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Penny Zimmerman-Wills uses recycled housewares to make garden art.
By Justin L. Fowler | SJ-R
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Recycled goods become garden art
By Molly Beck

For two decades, Penny Zimmerman-Wills lived and died by a deadline. Today, she makes her own.

As a self-employed artist who makes "upcycled" and whimsical garden ornaments, the former Illinois Senate press secretary and journalist traded a hectic life for something a bit slower - but just as fulfilling, she says.

"I am still looking for work, absolutely," Zimmerman-Wills says. "But this is fun for me." 

As owner of Pearl's Vintage, which bears her grandmother's name, Zimmerman-Wills has been hunting for and selling vintage items and recycling others into her signature garden ornaments since 2008.

Her workshop is adjacent to a beautiful, midnight-blue Victorian house just west of Springfield, near Pleasant Plains, that she and her husband are restoring. 

Stop into Studio on 6th in downtown Springfield, and a coffee cup with saucer sits atop a brightly colored spindle, inviting visitors to touch the surprisingly sturdy object, intended to withstand the elements despite being made with delicate china.

Zimmerman-Wills says she spends most of her time digging through bins at garage sales, visiting estate auctions and generally keeping her eyes peeled for things that might catch someone's eye. 

She says she looks for china, plates, vintage ashtrays and table legs. Recently, she began peddling snowmen made of old stoneware lids. They were a hit.

"Those sold really well around Christmas," she says about each three-lid man that comes complete with a name and its own scarf and hat.

The hats were contributed by her father, Richard Zimmerman - a 76-year-old retired farmer from Mason County who now lives in Springfield.

If Pearl's Vintage had any employees, Richard Zimmerman would be it.

His daughter makes the finds, puts them together in a creative way and it's then his job to make sure they'll stay in a customer's garden or front yard.

"I drill holes in the bottom of them and put a 360-degree rod in the ground, and some of them I have to cut little boards to fit the dish because they are oblong," Zimmerman explains.

Zimmerman-Wills' father says she gets her creative side from both her mother and him.

"My wife had her in ceramics and making different things, but I've always been handy with my hands. I've built hog houses and cattle sheds and garages. This gives me something to do."

Sue Schwartz, owner of Studio on 6th, where Zimmerman-Wills sells some of her inventory, says Zimmerman-Wills' items sell from the low $20s up to $40 per plant stake or garden ornament. 

Zimmerman-Wills also sells on her etsy website, Pearl's Vintage, and at The Foundrie in Chesterfield, Mo.



About Penny Zimmerman-Wills

Home: Pleasant Plains
Occupation: freelance communications consultant, owner of Pearl's Vintage 
Education: bachelor's degree from Western Illinois University, master's degree from University of Illinois Springfield
Website: www.etsy.com/shop/pennyzw


Story published Friday, September 2, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 5 )

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