Trash to treasure

Nichole Marie Biber was all smiles watching her children. She glanced around excitedly as they chattered to themselves, while bouncing a yellow ball under the table.

Her collage, gracing the cover page of City Pulse, sat in front of her as we spoke. It directly represented the words that came out of her mouth, between bursts of bubbly laughter.

“What drew me so much to collage is that I really like fashion,” said Biber, 42. “I look at all those magazines but they’re all so unattainable. Even the things that are ‘under $100!’ I’m more of a thrift store person, but I like the images.”

Biber said that it’s the construction of the piece that she enjoys.

“I like to put it together in ways that reflect how bizarre it is; that that’s something that everyone technically has access to, but really it’s only in those pages,” Biber said.

Biber grew up in Grand Rapids, where she began drawing portraiture in fifth grade.

After graduating from community college there, she came to Lansing to attend Michigan State University, earning her Ph.D. in English. Now she teaches writing at Lansing Community College.

“There was a waiting list for the program I wanted to go into, so I took an oil painting class,” Biber said. “I was drawing, but also painting from real life, and that made me aware of how enjoyable that is to me. That’s quite a difference from just drawing or painting something static, but instead an actual person and getting something of their personality in that. I like how it’s a sustained moment.”

Biber said she uses collage and other artistic mediums as an escape from the intellectual headspace in which she often traps herself.

“So many of my years have been spent in the intellectual life reading, writing and everything else. It’s kind of nice that’s something I can go to and it has fairly immediate results. It’s comforting like, ‘Oh, I can still go do something aesthetically, that’s not just words in my head and on a page.’” Biber said she often finds inspiration in making someone else’s trash into her treasure.

“I like to look at things that just would have been thrown out and do something with them,” said Biber. “I picture these huge garbage dumps we have full of things, and I picture an actual occupation as going through those, and getting things that could be made useful, rather than just thrown away.”

She said collage is her way of doing that “small scale.”

As a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Biber’s artistic influence has sunk into her children as well. She often makes collages with her younger kids, and her eldest attends an art school in New Orleans.

“I’ll never say, ‘That’s not a life path,’” said Biber. “Of course! Be an artist!”