Art Beat: Finding Beauty In Elephant Dung

May 16, 2019

"Elephant dung brooch" by Maryellen Hains
Credit Andy Robins / WMUK

Very few people would look at a lump of elephant dung and see art. But Maryellen Hains does. She sees beauty not only in elephant dung but in most everything. The multi-media artist is known for her work in jewelry, glass, and silk painting. And yes, she's made a brooch out of a mold of a piece of elephant dung.


“I grew up in Brooklyn and went to Brooklyn College, and did my graduate work in Ohio,” Hains says. “And I got my first teaching job at Western Michigan University in 1966, so I’ve been in Kalamazoo since then. That year, when I was new in town and didn’t know anyone, I took my first class at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts.”

Hains was off and running, exploring all kinds of art media. She continued to take classes at the KIA and still does, and occasionally also taking on the teacher’s role. Hains has become involved with the art community in the greater Kalamazoo area, not only as an artist, but also as a curator of group shows.

“I like learning new things; I’m a constant student,” she says. “What I’ve discovered in my older age is that having the skills for a variety of media make me think about them differently as you start to put things together. People who only do clay, for instance, might not think of doing a figure with copper hands. But I can do the copper work, I can do the soldering, I can do whatever.”

Maryellen Hains holds some of her creations
Credit Andy Robins / WMUK

Hains uses a wide variety of materials and techniques to create her eclectic style of jewelry. Many of her pieces are brightly colored with enamels or beads. Her images are drawn from literature, travel, and dreams. That recent find of elephant dung during her world travels became a brooch pressing the dung into a mold and decorating what emerged.

Hains’ glass designs include narratives from children's literature and mid-20th century artists as well as birds and geometric abstractions. Her fiber work includes painted silk hangings, large wall quilts, and beaded elements in jewelry scale.

Aside from individual shows, Hains curates group shows to give both established and new artists a platform to show their work.

“Most of the shows I curate have some kind of a theme, a way that I hope people will connect with the work they are doing, and then all the work in the show should connect — maybe,” Hains says.

One such group show features work by Hains and three other women artists. “World in Flux” can be viewed at the Epic Center on the South Kalamazoo Mall through the end of May. The exhibit features art that expresses changes in our world today in areas like endangered species, banned books, fake news and freedom the press, and climate change.

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