GARY | Bonnie Zimmer is a bit like Oscar the Grouch.
She loves trash.
"As old art teacher, I never threw anything away," she said. But unlike the furry green guy from "Sesame Street," Zimmer loves nature, too.
Zimmer's pieces are featured in an exhibit called "Objects of Contemplation: Rural Hybrids" on display through March 8 at the Gallery for Contemporary Art in the Savannah Center at Indiana University Northwest.
Zimmer, of Rensselaer, is an associate professor of art and assistant professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer. She previously taught art in the MSD of Boone Township schools in Hebron.
Her work reflects her rural heritage while making a statement about the connections between nature and the impact of human activity on the environment.
Zimmer's materials range from fragments of corn plants, feathers, acorns and branches found on her farm to scraps of tires, rusty farm implements and trash found along the side of the road or saved for her as "presents" from friends and family.
Many pieces involve weaving, either on looms or freehand, symbolically intertwining nature with manufactured, discarded items.
Zimmer is a native of Wheatfield. Her father had a small farm there and worked at the mills. One of the pieces in the exhibit, "Totem for Dad," is a tribute to her late father and features pieces of wood from a barn on her late father's farm that was struck by lightning, a rusty wrench and washers, corm stems and leaves.
"I just have this impulse to put seemingly random things together," she said. "It's a metaphor for blending nature and human existence in balance and harmony."
Corn is a central theme in her work.
"It was a very crucial first food for first peoples," she said. "Now it is a tool of power, control and industry."
Zimmer makes statements about genetically modified foods and the impact on farms and health in the exhibit. Fossil fuels and their consequences are another common theme, with pieces on the BP oil spill in the Gulf and fracking included in the exhibit.
Ann Fritz, gallery director at IUN, said she is impressed by Zimmer's interpretation of the rural landscape.
"Normally when we see artists from rural areas, we see barns, sunflowers, corn flowers and it is so monotonous," Fritz said. "She has it, but she has gone beyond and is constructing it in such a different way."
Zimmer, always the teacher, hopes those who view her work learn something from it.
"I would like to think people who come and view this show will leave changed in some way," Zimmer said. "If they see a piece of tire on the road and think about the art, maybe when they throw something away, they'll think about it."