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A brand new way - the story of an upcycle artist

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

KAMSACK - Nancy Weinhandl is a Kamsack rancher who specializes in the artistic practice of turning ordinary objects, antiques, and raw materials into impressive custom artwork. From her home studio, the local grandmother uses a variety of tools and techniques to transform seemingly mundane items into fascinating conversation pieces and furniture.

It has been said that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. But it’s not everyone who has the eye to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.

While her husband Dave is away much of the year for remote work, Weinhandl said she enjoys keeping busy with projects that challenge her to uncover new potential in materials that most of us would take for granted.

Weinhandl lives with a small herd of cattle and a devoted guard dog on Fox Creek Ranch – just east of Kamsack at the base of the beautiful mountain range of Duck Mountain Provincial Park. A born and raised prairie girl, she explained that a quiet and peaceful lifestyle has always suited her, and it keeps her creativity flowing.

When the couple purchased the ranch 12 years ago, a number of outbuildings became useful storage for materials and items that didn’t have immediate purpose. Over the years, Weinhandl – who doesn’t readily throw things out – has surveyed those items with some inspired thinking.

Working with materials like wood, metal, paint, string, and resin, the self-taught upcycle artist said her process is very much trial and error.

“I’m always scared to try new things. My family members are my biggest supporters,” explained Weinhandl from her country kitchen. “They always tell me to ‘just go do it.’ So, I try – and I end up making a lot of mistakes until I finally figure things out.”

Weinhandl explained that each one of her family members receives a custom-made tree decoration at Christmastime. With the arrival of every holiday season, they look forward to seeing what she will come up with next.

In fact, the Weinhandl Christmas tree is as full as can be – adorned only with garlands and ornaments that Nancy has made with her own hands. For example, different sizes of metal washers are glued together and painted to make festive snowmen. Strips of multi-colored fabrics are twisted together to make a rustic, country-style garland, and old Scrabble pieces are glued together to spell words like ‘peace’ and ‘joy.’ A person could spend hours looking through the upcycled ornament display to discover a multitude of styles from decorations that showcase the artist’s sense of humour and sentimentality.

However, as January sees the ornaments return to storage, Weinhandl continues to work steadily on new pieces for her home and yard that each have backstories that spark wonder. With a home that looks like a gallery, no matter where one looks, they are bound to catch a glimpse of one of Nancy’s custom pieces. Her mud room features a vintage horse collar that has been mounted on the wall with a mirror in the middle of it. She explained how a clock hanging in her country kitchen was cut out, sanded and stained from an old wooden door. In place of numbers, she has set eleven pointed hinges that have been directed toward the centre – within the exception of one number – a metal number five – previously used as a house number that she came across in her rummaging.

In the Weinhandl farmhouse, a pair of comfortable chairs sit on either side of a custom-made coffee table that was once a cable spool. With meticulous attention to detail, the tabletop hosts multi-coloured strips of salvaged wooden shims – each laid in perfect symmetry and finished with a clear resin coating.

On the walls of her restored 100-year-old farmhouse, Weinhandl displays old ceiling fans that have transformed into beautiful and intricately painted dragonflies, wooden shim pieces that have been glued together and painted to make spectacular sunflowers, and silhouette wall features that have been cut with a router in the shape of things like animals and guitars.

Wienhandl said much of her inspiration comes from her gifted, perfectionist mother who was a master seamstress and quilter. Weinhandl said she always sewed complex pieces by hand and held extremely high standards of craftsmanship that Nancy said she struggles to emulate.

One very special signature piece that Weinhandl crafts is a flower made from the outstretched leather of a baseball. The design has a sentimental connection to the son that the Weinhandl family lost six years ago.

“Our son Kris showed me how someone had opened up a baseball and spread it out to look like a flower,” shared Weinhandl. “He thought I could come up with an even better design – so I thought about it, and eventually I added a bit more to the concept with extra petals and hand stitching. I worked on that stitching while I sat with him during his dialysis treatments.”

Before Kris’ passing, he wrote a poem for his mom that she now attaches to each baseball flower she makes. Nancy said it is heart-warming to have his memory live on through each ‘flower’ she makes and distributes to others going through difficult times.

From a baseball to a flower

Oh, darn! How can it be?

My life is over, can’t you see?

I’ll never be in another baseball game

Today is the day!

You start a brand new way

It’s no more gloom.

Your beauty will bloom.

With a few stitches here and there

And a little care.

Surprise! Look at you

Don’t be so blue

You’re a beautiful flower

Full of beauty and power

Each! day, remember to give the gift of joy

For everyone to enjoy!