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St. Pete artist recognized for sci-fi pieces made of recyclables

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Published:   |   Updated: May 1, 2013 at 02:12 PM
ST. PETERSBURG -

The workshop behind Sarah Thee Campagna's Kenwood home houses old lawnmower parts, discarded drill bits and other odds and ends you'd find in any garage.

These bits and pieces, though, aren't junk. Boxed in clear containers and organized by shape and size on a tall set of shelves, they are the building blocks of the fine art robots, futuristic weapons and spaceships Campagna makes here. The systems analyst turned full-time artist hunts for the small metal items she uses in her artwork at yard and estate sales.

Campagna said she likes the emotional component of the unconventional medium.

“In addition to recycling things and materials, I'm also recycling and reusing memories,” she said.

This month, Campagna, 49, learned her work would be included in a national touring exhibit organized by the Landfill Art Project. A spacecraft from her workshop will be among works from 34 artists made from items that would have been thrown away otherwise.

She based her first CyberCraft Robots piece on something she found at an estate sale something classic but utterly obsolete.

“I used the distributor cap from an old Ford – a Model T,” she said.

“Now it's the head of a robot that's in someone's house.”

In the five years Campagna has worked on the robots, they've caught on in the art world, both locally and nationally. The gift shop in the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg features her robots, and someone in Seattle bought one after the “Boing Boing” cultural blog wrote about her work.

“I think a lot of people are more conscious about reusing objects,” said Audrie Ranon, retail operations and visitor services manager at the museum. “With Sarah's work, it goes beyond that. She's creating something interesting and fun kind of sci-fi.”

The science fiction component factors heavily into Campagna's work.

“All of my pieces have a story,” she said.

Each has a name and a background, and each is part of a bigger narrative meant, in part, to be social commentary.

As a female artist working in a grittier medium requiring long hours sweating in a workshop, Campagna faces social challenges of her own.

Her long blonde hair, vivid green and pink eye shadow and librarian glasses might contradict the image many people might have of a “metal worker.”

Nobody believes it's her, and not her husband, sweating and bleeding for hours on end, muscling, torching and forging metal into the manicured anthropomorphic sculptures that go out under the CyberCraft name. Her husband, though, handles the electric components on the pieces that light up.

“When people see a woman's name, they do not expect industrial art,” she said. “They expect to see something with lace stuck to it.”

Despite lingering stereotypes, she's been able to earn credibility among the local arts community.

“I'm drawn to art that is executed well,” said Frank Struck III, a Gulfport-based metal artist. “Sarah's art has always been that way. She's very meticulous.”


kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

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