Trash or Treasure Trove?

14th July 2017

‘Rejuvenated Junk’, the current temporary exhibition at the William Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, is a clever collaboration between the Museum and ‘knowtrash’, a unique collection of 4000 contemporary recycled objects from around the globe. The intention is to help visitors reconsider the value of the things we throw away.

Review: Jill Glenn

A dress of ring-pulls crocheted tightly together

Every object here used to be something else. There are hats made from tin cans, bags made from drinks cartons, even a dress made from ring-pulls, and a jacket made of crisp packets. Through ingenuity, imagination and innovation these junk materials have been given a new lease of life…

You might, at first sight, wonder why these bright and cheerful (and, occasionally even garish) objects belong here, alongside the elegant and witty work of William Heath Robinson, but the inspiration actually came from a set of drawings he created in 1935. He called the series ‘Rejuvenated Junk’, and they showed, in his inimitable style, new uses for worn-out objects: an old top hat repurposed as a dovecot; a discarded golf bag turned into ‘an exceptionally imposing flower-pot’; gramophone records converted into perambulator wheels, and a pair of old motor tyres hung from a branch to act as a hammock.

Ten of the drawings were used to illustrate an article called ‘At Home with Heath Robinson’, written by KRG Browne for The Strand Magazine, and the exhibition features several of these along the first wall. They’re smart and amusing – and it’s interesting to read, on the opening page of Browne’s article, that in Heath Robinson ‘the anti-waste instinct is so strongly developed as to be almost visible’. Nothing is so old, or decrepit or so apparently useless, Browne reports, that its possibilities escape ‘Mr Heath Robinson’s shrewd eye’. And so the stage is set for the real focus of the exhibition: a stunning collection of recycled and upcycled artefacts from 33 countries around the world.

These are highly original and creative pieces, made by resourceful individuals who retrieve mass-produced, everyday objects that have been thrown away and transform them into useful and beautiful objects. Sometimes these are for an artisan’s own use; sometimes they’re to sell. Either way, the diversity of items that can be made with newspaper, metal cans, glass bottles and plastic packaging is stunning. Much of it is born out of necessity, of course, but it’s no less aesthetically pleasing or impressive for that.

‘Rejuvenated Junk’, 2017-style, showcases a range of household goods, including lighting, from candlesticks to lampshades, the latter often made from misprinted sheet metal folded and bent into new shapes. Then there’s jewellery, bags (you’ll never look at a drinks carton in the same way again), toys and model cars/vans. Alongside are short interpretation notices, with facts to support and explain the artefacts (for example, that poor Madagascan rice farmers make tin vehicles to earn cash, and that each family specialises in models of a particular make of vehicle, cut from milk cans or insecticide aerosols) and photographs of artisans at work across the globe.

It’s a small exhibition but perfectly formed, and very accessible: ideal for all the family, even the youngest members. Neil Thomson from knowtrash and Ann Kopka, curator of the new exhibition hope the exhibition will help to inspire everyone ‘to discover ways to turn our trash into treasure’. It certainly made me think…

The Heath Robinson Museum is open Thursday-Sunday 11am-4pm. ‘Rejuvenated Junk’ continues until 3 September 2017

Adults: £6 (£6.60 with Gift Aid);
Over 65s: £5 (£5.50 with Gift Aid)
Children 5-18 and full-time students with student ID, people with disabilities: £4 (£4.40 with Gift Aid); carers go free
Families: up to 2 adults and 4 children £18 basic (£19.80 with Gift Aid)
Art Fund members: Free entry with National Art Pass

About the William Heath Robinson Trust

When Heath Robinson’s daughter Joan died, her husband wanted her collection of her father’s work to be kept in public ownership. As a result the William Heath Robinson Trust was formed in 1992. The original collection included about 500 pieces of original art work, together with an archive of letters, association copies and special editions of the books that he illustrated, proof prints, advertising booklets and ephemera.
The National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund grant-aided the William Heath Robinson Trust in 2015 to purchase some 400 additional important works for the Museum, bringing the collection to nearly a thousand items. It is the only substantial collection of the artist’s work in public ownership.

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