If you are the type of person who can’t imagine that a collection of old, discarded plastic water bottles could, with a bit of imagination, be transformed into a shimmering, festive, …
If you are the type of person who can’t imagine that a collection of old, discarded plastic water bottles could, with a bit of imagination, be transformed into a shimmering, festive, one-of-a-kind work of art, nine-year-old Natalie Soares would like to have a word.
About a year ago, Natalie persuaded her parents, Hannah and Michael, and her little sister Amelia, that they had to start saving those ugly old bottles, so they could create something wonderful for Tiverton’s 10th annual re-Tree Community Art Contest and Exhibition.
Sure enough, the exhibition, which kicked off Friday at Tiverton Four Corners and runs through Dec. 15, includes the Soares family’s “Poly Jolly Holly Tree” (“Poly,” Natalie will tell you, stands for polyethylene, a common type of plastic used for water bottles). The family used PVC piping, old wire coat hangers, tabs from soda and beer cans, and more than 200 water bottles for their work of art.
The tree exhibit is a competitive event intended to showcase homemade trees made with recycled and repurposed materials. “It’s a celebration of creativity — an opportunity for people to send a message to the community that’s not about consumerism,” said Desiree Brunton, arts administrator for the Four Corners Arts Center, which hosts the annual exhibit.
Brunton said re-Tree participants –— there were 10 this year — are required to adhere to certain rules. The trees must be made with 90 percent recycled or repurposed materials, be five to 10 feet in height and, since they are displayed outdoors, must be sturdy enough to stand up to all kinds of weather for a full two weeks.
Sending a message
Brunton said many of the creators are drawn to the event because it’s a way to bring attention to causes they support. Teresa Collins O’Connor of Little Compton, who won the “Best of Show” prize this year, made a tree consisting of 247 mylar balloons found on Little Compton beaches between 2021 and 2023. She hopes the message is a powerful one that will likely cause many who see her tree to rethink their selection of party décor for years to come.
Jennifer Wieting is another artist who used plastic bottles to create a tree that delivered a message regarding the Rhode Island bottle bill, which supporters say will help reduce litter, prevent plastic pollution, and improve recycling methods. If approved, Rhode Island will join 10 other states, including Connecticut and Massachusetts, in implementing a recycling refund system. Wieting’s exhibit includes a sign with bar codes that visitors can scan to get more information about the bottle bill and to send a message of support to state legislators.
More lighthearted creations include the “Retirement Folly” tree by Tiverton resident Lise Jill Gescheidt. After a 44-year career as a criminal defense lawyer, Gescheidt said she has turned her attention these days to landscaping and gardening. She created a tree by using a long-neglected pool umbrella, along with an old weathered stepladder, tea cups, broken pieces of pottery, glass, and jewelry, as well as greens, branches, and dried arrangements from her garden.
“I spent 10 days straight working on it,” said Gescheidt. “I really enjoyed the whole process. It was fun — a great way to express yourself in a new and different way.”
She noted she is particularly proud of her idea to use shredded medical records to fill the clear plastic globe ornaments.
The re-Tree event is held in combination with the Bright Night celebration, which is hosted annually by merchants at Tiverton Four Corners. While “official” judges announced winners last Friday, the public gets to cast ballots for their favorite trees through Friday, Dec. 15. Ballot boxes are located at Tiffany Peay Jewelry and the Four Corners Art Gallery.
“The popular vote gives people the opportunity to get their friends and family to come to Tiverton Four Corners to see the trees and vote,” said Brunton. “Our hope is that this becomes an iconic Tiverton event that people look forward to and are thinking about in July, not just in October when we put out the call to makers.”