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Trash to Treasure: Takoma Park Artist Fuses Art with Sustainability

The First Recycling Artist-in-Residence of Takoma Park reflects on her work

A part of a gutter, rusted sickle, doll’s hair, pieces of wood and metals combined together sound more like objects one would find in a junkyard rather than on a piece of art. But for artist Renée Lachman, these are typical types of pieces she uses to create her unique sculptures.

Lachman, a Takoma Park resident of 17 years, was the city’s first Recycling Artist-in-Residence. The project was in collaboration with SCRAP-DC, an art retail store devoted to inspiring creativity and environmentally sustainable behavior.

During her residency, she created several assemblages, which are three-dimensional artworks on a background surface consisting of found objects. Her works appear in multiple art shows around the area.

Originally from Queens, NY, Lachman started out as a painter, but stumbled upon sculpting when her daughter was about five years old and wanted to have a princess and dragon-themed birthday party. Lachman could not find dragon décor in any store, so she crafted the dragons herself. After a friend took notice of her natural talent, she began taking sculpting classes.

“I’m happy I was able to break out of doing paintings,” Lachman said. “Teachers would say painting was the pinnacle of everything, so it’s freeing to explore the craft. It’s all art and it’s interrelated, and the growth aspect is satisfying.”

She also feels strongly about environmental issues, which is one of the reasons she applied to be the Recycling Artist-in-Residence.

“We need to respect the land more. For the most part, Takoma Park is really on point and people are interested in recycling. It’s nice to live in this area because people are so into gardens, trees and recycling,” said Lachman, who has been involved with her neighborhood’s community garden.

Lachman added that she has a recycling box for residents to place found objects in on New Hampshire Ave. One day, when she discovered her box filled with water bottles, unusable for her artwork, she was still glad that people did their part in recycling.

Lachman often finds objects for her art while walking her dog; and her husband finds pieces like car parts when biking to work. She said much of her work reflects the energy and chaos of the fast-paced life people have.

Megan Peritore, gallery manager for the Margaret W. and Joseph L. Fisher Gallery in northern Virginia, worked with Lachman last year when Lachman put together a solo exhibition. Peritore said that Lachman’s work resonates with her because the work puts together life experiences.

“She was an excellent delight; [working with her] was easy, amicable and creative,” Peritore said. “When you work with an artist, it’s not only the person’s personality, it’s the eye for installing the artwork. Each individual piece can look beautiful, but it’s the dialogue between each piece which can hold together the exhibition beautifully.” 

Peritore added that Lachman’s work and character made a lasting impression on her. 

“There’s something in her personality—a warmth, strength and gentleness,” she said. “She has a very strong personal voice that meets with excellence in her craft, so the work is not only beautifully conceptualized, but also well executed, and I like the marriage between the two.”

Despite feeling accomplished in her work, Lachman has found it difficult to not be discouraged when looking back at art history. She would look at works by Michelangelo and Da Vinci and think to herself, “Why even bother?” Another challenge she has is writing because she frequently writes applications and exhibit proposals. Her advice to future artists is to have well-rounded education, because all fields come into play in the profession, including writing and business.

However, she uses these challenges as a motivation to experiment more with her art. She has started getting into pastel and wants to start installations and integrating sound, light and color into her work.

“Nowadays, I still look back at the past, but I now know I have a niche, that I have something to say, so I actually feel good about that,” said Lachman.

With her residency ending next week, Lachman thanked the Takoma Park Arts and Humanities Commission and the City of Takoma Park and Public Works for allowing her the space and time to work.

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