100 Creatives 2012: Kiki Neumann, Found Object Folk Artist

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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."

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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.'"

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

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