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Chicago Artist Transforms Scrap into Contemporary Art

Artist Mary Ellen Croteau’s cultural critique on the refuse that litters our world

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Chicago-based artist, feminist and social activist Mary Ellen Croteau transforms scrap made from organic polymers into contemporary art in an effort to clean up our environment and draw attention to litter that often goes un-recycled. She does it by turning discarded plastic bags, jar lids and bottle caps into decorative and room-brightening objects.

“Plastic World,” April 1 to May 5, the first spring 2013 exhibition hosted by Northwestern University’s Dittmar Memorial Gallery, is Croteau’s visual commentary on the environmental impact of society’s waste. An opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, April 8, and the exhibition, are free and open to the public.

The Dittmar Gallery is located on the first floor of Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. For more information, visit

For 12 years, Croteau has been making art that addresses pressing environmental issues. Working with plastic refuse her family and friends collected in their own homes or that she retrieves from dumpsters at the recycling center at North Park Village, Croteau comments on global environmental degradation.

The Dittmar exhibition will feature nine of Croteau’s installations, wall and ceiling hangings and sculptures, including “CLOSE,” an 8-by-7-foot self-portrait made from more than 7,000 bottle caps that took the artist two years to collect and seven months to construct.

Other highlights include “A Measure of Consumption,” a 175-foot long installation made from about 600 plastic bags; “Endless Columns,” vertical strands suspended from the ceiling in variable dimensions are made from colorful plastic lids, caps and pill jars; and “My Eye,” a close-up of the artist’s eye is made from plastic bottle caps and lids of varying sizes.

“My art is meant to undermine the status quo with humor and ironic juxtaposition,” says Croteau.

Her work has been exhibited locally, nationally and internationally, most recently at Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago and at Supermarket 2013, an international art fair in Stockholm, Sweden that draws hundreds of artists from more than 30 countries. For more on the artist, visit

For more about the exhibition, call the Dittmar Gallery at (847) 491-2348 or Norris University Center at (847) 491-2300, email or visit