Creative homeowners frame a new aesthetic for their gardens

September 19, 2008 

When Sandi Ollenberger moved into her home four years ago, the view from the kitchen window was of a 6-foot wooden fence.

“I thought, ‘I have this window, and that fence is so boring, what can I do?’ ” she says.

What she did was create a piece of art to hang on the fence; she glued small chunks of colored glass and tile to an old, wood-framed window.

“I never really considered myself an artist, but I guess I am now,” says Ollenberger, who since then has made close to 60 pieces ranging in size from 18-by-21 inches to 45-by-30 inches. Some have designs painted on the glass. She’s glued recycled items such as buttons, beads and bottlecaps on others.

She has created mosaics by cutting up old gift cards.

Eight pieces hang in her yard, but Ollenberger also has turned her hobby into a business: Sandi’s Garden Art, selling pieces to fund her missionary work in Swaziland, a country in Southern Africa.

Creating garden art from recycled items is not unique. However, many people simply fill a broken wheelbarrow or old pail with flowers or prop a rusty shovel against a tree. Ollenberger spends a good amount of time creating her art. Her current project -- a star-shaped, gift-card mosaic -- will take 10-15 hours.

All projects start with a recycled wood-framed window. Ollenberger has about 60 stacked against her house and in her garage. After washing the window and scraping excess paint from the glass with a razor blade, she begins painting designs or gluing items on the glass. Then she applies a clear coat of Mod Podge, a fast-drying, all-in-one glue, sealer and finish.

The final step is a polyurethane spray to protect the art from the elements.

“I enjoy being outside and this is something I can do outside,” says Ollenberger, who works at a table on her back patio. “I also like that it’s not always the same. All of the projects are different.”

Fresno County Master Gardener Andrea MacDonald has been creating similar art for about 14 years. She estimates she’s made about 20 pieces. She has glued broken watches, used dryer sheets dipped in paint, a Rolling Stones ticket stub, pages from the Bible, Monopoly game pieces and spools of thread, among other things, to wooden window frames.

“I got started because I wanted original pieces but I couldn’t afford them,” MacDonald says. “You use stuff you keep in your old jewelry box or keepsake box that sits in the dark all the time. Now it doesn’t. It’s a weird form of scrapbooking, I guess you could say.

“It’s a creative outlet. You just get an urge to do something and you do it.”

MacDonald displays some of her pieces in her home. Others hang on her backyard fence. Some even have been auctioned off at the Master Gardeners’ annual fundraiser.

Some of Ollenberger’s work is on consignment at Gazebo Gardens and H&E Nursery in Fresno.

“Most people have a brown fence in their yard. We put things on our walls inside our homes, so why not on the fence?” she says. “This lets me do something with my creative energies.”

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