Recycled materials into artistic portraits

By Nadya Nataly

She spent the early part of last Friday afternoon meeting with Freeport Memorial Library patrons looking for new ways to spruce up their resumes and offer career counseling advice. Wrapping up for one-on-one meetings, Barbara Spinelli, 66, the library’s career counselor and business resource center chair, walked passed the library front lobby and paused at the display cases holding colorful portraits she made to the far left of the entrance. With a slight nod and smiled she continued with her typical work responsibilities.

“I never thought that my art would be on display,” Spinelli said. “I didn’t expect this type of attention because I did it for fun.”

For the last month, the Freeport Memorial Library has had on display artwork created by Spinelli. Artwork she says she made just for fun. Her work is a series of portraits she makes out of recycled jewelry, cardboard, old pictures, marbles and just about anything she can use on her canvas. While some of the portraits offer words of inspiration, others showcase a portrait of an unknown person tailored to her liking. Starting in August, the exhibit will be transferred to the Artist Alcove at the Freeport Recreation Center that the Long Island Arts Council at Freeport helps maintain. Freeporters who were unable to see the exhibit at the library will be able to view at the Recreation Center — an opportunity she considers an honor.

She’s a new visual artist with a reputation for being a creative nonfiction writer who has been leading the library’s Memoir Writing Group for the last six years. Always fascinated by people and their stories, Spinelli said she used writing as a way to connect with her inner artist.

“All my life, I’ve loved art,” Spinelli said. “[Naturally] my artistic side has always been toward writing.”

Interested in delving into other creative forms of expression, Spinelli decided to take a painting class two years ago at the West Hempstead Library in her hometown of West Hempstead. Discovering her inner Picasso, she was hooked and since has been integrating painting with arts and crafts and transforming them into unique pieces of recycled art.

“I fell in love with paint brushes, canvasses and everything,” Spinelli said about her first time painting on canvass.

She painted for about a year, she said, before she started to explore other art mediums and essentially discovered assemblages, art made by assembling different elements with everyday objects that are often scavenged by the artist or bought specifically for the piece. Dating back to the 1950s and 1960s, Robert Rauschenberg was one of many artists of that time period who made large works called assemblages with objects like tires in art.

“Most of my pieces [include] recycled items that people have given me,” Spinelli said. “I also find pieces of metal, cardboard, feathers and barks of trees.”

Experimenting with as many materials she can get her hands on, that also includes old photographs, Spinelli says, most of her pieces start with a name or a little story in her head. She then takes the time to convert the canvass into the portraits she’s now displaying.

The display includes about 17 pieces she’s worked in over the last year each taking about a month or less to finish. Through her display, Spinelli said she hopes people will find the story within the art.