Washington State History Museum Turns Trash Into Treasures

Before upcycling was considered trendy, it was simply the norm. From converting ribbons and flags into a quilt to using caution tape to fashion a vintage sundress, creative reuse of items has been popular for generations. The Washington State History Museum’s newest exhibit, Make/Do: A History of Creative Reuse, focuses on how items have been upcycled, recycled, and downcycled throughout history to bring us new uses from manufactured goods.

Washington State History Museum, upcycling

Graham Schodda, Mac, circa 2014-2015.

Make/Do opens July 14 and can be seen at the museum until December 6, 2018. Attendees can explore the 180 items on display and learn about the influences of each creator. If the exhibit inspires you to get creative, you can take a seat at the makerspace, sponsored by Earthwise Architectural Salvage, to get to work constructing new items from old objects.

Washington State History Museum, upcycling

Nancy Judd, Caution Tape Dress, 2011. Caution tape recovered from the side of the road and sewn onto a vintage sundress. Image courtesy of the artist.

“Upcycling’s taken on new life in recent years with a renewed focus on reuse,” Lead Curator Gwen Whiting said in a statement. “However, there was once a time when upcycling wasn’t just a hobby, it was a way of life. The Historical Society’s collections are full of examples of creative ‘making do’ — flour sack clothes, stacking toys made from tin cans, that sort of thing.”

At the entrance of the exhibit hangs a welcome sign created by Tacoma’s very own RR Anderson, owner of Tinkertopia. Rather than a narrative arc like some exhibits, Make/Do showcases individual pieces that are important to the history and the future of our relationship with things.

“We wanted to embrace the regional nature of this topic, so we connected with historical societies, museums, and organizations across the state in our search for the historic and the contemporary,” Whiting said. “Objects from all over Washington and parts of Oregon are represented in the show. It is our hope that people will be able to make connections between the exhibition, what’s happening today in their community, and memories from their own family history.”

The Washington State History Museum is located at 1911 Pacific Avenue in Tacoma and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month.

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