Artist Transformed Secondhand Donations Into Thought-Provoking Mural

Jersey City artist Woolpunk's 30-foot-wide installation, on display at Montclair Art Museum, provides colorful commentary on excessive consumerism.

Woolpunk's mixed-media installation seen lit up at night though the windows of Montclair Art Museum
Woolpunk upcycled donations from her local community to create "Sunflowers & Graffiti’d Sky in the Garden State." Photo courtesy of Megan Maloy

The Jersey City artist who goes by the name Woolpunk comes from a long line of seamstresses and lacemakers, so as a child, she assumed all women knew how to knit and sew. It took her a while to realize her skills were worthy of art.

Now, her 30-foot-wide, 13-foot-long, upcycled mixed-media banner, made largely from secondhand donations from the local community, drapes over the Montclair Art Museum’s Laurie Art Stairway. The 51-year-old East Hanover native’s installation, “Sunflowers & Graffiti’d Sky in the Garden State,” is meant to encourage people to question how consumer habits contribute to excessive waste in landfills.

“That really was the point, to show that fabrics can exist in many life cycles,” Woolpunk says of her piece, which opened in September and is on display through August 2023. “I asked the community to donate and create a circular economy. They can come back and see what they did by not throwing [items] away.”

Woolpunk's mixed-media banner at Montclair Art Museum

People who donated to her project “can come back and see what they did by not throwing [items] away,” Woolpunk says. Photo courtesy of Megan Maloy

The banner’s background is an enlarged image of a sunflower-filled community garden near Woolpunk’s home, which she photographed. Practicing what she preaches, the environmentally friendly artist sorted through hundreds of donations of used goods—from clothing to purses to curtains—and embroidered them with commentary about excessive consumer culture.

The creation took nearly six months to complete. While some of her embroidered messages are obvious, like the phrase, “Make Things Green,” others are subtle, like the simple word shopping on top of a bug-stained tablecloth. Both stress the project’s recycling theme.

My hope is that we could all just use that same energy to recycle in our homes every day and think about the choices we make when we are shopping,” Woolpunk says, noting that comprehensive change requires community cooperation.  

Woolpunk saw landfill waste firsthand while working at Hudson County’s branch of United Way, a nonprofit that fights for health, education and financial stability in the communities it serves. United Way partners with Amazon fulfillment centers in the Garden State, receiving its surplus of unpurchased goods. “It made me really sick to my stomach because I knew where [the surplus might be] going next,” she says. “It was going to the landfill.”

Working at United Way in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy unexpectedly inspired another artwork that served as a vehicle for change. To address the rise in homelessness at the time, Woolpunk hand-made a multifunctional utilitarian blanket with pillows and waterproof tarps sown in. She said she did this to give Sandy survivors a sense of dignity.  

Woolpunk always aims to create something rebellious.

“I’m not really interested in making something beautiful, even though sometimes my work does have a beauty to it,” she says. “It’s just very much about the punkness of it, the authenticity of it, and about just the spirit of being free and pushing boundaries.”

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