Carol Johncock and Mary Clark have always been recycle-savvy sisters, but it wasn't until they were making crafts at a retreat a few years ago and came across an owl made of buttons, scrap paper and other random materials that they realized the value of what some people call trash.
"We saw this little owl that had been made out of trinkets, and everyone loved it," Carol remembers. When the sisters saw how everyone else in the room reacted to the owl, they wised up and decided to make their own. And just like that, Girlbage was born.
Johncock, who lives in Hickory, and Clark, who lives in Charlotte, team up to make unique and custom pieces for their clients using recycled materials found, well, anywhere. They've reimagined broken plates, metal parts and anything else they can find to make into impressive pieces of art.
"We love a challenge, and we love that we can take something broken and make it beautiful again," says Johncock. The sisters will be peddling their pieces at Festival in the Park at Freedom Park over the weekend of Sept. 21, but first, Creative Loafing spoke with Johncock about their work, and being known amongst friends as the girls who want the garbage.
Creative Loafing: The other half of Girlbage is your sister, Mary, who lives here in Charlotte. How do you make that work, and does it affect your projects?
Carol Johncock: We do a lot of texting: "Hey, what do you think about this?" We toss ideas back and forth and we do things individually. We have the same vibe, so you can't really tell who made what or the other. We don't get to work together very often, so we enjoy working together at art shows. At least one of us is working as we're showing, so it's easier [having two of us] because one can speak to the customers while the other works on the pieces.
Do you both find your materials locally?
Pretty much. Our friends know what we do, so if they break a plate they save it for us. It's not uncommon for me to find a box of materials on my porch. People will usually bring us stuff at our shows too.
I noticed Girlbage has an Etsy account. Do you do pretty well with just selling on Etsy alone, or are shows like Festival in the Park substantial to your business?
We actually don't sell a lot through Etsy. It's hard to look online and see what you're getting. People need to see our stuff in person. We have our smaller pieces listed on Etsy, but the bigger stuff is expensive to ship. The bonus to the stuff we do ship is if it gets broken during shipping, you can just glue it back on. But people really react differently when they see our stuff in person at shows.
We do shows that are all handmade items, and some shows are better than others. We probably do our biggest show in Michigan where we're originally from, but we've been really happy with these shows in Charlotte because they market them as an art sale. The really great thing [about the shows here] is that you can buy [pieces that are] upscale or fun, simple and totally affordable.
How did you get involved with Festival in the Park?
We started out doing Kings Drive Art Walk. Then once we did that we decided to try Festival in the Park. This will be our second year, so we feel like we're kind of just getting into the scene.
What's the market like in Charlotte for your pieces?
We've only done a couple of shows in Charlotte, so we've only sold what we've had at Kings Drive and Festival in the Park, but so far we've had good experiences with both. People will see pieces that we've already done and ask if we can make another. But it's never going to be the exact same thing, which makes each piece unique.
What's the most popular item at your shows?
We carry a lot of letter boards, broken pottery, flowers, button magnets and ornaments. We just actually started the magnets last week. They're great [for shows] because if people can't buy something big, they can still leave with something.
The most popular things are the word boards. It used to be the picture boards, but people are all about words these days, and it speaks to a lot of people. We do custom word boards right there. It takes awhile for the glue to dry, but most people don't mind. A lot of times too we'll have a stack of pottery and they'll ask if we can make flowers, etc.
What other pieces will you have available for Festival in the Park?
We have these little people made out of nails and other little things that people really like. We'll also have our magnets, and our custom pieces that we do while we're there.
Do you plan on participating in more Charlotte shows?
We need to do some more research, and really see what the market is for us outside of Kings Drive and Festival in the Park. There are some close shows around Charlotte [that we could try]. We definitely don't feel like we've done all that we can do yet.