Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 18, 1999

The old into the new

By Luis Puga

Marilyn Gatz, owner of County 1 Designs, best describes her work as recycling other peoples junque.

She adds that she spells it junque because it looks better.

For the past two years, Gatz has been using discarded items such as pots, jars, chairs, appliances and more to make crafts and memorabilia.

Often times, the work is commissioned. People will bring family mementos or old items from their attics to Gatz to redecorate as keepsakes.

One popular item has been shadowboxes for war veterans. Gatz sets veteran's medals, hats, and other memorabilia inside a box with a frame and glass covering the surface. She said those are some of the most meaningful projects she does.

Sometimes, the work comes from a curious combination of items that Gatz has discovered at a flea market, garage sale, estate sale or junque yard. The only requirement for making these crafts, according the Gatz, is to see things in a different way.

Gatz holds up an example of an old metal grater that now sits atop a decorative stand with a candle on it. The old kitchen item has become a luminaire for a candle.

Overall, Gatz does most of the craft work herself. She said she's really good with a glue gun. She does some of the painting, but adds that most of it is done by Anne Evans, a local painter whose work currently graces the inside of The Pantry Cafe in Winsted.

Gatz hasn't had any formal training. She worked in payroll for a doctor's office, the local bank, and school over 40 years of employment, and even ran a travel agency in Winsted for some time. But after she retired, she said she wanted to invest her time in making pretty things.

Some of the items do not immediately jump to mind as collectibles. Generally, chicken barn windows are not something one would consider pretty, however Gatz was able to convert one into a picture frame. In Gatz's hands, an old commode chair becomes a decorative chair. She admits not everyone thinks that's as funny as she does.

Other creations are based on the customer's taste. Gatz received a request from LuAnne Nygaard to work her creative side on an old cabbage slicer.

Gatz said she'll begin by looking for a way in which the item could be hung on the wall. She won't restore the wood of the old apparatuses. She said that customers prefer to see the wood's natural aging in the finished product.

In this case, Gatz had a model; a previous slicer she had done. Nygaard also gave Gatz some plastic fruits for her to add to the slicer creation, and continued to browse around the store.

The store, itself, speaks to an inventiveness. One is impressed by the amount of items that can be transformed into a lamp. In one corner, an old Hilex glass bottle lights up the room. In another, it's an old coffee pot.

There are also lamps made from cookie jars, old planters, an iron pitcher of some kind, and an assortment of jars. Gatz adds that she wires them herself.

Gatz does not only craft items, but also has done other decorating in the area, as well. Her decor graces a number of area funeral homes and Midland Insurance Group's offices. She's also done custom work for individual clients.

In the future, she sees herself expanding into decorating for weddings. She already has the silk flowers. In the nearer future, she plans to hold an open house on the first Saturday in November for the Christmas season. The event will include painting and stamping demos, and music.

As Gatz walks through the store, she can point to a number of items that have been transformed. Each one, she said, is unique. There are old cardboard tubes from Sterners, old cameras, feathers, hats, shirts, doors, shoes, and more that have been remade by Gatz's creative vision. She concludes that she can find a use for just about anything.

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