Mercer County Artist Spotlight: Isaac Preston

Last updated: March 1, 2022

Trash or treasure? Bluefield native and Mercer County artist, Isaac Preston, has spent his life creating beautiful art from recycled garbage. And he believes you can do it, too! We recently got to speak with Preston about his artistic evolution and how he finds beauty in his everyday life. 

How would you describe your art?

I would say that the best representation of my work is that I like to take things that were otherwise considered garbage or no longer useful and make something useful out of them. 

Starting out in art, I always wanted to do it right. But I could never find the proper means of doing it because when it comes to artwork, you have to buy supplies. Then, I realized that all of the things that I needed for art were right in front of my face. Garbage is everywhere. People are constantly throwing things away. And with that, I was able to take that garbage and form it into something beautiful. In doing my work, I hope to show people how to not be as wasteful with the things that we have.

When did you start creating your art? 

When I was younger and my toys stopped functioning, I would take them apart. My dad was a carpenter so he always had tools around the house and he eventually gave me my own little toolset. Once I realized that my screwdrivers were small enough to take apart old video games, I would take those apart and look at what caused the video game to work. 

That was just something that I was interested in for the longest time – seeing how all the different toy parts functioned on the inside. Then, in high school, we had to do a senior project and I chose to do garbage art. I got together a lot of garbage from around my house to use and from there, I saw how much we actually waste per household. It’s astonishing, really. We let it go away because we don’t see the worth in it anymore.

How has your art evolved throughout your life?

Honestly, it’s almost embarrassing, when I think of my older work. It was very loosely fit together, but over time, I’ve learned how to put those pieces together. I’ve figured out how to put piano wire together, and that is, well for lack of better words, an awful thing. Piano wire has a copper outing with a steel wire core and it’s really stiff and rigid.

I’ve been able to twist the wire into really tight pieces for a few trees (Preston refers to them as trees, but other people may know them as sculptures). So when people say your blood, sweat and tears went into work – that’s pretty accurate for me. 

It’s amazing, though. I’ve had pieces start off as small as what I can fit into a bottle cap to my largest tree, which is as tall as I am. I used my big tree for the Downtown Countdown in Princeton. There was a thing we set up called the Wishing Tree. We hung pieces of paper on the tree and had people write their wishes down for the upcoming year. 

What inspires you the most? 

Nature in itself is inspiring to me. Life is inspiring to me. It’s being able to wake up every day and look at the things around me and see what kind of beauty I can pull from it. It’s almost a survival technique because it’s very easy to get sucked into this whole negative worldview, but my artwork helps keep me in the right mindset.

How have the last couple of years inspired you and your art?

I have a piece coming soon that I’m not really sharing with a lot of people yet. It’s a tongue-in-cheek piece about these last two years. But just having the time off for me personally, has been a godsend. I work retail, so I was an essential worker and kept working because I had a wife and family to take care of. 

But before the pandemic, my family was involved with a lot of other things like theater and a bunch of other extracurricular activities. Before everything shut down, we were in this mindset that we needed to be involved in all these things to keep going in life. But once all that was gone, we were able to breathe a little bit and we realized we didn’t necessarily need all of that.

We get so caught up thinking that we need to bombard our lives with things, that we forget the little things are the most important. 

What do you enjoy creating the most?

To be honest with you, the most fun I’ve had with projects is when I was working with my own kids or just kids in general. When I do workshops with kids or even young adults who thought they couldn’t do art, and I show them how to do little twists and whatnot, all of a sudden they realize they’re doing art. Just seeing the glow in their eyes and knowing that they created something for the first time after thinking that they couldn’t create anything.

Those are my best projects. I could have the largest tree in the world or the most intricate, beautifully woven wire, but it would be nothing compared to seeing the glow on the face of someone who thought that they couldn’t create.

In addition to my main art, I offer workshops. I use my artwork as a form of motivation. For instance, teenagers have this weird thing in their mind that there’s not a lot to their lives. And I’m like “Listen, you may feel like this broken piece of glass. You may feel like this discarded thing, but overall look at all these things that were considered worthless in the eye of some people, all this put together became something beautiful. If this can become beautiful, think of how much more you can be.”

It’s so therapeutic. I’ve had a few friends of mine, like older friends, my age who were just depressed. I’m like, “You know what, let’s do something. Let’s make the tree together.” 

When I start with my trees, I start at the roots first to have a firm foundation. You have to make sure that your roots are established, so that means no matter what you’re branching out to, no matter where that may go, you’re still going to stand solid because your foundation has been set.

Where can people find your art? 

I’m currently working on my studio space at the Historic Ramsey School at Gary Bowling’s House of Art. I have an entire classroom to myself where I create my work and can offer workshops. I’m getting that space together and as soon as I’m done, I will be hosting workshops there. People will have access to all the things that I’ve collected over the years and we’ll work together and make something beautiful out of things that were otherwise garbage.

Follow Isaac Preston on Facebook to view more of his artwork and stay updated on future workshops. To speak with Preston, contact Gary Bowling’s House of Art. Photos from All Together Arts and Isaac Preston.