Collecting Cool Stuff for Creative Reuse
The word, “asylum,” brings to mind the setting for the Jack Nicholson film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Crazy things happened there, for sure.
But another definition is “a sanctuary or place of safekeeping.” And, that’s how Ramona Brady and Jennifer McCormick view their shop, the Texas Art Asylum, located at 1230 Houston Avenue, on the near-downtown edge of The Heights.
Their shop provides a sanctuary for the castoffs that some folks may see as trash until an innovative thinker comes along and rescues it for a “creative re-use.
"Local artists shop here for great finds, or Creative Resources for Artistic Purposes, while others with limited vision see only the acronym. Many come to the shop to dump — correction, “donate” — things they just can’t bear to throw away or those odd items that just won’t sell at a garage sale.
The Texas Art Asylum the kind of place you would seek out if you were embellishing a vehicle for the Art Car Parade or if you were building a three-dimensional collage called “assemblage.” There, you will find hundreds of wine corks, old 33 rpm record albums, doll heads and other body parts, gently used art supplies, picture frames, fabric and lace, buttons, cigar boxes, architectural surface samples, ceramic items, plastic toys from children;s fast food meals, books, magazines, ephemera and oddities.
Some of the “oddities” people have donated have been a little bit scary and a little bit gross, the two business partners agree. But many of the goodies are too wonderful not to share.
Brady and McCormick cull many items for a separate location that caters only to teachers and non-profit organizations. The Center for Recycled Art is the non-profit side of the business that thrives in one room of the former Dow Elementary School at 1900 Kane Street, now leased to an organization called Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts (MECA).
Reselling junk as art supplies is a business concept that first emerged in other big cities with thriving art communities like San Francisco and New York and along the Eastern seaboard where landfill space is at a premium. But the Texas Art Asylum is a first for this area. Both Brady and McCormick were creative spirits who met as co-workers at a local electronic security company. Like Beatles Paul McCartney and John Lennon, theirs was an instant, collaborative friendship.
“I’m the cute one, and she’s the good talker,” said Brady, who likes to make art with rusty things, while McCormick is drawn to fiber arts.
“There has to be a place to get genuine old stuff to reuse,” Brady said she remembers thinking.
Finding no such place in Houston and fed up with working for someone else, she and McCormick quit their jobs and started their business in 2010. “Our experience was not on the cash register side of the business, but more on the shopping side,” Brady admits.
Husbands, friends and other family members just didn’t understand, and neither did lenders.
“If this idea could work in Houston, there would already be one,” male bankers told them when they applied for SBA loans.
So, they decided to pass up outside funding and launch their dream on a smaller scale. Acquiring a larger space for short-term studio rentals and a gallery to display their customers’ art is on the “someday” list for these two ambitious entrepreneurs.
For now, the 501(c)(3) status enables them to apply for grants, and hosting art classes and birthday parties helps the revenue stream. Brady still does some consulting on the side, while McCormick is the only one on the shop’s payroll.
“The store pays for itself, and it’s paying for one of us — at subsistence level,” Brady said.
There are other rewards, they have discovered, but not as much of the free time they thought they’d have to make their own art. Instead, they spend a lot of time cleaning, sorting and stocking merchandise, but they take time to marvel at what they call “magic meetings in the cycle of life.” In addition to five rooms full of fun stuff, they’ve collected many serendipitous stories about people they’ve met and wonderful connections between artists and materials. Just knowing they’re helping to creatively recycle things that would otherwise be thrown away is its own reward, they said.
Deborah Quinn Hensel is a free-lance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.
Speak Up and Speak Out after Assault
At least 70 percent of these rapes go unreported. With odds like these, most rapists will not be stopped from continuing to terrorize victims. The only way to prevent rape is by getting rapists off the streets and behind bars, which is why I decided to speak up and report my assault that night.
Statistics show that one in four women are victims of sexual assault and no matter how far technology advances, none of the DNA or fingerprint sciences do any good if these crimes are not reported. That first step, the most important link in the chain, is the responsibility of the survivor. By not notifying the authorities we are in effect giving the rapist a free pass to target his next victim.
