Woman combines love of art and music using recycled materials

ArtfulAfternoon3GREENBELT – The phrase reduce, reuse and recycle has resonated into the artwork of a local artist.

Rachel Cross is an environmentally conscious artist, whose recycled and reused products-turned-artwork tailors her Greenbelt Community Center art studio. The self-proclaimed “thrift store Goddess” is one of several artist-in-residence in the community center.

“We’re not all painters, we’re just a bunch of different mediums,” said Ross.

Cross’ artistic abilities aren’t simply confined to the four walls of her studio. She is also a musician and has performed at the Kennedy Center, sharing the stage with many notable people including political comedian Al Franken. She has a primary interest in art guitars, a combination of both of her passions. “My canvases end up being junk guitars that I refurbish,” said Cross. “Some are playable and some are not.”

Shaped like a curvy woman, the guitars, Cross said, exude something very warm.

“It’s kind of a friendly not intimidating canvas to work on,” Cross said. “So something resonates with people.”

Cross said she purchases the recycled instruments from the thrift store for next to nothing.

“I’ve never paid more than 10 bucks for a guitar,” Cross said.

But the profit far surpasses the change she spends. She says that “a lot of magic” can be found at the thrift store. The “[art guitars] can sell for a couple thousand dollars,” said Cross.

Just as Cross’ love for music influences her art, her artwork enhances the folk musicians’ performances. “I will make projections of artwork behind me sometimes because it supports the work,” she said.

When Cross is not performing or working in her art studio she is teaching. While based at Greenbelt Community Center, she has the opportunity to be engrained with the community, something she values. “I wanted interaction with other artists and I wanted to work in a community and this had both of those things,” Cross said.

This summer she taught a summer camp which resulted in another creative recycled form of art on an otherwise useless product, the outdated floppy disk.

“There was a bunch of them downstairs in the art room,” Cross said. “And what came out of them were these little accordion books.”

The makeshift books were created with two floppy disks at each end connected by folded pieces of paper. Her students then let their imaginations run wild with the artwork inside.

“But I thought well, it kind of looks like the folding walls in an art exhibit so what if I made it into a mini gallery?” Cross said. “I call them ‘desktop galleries,’” Cross said.

She also refurbishes single floppy disks into hanging wall décor and sells them for $5.

Her intricate works of art generate admirable questions such as “Well that looks like it took forever! How long did that take?” The 51-year-old artist credits her life experiences as the inspiration and timeframe for most of her art work.

“If you think about it anything that any of us create it’s a culmination of experience on the planet,” said Cross.

Cross shares her workspace with an artist-in-residence of seven years, Kathy Karlson. Although Karlson does not teach, her interactions with children of the community are also impactful.

“When I work with the children I get artistic inspiration from them. I see their way of seeing which is very free,” Karlson said.

Cross can be found in her element at the Greenbelt Community Center up to five days a week. Both artists attend the monthly Artful Afternoons at least nine months out of the year. Next month, Cross will lead a class teaching what she knows best—music and art. Students will have the opportunity to make a very creative instrument using tree branches, can tops, buttons and cloth.

“There’s a creative energy in this building, It’s sacred that’s the only way I could describe it,” Cross said. “It’s a gift. “[I’m] lucky to be here.”

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