It was 15 years ago this week that Kiki Neumann, a then newly unemployed salesperson, launched her career as a found-object folk artist using discarded wood from a torn-down fence. "After losing a corporate job, my mother said, 'Don't pick up a gun, pick up a hammer and build something.' The first thing I made was the hardest thing I could have ever imagined, a garden bench," she tells us. "Immediately after building the bench, and seeing that nobody crashed while sitting on it, I thought, 'I need to make other things for the garden, too.' So I started making birdhouses." Neumann estimates she's made more than 4,000 birdhouses to date. She followed that with cabinets, tables, chairs, angels and signs. Her newest project is a series of greeting cards.
What She Does: "I take urban street castoffs and magically turn them into useful home and garden items. Right now, I'm out of control with license plates. I have designed a line of 50 greeting cards, all with words spelled out from cut-up license plates. They are in 15 stores all over the state of Texas, including a few here in Houston."
Why She Likes It: "I've been drawn to the outcasts all my life and always tried to find a use for something that people thought no longer had a use -- including people, by the way. I'm absolutely beside myself that I am taking something, repurposing it and seeing the joy in other people's faces when they find a way to use it in their life."
What Inspires Her: "I'm on fire every heavy trash day. That is why I drive a truck," she laughs. "I can't pass a juicy heavy trash area in Houston without stopping. I go through and find tables that can be remade, chairs that can be repurposed, mirrors that can be cut and reused. I had to go buy a warehouse, I have found so much material. It is 1,800 square feet of found material that is waiting for me to get the germ of a new idea."
But it's not just castoffs that inspire Neumann; new items get her juices flowing, too. "When I go into a store and see how things are made, I always think about how to make it better, how to make it more palatable to our culture."
If Not This, Then What: "I would love to put together a book -- and then give it to everyone to sort of stimulate their creativity. It's time to give other people the thrill of making it themselves. They are going to have different things that they can access. Everyone has a solid waste stream that they could divert. It wouldn't be a how-to book so much as it would be an odyssey; sort of, 'This is a chair, and this is what I've done with it. You'll find a different chair and do something different with it.' It would be about helping people get that germ of an idea started, so that they don't have to wait for the 'someday.'"
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If Not Here, Then Where: "I love New Mexico," she says immediately. "I've lived there twice and I would go back in a heartbeat, but I have such a wonderful extended family of friends that I stay."
What's Next: "The book, the book! Now with all of the digital ability to instantly produce things and do books online, it is time to do it." Neumann already has a title in mind: Sitting on the Fence.
More Creatives for 2012 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Flynn Prejean, Poster Artist JoDee Engle, dancer David Rainey, actor, artistic director and teacher Geoff Hippenstiel, painter, art instructor Jessica Janes, actress and musician Dennis Draper, actor and director Mat Johnson, novelist and tweeter Orna Feinstein, printmaker and installation artist Adriana Soto, jewelry designer Domokos Benczédi, Noise and Collage Artist Robert Boswell, Book Author, UH Prof Patrick Turk, visual artist Elizabeth Keel, playwright Bob Martin, designer Mary Lampe, short film promoter and developer Nisha Gosar, Indian classical dancer Jeremy Wells, painter George Brock, theater teacher Radu Runcanu, painter Ariane Roesch, Mixed-Media Sandie Zilker, art jewelry maker Philip Hayes, actor Patrick Palmer, painter Ana Mae Holmes, Jewelry Designer John Tyson, actor Jerry Ochoa, violinist and filmmaker Raul Gonzalez, painter, sculptor, photographer Roy Williams, DJ of medieval music Laura Burlton, photographer David Peck, fashion designer Rebecca Udden, theater director Donae Cangelosi Chramosta, vintage designer handbag dealer Paul Fredric, author John Sparagana, photographer Damon Smith, musician and visual artist Geoff Winningham, photographer Johnathon Michael Espinoza, visual artist Jaemi Blair Loeb, conductor Katya Horner, photographer Johnathan Felton, artist Nicoletta Maranos, cosplayer Carol Simmons, hair stylist Joseph "JoeP" Palmore, actor, poet Greg Carter, director Kenn McLaughlin, theater director Justin Whitney, musician Antone Pham, tattoo artist Susie Silbert, crafts Lauralee Capelo, hair designer Marisol Monasterio, flamenco dancer Carmina Bell, promoter and DJ ReShonda Tate Billingsley, writer Kiki Lucas, choreographer and director J.J. Johnston, theater director Mary Margaret Hansen, artist Richard Tallent, photographer Viswa Subbaraman, opera director Emily Sloan, sculptor and performance artist Sonja Roesch, gallery owner Enrique Carreón-Robledo, conductor Sandy Ewen, musician Camella Clements, puppeteer Wade Wilson, gallery owner Magid Salmi, photographer Carl Williams, playwright