It seems impossible, but you can move forward after rape. Believing in your strength of character, trusting your talents and relying on family and friends for support can help survivors begin to rebuild their lives. I know now that I should have allowed others to help me more. They wanted to show their support but I thought that once I appeared to be “okay” and my life appeared to be back to “normal,” the my family and friends would stop treating me with kid gloves.
I didn't handle the trauma of being raped very well. I went through a period of darkness following that night. I felt different, my whole world felt different. Everything was off balance, and my life seemed strange and uncomfortably new. I longed for the days when I could wake up and get dressed without weighing the consequences of wearing one outfit over another. I wanted to be able to walk in front of a window without being afraid of seeing a face looking back at me. I wanted to know I could be alone, inside or outside my home and feel safe again.
I began to drink heavily and isolated myself from the very people who could offer me comfort and aid in my healing. It was some kind words from a friend who helped me to realize my self-destructive behavior was empowering my rapist and destroying the very thing that made me, me. I entered rehab for alcohol abuse and once I was released, I rebuilt my life relying on my art to act as a sort of therapy and reconnected with many of my old friends, finding we could pick up where we had left off.
Although during this time my attacker still walked free and continued with his life of abuse, rape and crime, I was no longer paralyzed with fear knowing he was “out there.” I was able to move on. For 20 years he believed he had committed the perfect crime. He was wrong. It took the dedication of Chief Investigator David Cordle with help from his partner Bill Johns to solve my case. DNA evidence collected the night I was raped and two fingerprints he left in my bedroom eventually linked William Joseph Trice to this crime. On January 19, 2010 he was convicted of 1st and 2nd degree rape, 1st and 2nd degree sexual assault and burglary.
I testified against the man who raped me in court and, by doing so, I was able to redirect the shame and social stigma associated with rape in the appropriate direction — toward my rapist. I found the very act of seeing his face for the first time so empowering that I was final able to see him as the pathetic soul he was, not the larger than life monster I had made him out to be.
I’ve written much about the courtroom proceedings of my case as a way of shedding light on what happens behind those big wooden doors. In addition to fearing their attacker, many women do not report the sexual assault because they don't want to have to defend their honor in the courtroom. Rape reform laws have helped, but not completely eliminated defense lawyers exploiting the character of the victim as a way to suggest she somehow brought the crime upon herself (a tactic uncommon in cases where men or children are the victims).
It is important for us to understand that no matter what I or any other victim did in the past, nothing makes it acceptable for a rapist to rape.
The process of regaining my footing after my attack was difficult and waiting two decades for my case to get to court was frustrating, but hearing the word “guilty” that day was worth it. By seeing cases through to a conviction and keeping the discussion of rape in the forefront, we redirect the humiliation and shame often experienced by the rape survivor back to the rapist. As a victim, it’s hard to remember sexual assault isn't who you are. It changes you, but it doesn’t define you. I am an artist, and that will be my legacy. Trice was a rapist, and that’s all the world will ever remember about him.
Jennifer Wheatley-Wolf was born and raised in Annapolis, MD and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983 with a degree in painting and printmaking. She is an award-winning artist who currently resides in Virginia with her husband. Her book, “One Voice Raised: A Triumph Over Rape” is currently available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.
Just the Assistant: Just the who?
She tells me to get lower on my squats, higher on jumps and says “good job” when I threaten to have a heart attack if I do one more overhead press. Afterward, I lay panting on her garage floor, sucking from my water bottle and clutching my workout towel like a blankie.
Then, I go home, jot down the workout and two days later sucker my husband into doing it with me. In the time that passes between my garage workout and the one I force my husband into, I transform from whimpering student to controlling fitness coach. “Do it this way, see? Watch those lunges; that’s it, all in the heel.”
It’s a symptom of an addiction I have; an addiction to being a bossy know-it-all. This addiction is also the reason I read so much non-fiction. You see, while I love books about vampire marriages and Southern housemaids as much as the next gal, they give me nothing to mount my high horse over. But give me a great non-fiction read, and I become an instant authority by the second paragraph.
