Nebraska Recycling Council

Meet Mary Newcomer, a 96-year-young recycling phenomenon

Meet Mary Newcomer of Beatrice who is 96 years young – truly. This woman has an inspiring amount of enthusiasm for recycling and a ton of creative flare. She has won numerous awards at the Gage County Fair for her artwork made from recycled materials, including a “Trash Cottage” that won the grand prize a couple years ago. To this day, she continues making improvements to the house, which is made up of materials like boxes, straws, beads, chewing gum, floral wire, med supplies, pen parts, and many more. Her attention to detail is remarkable, so much that many of the original materials she uses are nearly unrecognizable by the time they’re in the cottage. It looks like a cozy, well-decorated home.

Instead of watching TV or playing bridge, Mary instead prefers to spend her time doing this type of art. She can’t pinpoint when she became interested in it, but It is clear how much her family planted the seed. She has loved dollhouses since she was a little girl, and her aunt built a beautiful dollhouse of her own. Mary has now passed the tradition on to her own family, building dollhouse furniture with her own daughters and cities from boxes and paper bags with her grandson.

“This is great if you’re a babysitter,” Mary expressed after a quick demonstration on making a paper bag building. She is also conscious of storage space and explained how she planned her grandson’s city to be folded and hung up in the garage so it could be used again and again.

In addition to artistic family influence, living through the Great Depression taught her a lot about how to use what you have. She knew the importance of hanging onto things for later and has always been a proponent of recycling, even in its earliest stages.

Some of her art has incredibly moving meaning behind it, for example a cabin that is “a tribute to HOMESTEADERS who built homes from what was available,” and her piece, “The Hungry Horde,” a picture that represents world hunger and recycling, two of Mary’s concerns.

When asked if she sells her art, Mary responded with a little chuckle, “I’m not in the business.” She is happy to share her art and stories with others, but their home will always remain with her.

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