Karrie Hovey has spent months working in a dump.
As artist-in-residence at Recology, a San Francisco garbage and recycling company, she was by turns depressed and exhilarated by the waste generated in her city.
"I even found Christmas presents that hadn't been unwrapped," she said. "You'd be astonished what Americans throw away."
But for her art, which was required to contain 98 percent recycled material as a condition of the residency, it was a bonanza.
"I was ecstatic," she said. "It was the best resource ever for material. Never once did I not find what I was looking for."
Hovey shares these insights and more with Savannahians through an ongoing exhibit at the Jepson Center, "Karrie Hovey ... The Garden Grows: Inside and Out," plus a lecture March 27, a workshop with seventh-graders from Garrison Arts K-8 School on March 28 and another workshop for community teenagers on March 29. An April workshop for families will allow participants to further grow the garden using materials Hovey has prepared.
Her installation was created specifically for the Jepson Center's Eckburg atrium and other public spaces. In it, a tree branch looks like it's growing through the window; ivy trails from a window box, chrysanthemum blooms on a wall.
"She came up with something sensitive to the architecture of the Jepson," said Harry DeLorme, senior curator of education for the Telfair Museums. "It fits really beautifully into the building."
Look closely and you'll see the origin of the carefully crafted leaves, flowers and trees, DeLorme said.
"The leaves are all made out six-eight layers of plastic bags heat-pressed together. You can see the recycle symbols on some of them. It's fun finding these details on her work."
Other leaves sport a yoga graphic.
"You're like, wait a minute, that's a yoga mat," DeLorme said. "They're beautifully crafted pieces you can appreciate at a distance. Up close, you get a sense of the craft involved."
The mums are made from books retrieved from Recology, where Hovey is allowed to return several times a year to harvest material. Amazed at the number of personal libraries thrown away and aware of the rapid digitization of books, she chose to recycle books into chrysanthemums, a symbol of mourning in China, where she's also worked, but a "happy, jolly" flower here.
"The idea is that books are a dying form, yet so many more people have access to what they're saying," she said. "Is it a death or a rebirth?"
Flying around the mums are birds made of book pages, Hovey's comment on Twitter.
"I'm trying hard to embrace it but I have a hard time being so reductive," she said.
The installation and related programs are free and open to the public, thanks to funding from the city of Savannah Department of Cultural Affairs.
Hovey's work is beautiful, but that's not her intention, she said.
"I'm not trying to make beautiful gardens," she said. "I'm trying to welcome people into a discussion with my work. Who doesn't like flowers? It's approachable subject matter."
Our automatic reaction is to get rid of things not in use, but it doesn't have to be that way, she said.
"We're creative enough people to think of using things in an alternative way," Hovey said. "I hope that's what my work does."