This week I finished Tipping Point, which dissects how events transform into epidemics. So moved was I by the chapter that discusses miniscule environmental changes’ influence on criminal behavior (for example, subway graffiti increasing pick-pocket rates) that I already scowl harder than usual at shoppers who leave their carts rolling at leisure in the Kroger parking lot, positive they are contributing to juvenile delinquency.
Halfway through What Every BODY is Saying, I became a body language expert, scrutinizing my boss’s hand placement and eyebrow arches as he conducted monthly sales meetings.
“So that’s what he thinks about Jim’s September sales.”
After closing Sex, Lies and Handwriting, I studiously analyzed the signatures of my husband and his entire family, proudly informing them of any hidden agendas they may have. (Turns out, they’re decent folks.) And when anyone writes me a check, before I even scan the amount, I’m studying the script to decipher the meaning behind their lowercase “b.”
My friends have learned to kindly entertain my constantly rotating expertise, shaking their heads in awe as I explain the workings of our world. They listen as one day I rattle on about organization and delegating, and the next I am the new spokeswoman for vegan diets and organic peaches.
When I add all this up, it dawns on me why I’ve never been a very good assistant. Actually, there are quite a few reasons (confusion over how to work a copy machine, extreme aversion to answering the phone, general laziness), but this one in particular stands out: I’d simply rather be the boss. I want to be in charge of the way everyone daydreams and does pushups and manages stress and handles carts in the Kroger parking lots across America. So, while I’m busy with that agenda, you keep your eyes peeled for this column changing its title someday to “Just the Boss.”
Christina Ledbetter is a regular columnist for Houston Woman Magazine. She also writes at JustTheAssistant.com.
The Art of Networking
However, do we practice the “art of networking” when we attend business events and social functions?
The “art of networking” can be described as the hidden gem of connecting with finesse. Yes, we continually hear about making the right connections with people of influence who can be great mentors, resources and sponsors. However, there are certain elements of connection which are definitely worth noting that go a long way in expanding your network and making it more effective. I’ve provided a few to help add finesse to basic networking skills:
Give First. In business and in life, we all want and need things. Your chances of receiving improve greatly when you give first. Let me explain. Let’s say you meet a prominent business person who you think can help your career. Instead of immediately asking for her help after meeting, find out what is meaningful and important to her. Learn about the things that interest her. You do this by really listening to her — not just by hearing words she says. Listen with your ears, eyes and heart to understand what is being communicated. See if there is something you can do to help her in some way. This is how you give first.
By giving first you begin to establish a relationship of trust. You are showing the other person you care about her without the expectation that she “owes you.” That will just negate your giving gesture.
Demonstrate Good Manners. Yes, our moms were right, and every Mother’s Day we have another opportunity to thank them and/or think about them for lessons they taught us. Even as our work environments today might be more casual than in years past, good manners are just as important to your success. Whether in face-to-face situations or in online communications, demonstrating good manners elevates others’ perceptions about you.
Remember the phrase, “If you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.” We heard this repeatedly as children. Yet, with technology and the transparency of the internet and social media, many have totally forgotten about it. When you say something mean in public or post something derogatory online, that is a reflection on you. This also gives others a perception of your behavior which could definitely be unflattering to your reputation.
Follow Up. Can you think of a time when you’ve met someone who says they’d like to follow up and meet for coffee or lunch? Even better, they ask if you’d prefer they call or email you to set up a date and time to get together, and you never hear from them again? When you meet someone and convey your interest in getting together later, remember to follow up. This is one of the easiest ways to gain credibility, as it demonstrates how well you take action on your words. Writing it down can help immensely in remembering to do what you say you’re going to do.I think it’s pretty amazing how some of the behavioral elements of the “art of networking” resemble great leadership. Wouldn’t you agree?
Laura Morales, president of Energize Your Outlook, is a high-energy motivational speaker, trainer, communications coach and author. For more information, please visit www.energizeyouroutlook.com.