Artist salvages old home materials for art

Up a narrow road and tucked away behind industrial storage rooms and businesses is a studio space filled with wooden pieces and salvaged materials from old houses. Interior-designer turned commission artist Brigitte D’Annibale uses this “junk” from either her home or rundown buildings to create vintage-inspired art that is not only visually pleasing, but has an underlying message.

“We waste a lot and where do you think it all goes to?” D’Annibale asked rhetorically. “The landfill. The whole point is that you can take anything and turn it into something. You can use the old wood or you can see I’ve used old copper rain gutters.”

D’Annibale started out designing rooms with a vintage feel and translated that into her art and incorporated remnants of old houses. Locally she’s designed rooms for Kilohana.

In addition to producing art, she spreads the word of using salvaged and recycled materials. She wants people to think twice before throwing things away.

Every so often, she visits Island School in Puhi and conducts art classes, teaching kids how to take old things from their homes and turning them and recycling them.

Last week, she and the third-grade students created a sculpture using old toys.

“I wanted to take these kids and show them that anything is possible,” she said. “All the kids went through their homes and grabbed some old toys. I said to them ‘These are the things you whine about,’ or ‘These are old signs. This isn’t junk, your stuff is good. Anything your mom wants to throw out.’ Old sheets, raingutters, tiles. All of that can be used.”

Island School art teacher Penny Nichols said that not only was she impressed by the body of work produced by D’Annibale and the students, she was impressed by the lack of funds and tools needed to produce the art.

“The only thing we paid for is glue,” Nichols said. “You don’t need a whole lot to do this, but it requires creative thinking to take a bunch of objects and turn it into sculpture. The kids are really benefiting from this, learning the environmental and recycling aspects of it.”

At a visit to her art studio, the students dove into D’Annibale’s piles of wood and copper to make their own pieces of art.

“I’m surprised at how much we can use,” one third-grader said.

D’Annibale reiterated how easy these projects are to do at home.

“You don’t really need any special tools,” she said as she pointed to the table laid out with the materials, a few pairs of scissors and a big roll of clear tape. “You don’t need a whole lot of money because you’ve got the materials and the supplies.”

She has a special attachment to restoring the vintage look into households. Her art would usually hang in the rooms she designed, she said.

But she also indirectly has a hand in building new homes for people. D’Annibale has been commissioned to design the artwork on the shopping bags for the Ala Moana Shopping Center on O‘ahu.

“The money from every bag sold goes to Habitat for Humanity,” she said.

Originally from Los Angeles, where she studied art in Santa Monica, D’Annibale moved to Kaua‘i in 1993. She moved into an old plantation home built in the 1920’s that somehow managed to survive Hurricane ‘Iniki with only minor damage. This is where her love affair with old Hawai‘i blossomed. While distributing her time between painting and restoring the home, D’Annibale’s work began to change.

The home caught the attention of a local architect who hired her to help him bring the feeling of old Hawai‘i to a new project he was developing. From this, she received much acclaim. Her vision was in high demand and proved to be rewarding on an artistic as well as pragmatic level.

She gets enthusiastic when discussing how to take things from around the house and recycle them into an interior design.

“That’s great because that’s where I got my start, in interior design and doing things for the home,” she said. “All the pieces I use come from local homes.”

Her work can be seen at galleries on O‘ahu and on the Mainland.

To learn more about D‘Annibale or to view her Hawaiian art, visit www.hawaiifineart.com.

• Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or lcabalo@kauaipubco.com.

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