Vickie Frémont, a French woman born in Cameroon, is a modern day heroine. For the past several years she has been conducting workshops around the world, using a hands-on approach for the transformation of rejects or trash into useful everyday objects. Included in her workshops—which take place in schools, community centres, universities, and even in commercial malls—are lectures on the destructive effects that trash of every kind has on the environment and on climate change.
She has conducted her workshops using recycled materials at The Fashion Institute of Technology, The Bank Street School for Children, The Henry Street Settlement in New York City, Community Works, and numerous museums, libraries, public, and private schools. She particularly remembers the time during one of her workshops when an elderly lady came up to her and asked her, “so, Vickie, what are we going to do next week?”
Ms Frémont left Cameroon at an early age. She lived in Morocco with her parents, and afterwards also in the Ivory Coast and in France. Ms Frémont has a dual background—a Cameroonian mother and a French father—which she believes has considerably enriched her view of the world and allowed her to see the points of contact of different cultures.
She has been designing and creating objects from recycled materials since she was eight years old, without any formal education. When she was 12, she began making dolls for her little sister. That initial work developed later into a passion for creating new objects out of recycled materials.
She focuses on what she loves: creating jewellery, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, sculptures, children’s toys, and art objects out of different materials such as hangers, plastic baskets, paper, cardboard, old wood objects, and rope, in short, anything that can be re-used. When I asked her, what was her guiding emotion, she told me, “to keep a part of my childhood, and to centre myself.”
Despite all her teaching activities she considers herself much more than a teacher. As she said, “much more than a teacher, I think of myself as someone who opens doors—the doors that exist inside us that make it possible to discover and develop our own creativity and to be able to have a better, richer communication with other people and other cultures.”
Her programme of working and creating handmade objects has a set of goals, which Ms Frémont describes as: providing materials for practical work which will lead to awakening the students’ creativity, restoring their self-esteem, developing their capacity to transmit their experience, including new knowledge, to others, and getting training for commercial and business activities. As part of this last activity, participants are taught business techniques such as adequate packaging, sales techniques, and bookkeeping.
After working in different countries, she settled in New York City, where she was the manager in charge of purchases at the Museum of African Art and continued expanding her activities as a jewellery designer. That activity brought her great recognition and international brands bought her creations. Talking about this activity she said, “my jewellery speaks about beauty as a source of empowerment. Each of my pieces is unique, as each woman is also unique.”
Her Recycling Art Programme teaches students how to create artistic objects from materials as diverse as stones, wooden sticks, and scraps of fabric. She told me, “creating something from ‘nothing’, art that some people would consider trash, is not only a worthwhile undertaking but one that brings personal pleasure and understanding.”
That programme has so far been adapted to be carried out with primary school and high school children as well as college students, teachers, parents, and seniors. For people working in stressful situations, it can provide them with entertainment and a way out of their routine work and a way to express their natural talents. As she says, “beauty can be found everywhere. Transformation of objects is like a miracle, a re-creation. This activity helps people to restore their self-esteem and it opens a door into the unlimited world of creativity.”
Her next workshops are to be conducted in Zimbabwe. She has an abiding passion for the art, culture, and music of Africa. Vickie Frémont left Africa many years ago, but Africa has not left her.
Dr Cesar Chelala is an international public health consultant and a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.