How Spokane artist Amy Gurel turned a chance find in nature into her creative calling

click to enlarge How Spokane artist Amy Gurel turned a chance find in nature into her creative calling
Audrina Marcum/Marcum Visuals photo
Found glass shards reach out from wire branches

Twisted wire roots clutch a mottled chunk of what was once part of a countertop. The tree rises, spreading its glass and wire canopy toward the light. It's a dazzling display of artistry with actual roots tracing back to a creek in Arkansas.

"I had no idea I'd be this much of a glass nerd until I got into this," says Spokane artist Amy Gurel, the piece's creator.

Although she was already an avid crafter, Gurel says she didn't find her "thing" until the creek brought it to her.

One spring day she was walking along a trailside creek cutting through Fayetteville. Having fallen in love with beachcombing during a trip to Boston, Gurel thought she'd see what she could find on the creek's pebbled beach beneath a walking bridge. It was there she discovered "creek tumbled glass," as she calls it, much of it vintage, about the size of a silver dollar or smaller.

"We were unearthing [broken] bottles from the '20s and '30s, and they were the really cool embossed ones that have on the bottom of them where they were made," Gurel says.

She started bringing home buckets and backpacks full of glass, her newfound art medium. Yet she wondered, where did this nature-tempered vintage glass windfall come from?

Answer: an old bottling company.

"About a month later we found where we think the bottling company [was]," Gurel says. "It burned down, they bulldozed it and left everything there."

She found further evidence when rolls of old Dr. Pepper bottle labels turned up alongside the glass.

Gurel's inner artist was inspired to start creating something with all that glass, starting with keychains made from glass and wire.

"That's my 'it' thing," Gurel recalls realizing. "What I'm currently doing in my life is what I said I wanted to do in elementary school: I want to do something with art, and I want to teach."

And teach she does, sometimes hosting classes at the Corbin Art Center on Spokane's lower South Hill.

click to enlarge How Spokane artist Amy Gurel turned a chance find in nature into her creative calling
Amy Gurel photo
A glass suncatcher

While Gurel started occasionally selling her found-glass creations to family and friends in the early 2000s, she founded her artistic business, AJ Made With Love, in 2016 when she moved back to Spokane. The artist now has 40 different products she sells, from wall hangings to garden "bling," like suncatchers, plus jewelry and her glass-and-wire trees, which range in size from 6 to 12 inches tall.

The idea for the trees came years ago when two of Gurel's friends found a similar yet poorly made wire tree in a shop. They knew she could improve the design.

"I said, 'Game on, I am up for this challenge.' I went straight into my workshop and started putting them together," Gurel says.

In 2020 she started dreaming of making an even bigger piece.

"Something that would look good in a hotel or airport," she says. "The trees are what I feel would be the biggest statement that I could do."

Gurel is currently working on a 6-foot-tall tree made from galvanized steel, tumbled glass and the base of an old stop sign post. Her goal is to make her sculptural art pieces solid enough to withstand being indoors or outdoors.

Much of Gurel's art materials are still repurposed, like the creekbed glass. Other unwanted supplies might include broken pottery or medicine bottles, things she often receives from friends, family and those who hear about her efforts to recycle things into art.

Sometimes she still stumbles across unexpected finds — like some broken bone china dishes from the Davenport Hotel — and seizes the treasure (after asking about it, of course).

"I'm a repurposer to the core," Gurel says. "Just because something isn't being used for its original purpose doesn't mean that it's garbage to be thrown away."

These broken dishes, pottery and glass she then smoothes out in a rock tumbler using sand and water. Then the pieces are ready for Gurel to transform into something new and beautiful.

"The core of my business and who I am is not just helping clean up the landfill, but also helping others to realize that everything can be beautiful — even yourself," she says. ♦

Heartistry: Artistic Wellbeing @ Spark Central

Tuesdays, 3-5 p.m.
  • or