Craft-o-Trons Sell Smoking-Hot Art

Copy and photograph by Nicole Chynoweth, Point Park News Service


A red vintage cigarette machine sits in the corner of the Toonseum’s Lou Scheimer Gallery, but in the place of Marlboros or Newports, each slot offers crafts made by Pittsburgh residents.

Two years ago, crafter Lynne Kropinak was inspired by artist Clark Wittington’s Art-o-mat machines, repurposed cigarette vending machines that dispense art at locations all over the United States.

“I thought it would be great to showcase the items made in Pittsburgh,” Kropinak, 52, of Washington County, said.

Out of Kropinak’s inspiration came the Traveling Pittsburgh Craft-O-Trons, two former cigarette machines that dispense crafts for five dollars each. But the items are not just any kind of crafts.  They are made from so-called upcycled materials.

Upcycling, the process of rescuing materials from disposal and using them to create a new item of value, is a growing trend in the craft world, according to Kropinak, whose machines dispense items such as jewelry made from found objects and “Teeny Kreepy Dolls” made from reused fabric.

“It’s just so exciting to find things that have such a connection to someone local and have a story behind them, and when you think of it, it’s saving something from being thrown away forever,” Kropinak said. “You are saving it from the landfill. On top of everything, that makes it even more special.”

Pittsburgh's Upcycling Projects

David Carey, who hails from Toronto, purchased an item from Upcycla during his visit to the Toonseum.

Upcycling has been gaining popularity in the global craft community for several years, according to Becky Striepe, site director of Crafting a Green World, a website which showcases earth-conscious crafts from all over the world.

Striepe, 33, of Atlanta, said the term upcycling originated from Michael Braungart and William McDonough’s book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” which emphasized reusing materials for designs.

“Crafters co-opted the term to mean taking something that was land-filled down, crafting it and making it useful again,” Striepe said, who makes aprons and lunch bags from reclaimed fabric and transforms junk mail into paper crafts.

Striepe said she has noticed increasing interest in upcycling since 2008.

“[Upcycling] is appealing because it is doing something great for the planet, but it is also a great way to get cheap craft supplies,” Striepe said.

The trend can be spotted in Pittsburgh’s upcycling projects, with local crafters rescuing materials like Barbie doll limbs, bike chains and jar lids from heading to a dumpster.

Wildcard, a craft boutique in Lawrenceville, showcases the earth-conscious work of several Pittsburgh crafters. Owner Rebecca Morris said “a good 20 percent of the store, maybe even more” contains crafts that employ upcycled materials, such as Whimsical Wonders’ wind chimes made from old silverware and Erra Creations’ rings made from typewriter keys.

“[Upcycling] is definitely becoming more mainstream, as opposed to just being a new idea,” Morris, 32, of Lawrenceville, said. “I think that’s good because then people have to come up with better and better ideas, as they have already seen whatever is already popular to use.”

Jen Primack, 42, of Squirrel Hill makes children’s clothing with previously used fabric and sells her fashions on the online marketplace Etsy, like many other local crafters. She searches thrift stores and flea markets for her supplies, hunting for items that “have another life waiting for them.”

“I feel like it is good for the earth,” Primack said. “I am using material that is already here.”


Factoid box:

Where can you buy upcycled crafts in Pittsburgh?

Wildcard, 4209 Butler St.

Handmade Arcade, Pittsburgh’s annual indie craft fair, Saturday, December 8
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Blvd.

Boutique 208208 6th St.

The Traveling Pittsburgh Craft-o-Tron

Upcycla, currently at The Toonseum, 945 Liberty Ave.

Tronny, currently at Cats and Dogs Coffeehouse, 4059 Penn Ave.



Becky Striepe, 404.586.9186
Jen Primack, 412.480.6484
Rebecca Morris,
Jennifer Baron, 412.736.0343
Lynne Kropinak, 724.745.1259

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