A man walking by looked at the art made of natural materials and scavenged junk Joan Grubl was unloading to sell at Sorticulture, and said, “What did you do, clean out your garage?”
“Well, as a matter of fact I did,” Grubl shot back.
Other people might throw away the materials she works with, but Grubl has cobbled it together into art and a successful business, Crafts by Joan.
“I marry nature and junk together, and it becomes one in your garden,” she said.
Grubl scours old farms, thrift stores and junk piles for the materials she uses. Old boards, broken chairs, ancient doors, antique lamp parts, ornate bed frames and peeling window frames and gutters are some of the materials stacked in her Everett basement. The curly willows and the old pear tree growing in her backyard are potential media. So are pinecones, lichen and moss that she finds in the woods.
Grubl’s work – which she describes as “all natural” and “heartwarming” – has loyal customers she calls her fans. She’s been “crafting with junk” for 25 years, and hundreds subscribe to a newsletter she publishes about her creations.
Some of her most popular pieces are rustic birdhouses she builds from old boards and hose guides topped with antique lamp parts. The guides keep hoses from getting tangled in the flowers, an idea she says she may have invented.
Grubl, 47, gets her handy streak and love of nature from her father, a professional junk dealer, retired auctioneer, carpenter and electrician. She grew up in Yakima, one of seven children, and fondly remembers camping and fishing trips with her family. “I’ve always been a nature person,” she said.
Her artistic style is a contrast to her job as a floral designer for Stadium Flowers, where her work has to look “perfect.” But her day job has a perk – she recycles unwanted materials from her florist job, such as used funeral easels, into her art.
Grubl loves birds, and many of her creations come with creature comforts. She’s fitted a small piece of an old gutter to the bottom of a rustic birdhouse. The gutter can be filled with birdseed. Other pieces feature pinecones that she encourages others to put peanut butter on and roll in birdseed – a great experience to share with children, she said. She makes “picnic baskets” filled with moss, feathers and hair so birds have ready materials to make nests.
She likes to create garden “scenes” that sell together. One scene features a rusty hoe and bucket attached to a section of white picket fence. A rustic hand-painted sign attached to a stake on the fence reads, “Gardening is a Hoe Lot of Fun.”
Prices range from $15 to $150. And if it doesn’t sell in 30 days, Grubl will turn it into something else.
Her artwork is for the home too. In her living room is a piece she loves too much to sell: a white lamppost, like a Roman pillar, she found at a thrift store for $10. She fitted it with a spray-painted globe. Tiny twigs jut around the globe like a crown.
“I just light it up and … voila,” she says. “I love it.”