Through the creative reuse of materials, local artist turns throwaway items into functional furniture.

In the modern lexicon, upcycling is the word used to describe what artist Avril Ward does with large wood pallets obtained from an import company on-island.

She sands, refines and dismantles the original pieces and uses them to create headboards or tables. They are whitewashed with a hint of colour but maintain a rustic look.

A fierce environmentalist, Avril says the value of upcycling in a small society like the Cayman Islands cannot be overstated.

“It’s so needed in Cayman,” she says. “I love that many organisations and businesses are getting behind this and bringing it to the man-in-the-street’s attention.

“It makes no sense for a beautiful island like this to be wasteful or allow our beauty to be compromised. Simple education and awareness, and everyone doing their small part, will bring massive change to our waste-management and trash problem.

“Upcycling pallets is not only something that I personally can do, it also employs people, recycles the economy … and creates something functional and beautiful out of would-be trash.”

Age-old custom

Avril has been involved in upcycling since she was a teenager growing up in South Africa.

“I remember as a teen and young adult working in papier-mâché for many years as it was cheap and easily available,” Avril says. “I would make everything from figures to functional bowls, one of which I still have.

“South Africa has a huge creative upcycling and recycling industry. I think it stemmed from the years of apartheid when we were sanctioned by the rest of the world and had to find our own creative identity and use materials that we had.”

Thirty years ago, she could buy handbags made from soda can openers, which have become available worldwide in the last few years.

“Much art was done in collage as high-quality paints were expensive and hard to obtain, so repurposing printed paper into colourful artworks was an easy solution,” she says. “I didn’t like to throw anything away, as I knew I could use it somewhere at some time.”

Other materials

Avril is also working with another local artist, Yonier Powery, using upcycled driftwood or specially sourced pieces of local fallen wood to make art furniture.

“We both have a passion for the nature of found wood, the ageing patterns, colours and organic shapes it has,” Avril says.

In addition to wood, Avril has also used other natural items to create unique designs.

“I have been known to do some assemblage pieces where I have used found objects, including what I call ‘beach treasures’, like dry urchin shells, crab claws, smooth coral stones and sea glass, to name a few.”

For Avril, combining natural elements and artistically designed pieces is the most natural thing in the world.

“They are inseparable,” she says. “Nature and the environment are where I find my inspiration. It’s a no-brainer to be concerned about the environment and use what it gives us to create.”