieces really come from aluminum cans. Customers find her jewelry to be unique and affordable.

Victoria Baker of Oakwood has already bought two complete sets of jewelry from Chrisman. "All her pieces are so creative and beautiful," she said. "I just love them."

Shirley Gibson of Danville ordered clip earrings to match the bright and colorful dahlia necklace that she bought the week before. "I think this piece is just gorgeous," Gibson said. "When I first saw her jewelry I fell in love with it."

Chrisman was formerly a massage therapist, but had to give up her profession when she developed fibromyalgia. And that's when she took up art seriously, which has become her passion.

In 1992, she and her husband, Stephen, moved from Vermont to the family farm in Danville, which they renovated. They have a teenage son, Aidan, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2.

She has enjoyed art since childhood, but was never able to receive formal training. Instead, she worked for many years selling outdoor sports equipment in retail stores, and then eventually became a buyer.

During her years in Vermont, Chrisman took a watercolor class with Lawrence Goldsmith, author of "Watercolor Bold and Free." He became her friend and mentor and encouraged her to continue painting.

Besides painting realistic portraits and scenes, Chrisman also creates loose, abstract watercolors and mixed-media sculptures. She is an award-winning artist whose work can be found in private collections throughout the country. She also has a strong interest in serving her community through her artwork, and she frequently makes her pieces available to organizations for fundraising purposes.

Information from: Commercial-News, http://www.dancomnews.com