So, what you might see as a discarded trunk once used to put clothes in and take on a trip, screams to me, “how do I become meaningful again” It’s all about transformation. And about taking chances and about trusting yourself and following inspiration and creating meaning.
How One Sonoma County Artist Found Inspiration and Community During Covid
For several months the shelter in place order, instituted to tamp the spread of Covid 19, stopped the country and the world in its tracks, changing the way we live, likely forever. But here in Sonoma county, artists like Brenda Phillips have found a way through the isolation, fashioning beauty and a good dash of whimsy with her upcycled, living art creations.
The genius behind Phillips charming, playful creations is the marriage of glassware, ceramics, metal and natural additions like wood or rock with a wide variety of succulents and other plants. The concept isn’t new—succulents have become Pinterest darlings in the last few years— and why not? They’re hearty, easy to grow, require less water than many other plants and are easy to propagate. But Phillips’ upcycling of discarded items and using several different pieces to invoke an entirely new interpretation of both the plants and their planters is wholly unique.
“I’m not the typical “put a succulent in a watering can,” kind of person, she admits. “I wanted my creations to be more unique and meaningful. And I like the idea of using repurposed items. I started putting these together and couldn’t stop. I fell in love with the process and my clients and customers seem to love the results.”
From the Ashes of Quarantine
Phillips, who is no stranger to the art world, worked for several years after graduating from USF with a degree in Fine Art restoring museum-quality ceramics and glass. As a young mother she turned to graphic design to pay the bills, eventually opening Beehive Design Studio, a graphic and web development firm that has turned out dozens of designs for large and small businesses in the San Francisco, Marin, the North Bay and beyond. An avid hiker and dancer in her spare time, all that work and activity ceased in the first months of the pandemic. Instead of fretting over her slumping business, Phillips found inspiration and in helping plants grow and finding homes for them that highlighted their beauty. A few months and a whole lot of collecting later, ReBirth Living Sculpture was born.
During the shelter in place, so many of us with little else to do turned to cleaning out our yards, basements and garages. Phillips went about the county, collecting all sorts of treasures that became the materials for her work. With tight finances and aware of the dangers of contact, she did scores of porch pickups, brought her pieces home, cleaned them and dried them in the sun for a few days to ensure disinfectant. The distanced contact was always pleasant for both parties and the artist, gratified at the generosity, was able to build a small following from the meetings.
“I found that many people were genuinely interested in what I was doing and wanted to see what I made with their frame or vase. I experienced so much positive energy from people who thought what I was doing was really cool and wanted to be a part of it. They were excited that the once loved pieces they were letting go of would be a part of something new and continue to bring joy. Shelter-in-place gave them time to interact with me and create a whole community of support.”
Many of the pieces are multi use and designed to complement the way people live now — often in smaller spaces with home and office combined. “My goal is to match the design to the style and purpose of each client. I’m trying to utilize space so many of my pieces are vertical which creates a ton of impact and personality and takes up very little floor space.” Her outdoor pieces are larger, impressive in their stature and make a big statement in a garden setting.
Phillips considers herself a “remaker” and more than anything, her pieces represent the vision of a curator who seeks to combine elements of design in a new way. Making something completely new and never thought of from things that already existed and adorning them with dynamic, living elements, Phillips plays with time, and the idea that we should look at change with possibility instead of fear in our hearts. She sees the piece the day it’s made and envisions the changes time, sun and a little water will bring.
“Once shelter-in-place happened, life slowed down – no dancing, no hiking and every bit of my energy went into my vision for not just making the pieces and collecting the elements and creating the working studio but also for creating a garden space where I can present my work.”
In 2021, Phillips hopes to open her home studio and garden to anyone interested in interacting with her work as well as exploring how her living art form can be incorporated into their lives. Her home and garden in Rohnert Park will soon be open for locals and tourists to explore. Her work is also currently exhibited at The Historic Town of Bodega Art Gallery. There will be an upcoming gallery opening of her work along with wine tasting, a chance to meet Brenda, and live demonstrations.