Journals and sketchbooks created with recycled books.

In junior high, Lisa Nordstrom wore an arresting accessory of her own design. Fellow peers, puzzled by her curious, colorful creation inquired as to its origin.

Lisa recounts with a laugh, “I made a necklace out of gumballs! I strung them together and dipped them in polyurethane. I wore the the necklace to school and everyone wanted one!”

Lisa chuckles as she relates an amusing memory, “This was in the seventies. I matched my pink, blue, and white gumballs to my gray elephant bell pants and a pink turtleneck!”

She shares, “I had all those crazy craft hobbies as a kid. I made candles and constructed jewelry out of recycled materials. I crocheted belts out of hardware and string and dyed them different colors.”

Soon, students were placing orders for Lisa’s treasured trinkets and fun finery. Little did she know then that she would one day go on to become an accomplished assemblage artist with her own gallery and gift shop, Art Gecko, where she would sell found object art and fine crafts created from reclaimed materials.

Lisa studied at the Ray-Vogue School of Design and went on to complete coursework at Columbia College where she dabbled in art and design as well as film. She secured a rewarding job working as an assistant film editor and eventually as an editor.

Highly kinesthetic, Lisa fell in love with the hands-on of editing and splicing, touching and cutting. But as the industry changed to absorb modern technology, Lisa’s affinity waned. She explains, “I didn’t like the digital direction it was going in.” She admits to being decidedly nontechnical. 

No longer fulfilled, she made a conscious decision to leave behind the financial security and perks of her job to remodel her career. Her husband encouraged her to seek out a career path that would draw upon her creative energy as well as her love of design. Lisa heeded his advice and before long had established a successful and lucrative gift basket business from her home.

Lisa sighs and smiles, as she recalls her house becoming a basket-making factory, “My living room became my work space. I loved the hands-on aspect.” But she soon found that filling orders of dozens and sometimes hundreds of the same gift basket yielded a sterile environment for an artistic mind teeming with ideas and yearning for ceaseless invention. 

At last, Lisa decided to create the perfect space for her uberous designs, Art Gecko (21 Harrison Street in Oak Park), her very own working studio. While you may not find those wonderfully peculiar gumball necklaces, you will find a magnificent menagerie of jewelry, all fashioned from repurposed materials: charming necklaces, whimsical bracelets, all one-of-a-kind pieces, all handmade on the premises by Lisa in what she affectionately terms her “playhouse.”

Lisa also conceives mixed media art pieces: 3D collages and wall art fabricated of salvaged materials, wish boxes and worry boxes fashioned of vintage items. Each seminal work of art decidedly slows you down, involves you: tattered music sheets, old love letters, discarded items; all beg the question, what is your story?

Here at Lisa’s workshop, reclaimed materials find a new identity as Lisa’s creative power coats each craft with patina and persona. She explains, “I don’t look at anything for what it is. I ask, ‘What could it be?’” Like Pinocchio come to life in Geppetto’s workshop, so each piece seems to find breath and truth in Lisa’s hands.

At Art Gecko, Lisa sits in perfect harmony with her surroundings, and the fluency between the materials she carefully selects, her designs, the final art piece, and the nostalgic atmosphere she has created is striking and salient. Her favorite part of being an assemblage artist is the juxtaposition of finding and creating, of technique and imagination. She confides contentedly, “Every day I get to spend my time doing what I like to do.” 

Visit for gallery hours and to view a sampling of Lisa’s found object art.

Have you visited Art Gecko? Tell us what you love about Lisa’s gallery and her creations.

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