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Local artist Jean Griffith turns junk into decorative art

Monday, November 4, 2013 | 6:12 p.m. CST; updated 11:12 p.m. CST, Monday, November 4, 2013
Local Columbia artist Jean Griffith takes discarded trash and turns it into art. Her site on Etsy.com has had 1,200 views since her shop opened in February.

COLUMBIA — A dusty foosball table top, glass wine bottles and worn-out cigar boxes are scattered throughout Jean Griffith's home.

This isn't junk she hasn't gotten around to getting rid of; this will be turned into art. The roll pin on the foosball table will become a coat rack, the wine bottles turned into whimsical, hanging lanterns and the cigar boxes decorated to hold jewelry and other keepsakes.

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Griffith has a knack for taking a piece of trash and turning it into a treasure. She sells to customers looking for hand-crafted items with a quirky twist. 

"Sometimes I get so overwhelmed," she said. "There is so much I want to do that I just have to sit down and take a deep breath."

Trash to treasure

Griffith's chief outlet is Etsy.com, a website for artisans around the globe, and her shop's name is Outsidemybackdoor. She also sells wine charms at the The Mizzou Store.

"I wish that everyone would think of Etsy.com as a resource to support the people out there making things — things made with passion instead of buying something mass-produced."

Griffith's site on Etsy.com has had 1,200 views since her shop opened in February. Despite the number of views and people "favoriting" her store, she has not sold many items yet — just eight wine bottle lanterns so far. Griffith believes many people go to Etsy.com to be entertained and find ideas for projects.

Her shop did attract the attention of a new shop owner who plans to open a store called Plume on the south side of town; the owner told Griffith she would like to carry her wine bottle lanterns. 

Griffith said she has the most fun embellishing cigar boxes. She removes the lid from the box and lines the inside with thin pieces of wood, handmade paper or anything else she finds inspiring.

She also likes to arrange objects inside the box, much like a small dollhouse room. In one, maps and small birds create an assemblage she calls "Road Trip." 

"I have a thing for architecture and rooms," she said. "Putting architectural elements in my pieces is something I enjoy." 

Her living room in central Columbia is filled with whimsical furniture she has made, such as the CD rack she fashioned from an old hat rack. She is currently working on a mosaic using tiles to create a compass design.

Griffith shops at estate sales and flea markets for most of her items. Friends and family also let her know when they decide to throw out furniture. The foosball table, for example, came from a fraternity house at MU.

 A creative life

Griffith's passion for art goes back to kindergarten, when she would fight to be the first to grab an easel. She dabbled in art later and became immersed in the subject when she attended Truman State University, even as an exercise science major.

"All my friends were artists, so I would hang out with them in the print-making room or when they were making frames in the wood shop," she said.

"So I got some exposure in art, but I'm glad I didn't get an art degree. It would be a lot harder to make a living."

Griffith, 44, works for Mizzou Online Student Services and receives a tuition break, which allows her to take art classes at a reduced price.

"I've learned how to work with fiber and stage-craft, drawing, painting, ceramics, photography, glass-making and welding," she said.

She struggled at first to find a niche in art. She tried selling Christmas wreaths at fairs and festivals but didn't get much return. She persevered, though, and finally began to see results. 

"I then took them to my hometown, and I blew out of them" Griffith said, who grew up in Galesburg, Ill.

A need to be happy

Griffith recognizes her passion for art has become more than a hobby. 

"Art fulfills a need," she said. "I think there is a control issue there, too. I can control what I am doing and what I'm creating. It's almost an obsession." 

Ultimately, she would like to open a store and sell handmade paper but also have the store serve as a center and resource for ideas. 

Her art outlet is part of her lifestyle and her philosophy for others: "I think it's important for us to teach kids just how to do things; whether it's painting a fence, planting flowers or hammering a nail, so they can find something that makes them happy." 

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.


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