Community Collaborations: Project Vermont

Community Collaborations: Project Vermont

Posted Jun 26, 2023

At Outerknown, we were born to explore the unexplored, to celebrate the extraordinary in the every day, and to inspire adventure, no matter how big or small. This series shares stories from individuals based in the greater communities of our retail shop locations who embody our same endless passion for life and nature. Their work inspires our culture here at Outerknown, and we're excited to share it with you.   

In partnership with Lise-Anne Cooledge, Project Vermont is proud to feature local Saint Albans artist Michael Konrad, a schoolteacher, husband, and father of 3, who crafts eye-catching artwork from reclaimed wooden doors and other various upcycled treasures. Michael has eight pieces currently displayed at Project Vermont and a few others featured in another nearby neighborhood. We had a chance to chat with the New York-born creator to learn more about his journey.  

I consider my artwork junk art. It's reclaimed art. In my small way, I'm contributing to not having things fill the landfill–giving these things new life.

How did you first get connected with Project Vermont?
I coach lacrosse, and I coached with Scott, Lise-Anne's husband ten years ago. I'm a teacher also, and we both teach in the same district. I taught elementary school for the last 25 years but needed to do something different. There was an opening at the high school, and I applied and got that job. So, now I work in the same building as Scott. I've been doing art for 10-12 years, but he didn't even know I had anything to do with that. He had seen some of my pieces on Instagram. I was at an art showing in Burlington, just south of us, and he had seen some of the pieces and was like, "Oh my gosh, these are so cool." I went into Project Vermont because Lise-Anne repairs jeans, so I had a couple of pairs of pants I wanted her to take care of and do her magic with. We just started talking about some of my artwork. Lise-Anne and Scott followed me on Instagram and thought my work would go perfectly in the store. They came up one of the nights recently and looked through all my pieces and picked seven or eight that would fit in their store.   

Your work is incredible. I haven't seen anything like it. What led you to start creating this type of artwork?
My family is creative. My mom is a quilter, and my dad, before he had his stroke, would carve wood pieces. His father was also very creative in making things out of wood. My mom is a big junker and garage sale person. She always dragged me along as a kid, and I kept that same explorer-looking-for-treasure mindset. I found a shutter with really awesome, crackled paint on it. The pattern of it was really cool. I was like, "I'm going to make that into something." So, I made a burst from it and then just kept finding other pieces like old doors and old metal pieces that were just intriguing to me.   


It's wild how you can create the patterns you do with old, cracked doors! Tell me a little bit about your creative process.
Well, it's quite a process. Right now, in my garage, I have like ten doors that I've either sought out at a Habitat for Humanity store or a resource store, garage sales, or people on Craigslist will post things they don't want anymore. I'll take the doors and dismantle them all. I face-cut both sides, and then I have some templates I run through to get those shapes. Sometimes I'll have things that sit for a while, and when I start working with them, I have a basic idea of what I want to do with them.   

As I start creating, the pieces sort of tell me what to do and where to put them, which is the fun part.

Music is also such a huge part of what I do. I always have music playing in my shop, and it's inspiring to have that part too. I'm such a music lover. I have this huge record collection in my house and old '70s gear. There's always music playing in my shop.   

What a great community to be a part of and an inspiring place to live. Did you grow up in Saint Albans?
I'm originally from New York, just outside Syracuse, but I've been here for 27 years. We raised our kids here. I have three boys. It's just an awesome place to raise kids. All the hiking trails, we're right by the lake and the mountains. There's just so much to do.   

It's cool to see local artists and collaborators supporting one another. Outerknown is all about supporting our many surrounding communities.
Yes, for sure! Lise-Anne has been very successful in that spot, which is incredible that her shop has done as well as it has. Taking those recycled materials, jeans, and different pieces and making what she does is pretty cool. 

Absolutely! What are your favorite recycled materials to use in your work?
One piece in the Project Vermont shop is probably one of my favorites. It's made of old keyboard keys. That one took so long. People have been recycling them for years, and you can't find those old keys. That was probably a five-year journey to find those keys. I'm really fixated on the doors. That's where most of my attention is going right now, repurposing old doors. I'm always looking for anything interesting, like crackled paint. I tend to keep all the imperfections in my pieces. So, you'll see doorknob holes, hinge spots, old nail holes, or screw holes. Those imperfections are things that I seek out and try to have as a central part of each piece. 

Do you have any sources of inspiration when creating your work?
I try not to look too much. I try to find my niche on my own. There's a great art community here, especially in Burlington, Pine Street area, that's a whole artistic district–amazing artists. But no one is doing what I'm doing here. A lot of it is painting and collage-type stuff, but no one is really working with wood, so I'm a little bit of an anomaly here. I'm just trying to hone in on and explore as much as possible.  

Outside of Project Vermont, how often do you show your work at various shows and galleries?
It's been ramping up now. I was making art in secret for quite some time, and my wife and my family were like, "You need to start showing your stuff!" Within the last two years, I've been getting my stuff out there, and there's been quite a lot of interest in it.   

In addition to using reclaimed materials and upcycled treasures for your artwork, what sustainability practices are important to you?
We always use recycled products; when purchasing things, we always look for companies with a similar mindset.

Do you have any favorite Outerknown styles?
I do need to get myself some Blanket Shirts. But I have a pair of swim trunks, a pair of shorts and an awesome T-shirt–one of my favorite T-shirts. It's a pocket tee, and the material is so soft and comfortable.  

That's important to us! We take a lot of pride in creating clothes with the best quality materials that feel great and are easy on the planet. We love hearing what pieces folks are drawn to. 
Yeah, I wear that T-shirt at least once a week because it's so comfortable. 

Are there any other projects on the horizon for you?
You always have things in your mind, you know? I'm still fixated on the doors. When I get through the winter, I always try to get pieces of wood that have the potential to use in artwork. I have to prepare through the summer and fall, and then I have all the materials to use through the wintertime. So right now, I have these ten doors just sitting in my garage and lots of ideas of what I'm going to do with them, but I got to get at it. I drive my wife crazy because I just want to make my art. Promoting myself is hard for me to do.

I just love making art, finding those treasures, and putting them in an interesting way that gives it new life. That's my main thing.

If you find yourself in Saint Albans, Vermont, pop into Project Vermont to see the newest Community Collaborations install featuring Michael Konrad  

Posted Jun 26, 2023