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How a couple in rural Indiana uses art to combat consumerism and waste
Amna Nawaz: And creating art and raising awareness about consumerism at the same time.
Special correspondent Cat Wise visited a husband-and-wife team in rural Indiana to see how they have pivoted their lives and their livelihoods to focus on this passion. It's part of our arts and culture series Canvas.
Cat Wise: Down a quiet country road near Spencerville, Indiana, you will come across a farm that doesn't look like others in the area. A different kind of product is cultivated here, art.
Lisa Vetter, Artist, The Art Farm: Let's go to the studio.
Paul Siefert, Artist, The Art Farm: Man, it's cold out.
Cat Wise: The colorful home and studio of Lisa Vetter and Paul Siefert and their dog Pinkerton (ph) is known as The Art Farm.
The married couple, who grew up in nearby Fort Wayne, have turned their farm into an artistic oasis, where they create and display their work, clocks, sculptures, jewelry and more, all made out of found objects they started collecting about 30 years ago.
Paul Siefert: We both loved going to flea markets and junk shops and finding cool stuff.
Lisa Vetter: Vintage stuff.
Paul Siefert: Vintage stuff. I swear I said one time, we got to stop buying all this cool stuff, or we got started doing something with it all.
Lisa Vetter: Yes.
Paul Siefert: So then we -- then we started manipulating it.
Cat Wise: Paul, who has a background in engineering, and Lisa, who worked in interior design, began making functional pieces like lamps, which they started selling at art shows in the mid-1990s.
Soon, the part-time hobby became a full-time job.
Lisa Vetter: I want to spend a short time on this pendant that I started here.
Cat Wise: Today, Paul and Lisa create new life for old objects in their workshop on the farm, where anything can become art.
Tell me about a piece like this. This is a work in progress; is that right?
Lisa Vetter: Yes.
For example, if I'm at the thrift store, and I see this sitting on the shelf, I'm like, oh, yes, that's a skirt. But we have got a lot of old -- the old coffee tins and stuff. Look how perfectly that fits over.
Paul Siefert: That's a big deal, when something fits perfectly.
Lisa Vetter: The connection.
Paul Siefert: Things got to fit, or they get wobbly. You want to make art so that it lasts.
Lisa Vetter: So when you...
Paul Siefert: And we kind of want somebody give it down to their kids, and hopefully their kids. So I just want to make art that's just going to be a throwaway.
Cat Wise: Preventing things from being thrown away is a big focus of Paul and Lisa's work.
Lisa Vetter: It drives me nuts to see the amount of poor-quality, useless stuff being peddled to people. And it has a very short shelf life, and then it's just thrown away. It's going into a landfill.
Maybe, instead of going to Target and buying a new clock, you buy a clock that I made out of old recycled items that no one else will have one like it.
Cat Wise: Paul and Lisa take their clocks and other work, with a price range from under $100 to around $1,000, to juried art fairs around the country, where artists are selected through a competitive application process.
Art shows have provided a significant portion of their annual sales. But since the pandemic, they have been focusing more on commissions, like a recent one that involved a cello and pop-up galleries at the farm.
Is it difficult to make a living this way?
Lisa Vetter: If you are not interested in a steady paycheck, it's OK, because you never know. People will ask us that sometimes. Do you -- oh, do you make a living at this? And I tell people, we make a life.
It's the whole package. We're self-employed. We steer the ship.
Paul Siefert: And I don't know if I'm living in a fantasy world, but it does feel like, our whole life, our art and our garden and how we live, it's all the same thing. The art is not separated from the way we live.
Cat Wise: How big is your property?
Lisa Vetter: We have five acres total.
Cat Wise: During our recent visit, they took me on a tour of their property, including the 160-year-old barn, where they store the rig they use when they traveled to art fairs.
Paul Siefert: She runs good. Her name is Agnes.
Lisa Vetter: And when we roll into the show, people know that we're there.
Paul Siefert: Yes.
Lisa Vetter: Because no one else is driving a 1977 Midas mini home.
Paul Siefert: And I have learned to put cheap beers in my fridge to give all my artist friends that ask me for a cold beer.
Paul Siefert: Because, when you have a rig, your beer is always cold?
Lisa Vetter: Yes.
Cat Wise: So, you go with the cheap beer?
Paul Siefert: Oh, yes, not the expensive one.
Lisa Vetter: Right. No.
Cat Wise: Many of the artists Paul and Lisa have met at shows over the years have become friends, whose art is displayed, along with their own, throughout their restored 1860s farmhouse.
Lisa Vetter: This is a sculpture piece from our friend Ed, who did the mugs that we're using this morning. And this is an artist from Indianapolis. She created this.
It's me and Paul and the little banner, "The Unforeseen Glory of Art Farming." We were over the moon. We didn't know she was doing this.
Cat Wise: You love this piece. This is great.
Lisa Vetter: Oh, I love this piece. It's so fun.
Cat Wise: Paul and Lisa are trying to spread awareness about consumerism and waste in their community by hosting school groups and art classes that focus on reused materials.
Sandy Beaver, The Art Farm Customer: I liked the fact that they use found objects and make them live again.
Lisa Vetter: Oh, now these are new.
Cat Wise: Sandy Beaver, who lives nearby, is a regular at The Art Farm and stopped by on a recent evening to check out some of Lisa's new jewelry.
Lisa Vetter: The blue metal in the background is actually building material metal. And then this is recycled license plate.
Sandy Beaver: That's what I like about Lisa's artwork. And I know her. I know her quirkiness. And I enjoy that. I want something that means something to me. And her artwork does.
Paul Siefert: Lisa, I think this piece needs to be green, right?
Cat Wise: Paul and Lisa are spending long hours in the workshop these days creating more art and gearing up for a busy spring and summer on the farm.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Cat Wise in Spencerville, Indiana.
Amna Nawaz: Love that line, the difference between making a living and making a life.