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Animals with attitude, made from recyclables, are Palm Harbor artist's specialty


Joyce Curvin's garage is awash with enough stuff to make navigating that space an arduous task. The accrued detritus, much of which would be baled for trash pickup in other homes, is a rich source of creativity for Curvin. The stashes of plastic bottles, newspapers, cereal boxes, Styrofoam trays, bent wire, bits of leather, old pill bottles and seed pods from palm trees are everywhere.

From this mass of stuff will emerge whimsical animals in bright, cheerful colors, with their ears up, their heads tilted to one side and their eyes wide open.

"I've always been known as someone who can make something out of nothing," said Curvin, the wife of the Rev. Chris Curvin of Northwood Presbyterian Church in Clearwater and mother of two teenage sons. "A bottle can become a body of a bird, an animal head or other parts of an animal's body."

Her funky birds, cats, dogs, occasional gators and other animals are on display at most local art shows and on the shelves of a number of gift shops from Sarasota to Madeira Beach to Dunedin. Curvin calls her business "Art-Official Pets."

On the walls of the family garage, which has been transformed into a workshop, hang colorful fish, all made from seed pods or other stiff fallen segments of local palm trees.

The tables hold an array of other recycled creatures. A colorful rooster was formed from a maple syrup bottle covered with feathery cuts of cereal boxes. Nearby, an 18-inch-long playful-looking bird with orange, turquoise and yellow feathers stands on clay feet. His wings were crafted from molded paper, his beak from leather and his body from a plastic soda bottle.

A 2-foot-high brown-painted terrier was fashioned from old shoes. He has a red leather tongue and a dog collar made from an old belt painted blue.

"They are all loopy and weird," Curvin said of her favorite creatures. "The tilt of the head can make all the difference."

Curvin, a St. Petersburg native who lives in Palm Harbor, said attitude is the key to a well-made pet. The animals have body language, she said, just as humans do.

"You have to build attitude into the armature before the paint goes on," she said. "Otherwise you'll be fighting the whole way to get the personality."

In recent years, Curvin has added to her usual assortment of animals. The collection now includes miniature domestic pets made from her elderly parents' discarded medicine bottles. "These are my prescription pets," she said. "They're good for what ails you."

Musical instruments are part of the new collection as well. Curvin salvages broken guitars, trumpets or horns and applies layers of colorful paint to the surfaces. Into the mouth of a trumpet or the sound hole of a guitar go birds' nests with small sparrows or other tiny birds peeping out.

"Birds build nests anywhere," she said, "so I figured I could put them in unexpected places as well."

Throughout the year, Curvin presents workshops for children and adults at several local art centers. She noted that children usually accept her funky animals in all their crazy colors and poses right away.

"Kids think outside the box," she said, "but adults often think in terms of what things are supposed to look like."

Curvin's pieces recently appeared at the Dunedin Art Harvest and the Florida Craftsmen show in St. Petersburg. She will next exhibit at the Sanibel Arts and Crafts Festival on Sanibel Island on Feb. 18 and 19.