A dress made of Capri Sun pouches? Popular design contest lets Maine artists play with trash

Posted April 02, 2014, at 8:55 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Last year, the winner of the Altered Couture design competition fashioned a strapless gown — and purse — out of Capri Sun pouches.

Two years earlier, a local sound artist crafted an umbrella, yellow fisherman’s overalls, ping-pong balls and a shopping cart into an unusual creature that spit ping-pong balls at the audience to the sound of his own art.

“It was pretty intense,” event founder Christine DeTroy said. “He won.”

Over the past four years, participants in the contest were told to shop for materials at local thrift shops or secondhand stores — or even the town dump — and spend “no more than $30, hopefully less, or practically nothing,” DeTroy said Wednesday.

The artists, who range from elementary school students to Maine College of Art designers, will model their artwork Thursday evening for a team of judges at the Coleman Burke Gallery in Fort Andross. The event will benefit ArtVan, a Bath-based mobile arts therapy program.

A team of artists from Spindleworks, a nonprofit art center for adults with disabilities, created a design to be featured Thursday evening, a dress made from donated materials that features crochet, embroidery and beadwork.

“It’s fun working together on a fashion project,” said artist Anna McDougal, who will model the dress Thursday evening. “When I was picked for the model [project], I was honored and teary-eyed. We’re working on a collaborative project to benefit the ArtVan. We like to share the love of art with everybody.”

Beth Carr of Woolwich, a fiber artist whose studio is located in the Fort Andross complex, has designed a mermaid costume to fit with this year’s coastal theme.

“I spent time going to different shops, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, to get ideas, and I collected and collected,” she said Wednesday. “I had this whole huge pile of stuff, and I still didn’t know what I was going to do. Then I went to Goodwill one day and found an amazing dress, and I knew I was going to use it. I’m just inspired by everything around me … and when it comes together, it totally comes together.”

For three years, Altered Couture was held in the Frontier Cafe and Gallery. However, after DeTroy scheduled two shows last year to meet demand for tickets, she decided to move the event for 2014 to the adjacent Coleman Burke Gallery, also in Fort Andross, which holds 250 people.

The 2014 show is sold out. But for those who didn’t get tickets, the works of art will be on display Friday and Saturday in the gallery.

DeTroy acknowledged that there are similarities between the challenge and those posed by the reality television series “Project Runway,” but she said there’s one important difference.

“These shows encourage you to be unpleasant to each other,” DeTroy said. “We’ve become this culture that’s stimulated by chaos and putting other people down. What I love about this is the judges aren’t allowed to say anything about what they didn’t favor. It’s a celebration of everyone’s level and creativity.”

DeTroy encourages designers to relax and have fun with the project.

“I tell them, ‘Get a stapler, some duct tape, some hot glue, and just have a vision and play with it,” she said. “It’s a great way to discover something about yourself, and it doesn’t cost anything, really, except imagination.”