Artisan’s recycled work featured at Saturday’s Deja Vu Art and Fine Craft Show

Wendy Simon’s fanciful whimsy that now fills her days and artistic hunger actually grew from a practical, straightforward challenge — communicating with her autistic son.

Several years ago, she sought a new bridge to the animal-loving Brett, then a middle school student.

Simon had always had been a talented painter as an artist. In 2013, she discovered air dry clay to create playful critters seemingly stuffed or “mounted” within recycled picture frames to get Brett’s attention.

“He began learning the give and take of a conversation — how to ask questions, and how to answer questions,” Simon said. “And it just ballooned from there.”

So much so that she quickly was selected to be an Indiana Artisan, a respected and honored role in the state.

“I just got the idea of doing something like a deer trophy mount,” she said.

And she seized the added idea of using mostly recycled materials to do it, from the aforementioned frames to costume jewelry and hats.

Thus, her specialty Cartoon Taxidermy was born in her Frankfort studio.

Simon, 46, says she will bring 25 to 30 pieces to sell at the 16th Annual Deja Vu Art and Fine Craft Show returning to The Commons Saturday in downtown Columbus after last year’s COVID-related cancellation. Under normal circumstances through the years, the event has attracted estimated crowds of more than 1,000 people, including attendees from surrounding areas.

Simon is this year’s featured artist at the mask-mandated event that celebrates recycling and eye-opening, recycled art from clothes to clocks. The gathering was born from a link with America Recycles Day and still celebrates that connection.

The Frankfort-based Indiana Artisan uses air dry clay to create the heads of her animals, from cats to moose to pigs to pelicans. As she describes the characters, “each one has riveting (resin) eyes and flirtatious eyelashes, sports a handmade hat and is decked out in accessories.”

Moreover, every animal is named, and the artist adds a comment about their personality. Average cost is $150.

And her zany zoo is so popular that her commissioned works are booked through March.

Columbus’ Marilyn Brackney, founder and coordinator of Deja Vu and also an Indiana Artisan, was captivated by Simon’s work, and then the back story of the creator’s pieces.

“She’s definitely one of the most unusual artists we’ve ever had,” Brackney said. “I have been after her now for at least three years to be in the show.”

Simon’s work was last displayed in Columbus during an Indiana Artisans show in the spring at the Columbus Learning Center. She hopes people can find a measure of mirth in her crafted creatures.

“I want people to be delighted and to have a good laugh,” Simon said. “I love the idea of that. With everything being so serious and so difficult in the world these days, if I can do something that brings people some sort of joy, then I really like being able to share that with people.”