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by Larry Austin
Mia Skinner has given new meaning to the phrase "pop art."
The owner of Soda Can Earrings, Skinner and her business made a return visit this weekend to the Lewiston Art Festival, the event she said where her business all started.
Skinner, 20, has been making and selling jewelry made of recycled materials since she was 12. It was Carla Malstrom of Wheatfield, Skinner's aunt, who first suggested to her niece that she set up shop at the Lewiston Art Festival.
Skinner is now a student at Carnegie Mellon University studying entrepreneurship and graphics media management with a minor in communication design.
Under her signature pink tent, Skinner sells earrings made out of recycled pop cans, beer cans, and energy drink cans, jewelry out of bottle caps, and necklaces and bracelets out of the pop tops.
"I started eight years ago because I wanted an iPod," she said. Skinner explained: "My mom goes, 'You can't get an iPod for Christmas or your birthday, you've got to make all the money yourself. You can't be using other people's money to buy this bogus machine. Don't get an iPod.' I'm like, 'But, Mom, everybody has an iPod.' She's like, 'Well, make the money up.'"
The idea to make earrings out of soda cans came to her when she was drinking a Fresca in front of her mirror.
"And then I made up one pair of earrings and wore it to school the next day and everybody wanted a pair."
She started selling her homemade jewelry at school, though selling to classmates at the district in her native Pittsburgh technically wasn't allowed. She was the only enterprise at the school that hadn't been shut down because "the teachers were buying them from me," she said.
And the bogus machine?
"I actually got the iPod in a week."
A few years later, a friend of Malstrom allowed her niece to set up shop during the festival. She subsequently earned a spot in College Alley, the Lewiston Art Festival's location dedicated to student artists.
"I was a junior in high school when I started shows, and then when I was senior in high school I got to apply for College Alley, and I've been doing College Alley ever since," Skinner said.
She rolled some of her profits back into the business by buying tables and the trademark pink tent, a color selection not exactly to the liking of her mother.
"My mom's like, "No, you can't buy a pink tent.' I'm like, 'Well, why not?' She's like, 'It's too much.' And I go, 'Mom, no. People are going to come to the pink tent.'"
Did they ever. The pink tent was buzzing on College Alley Saturday and Sunday for the Art Festival with customers looking to put into practice the company's slogan "Reuse. Recycle. Wear."
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Another veteran of the Lewiston Art Festival was Wheatfield artist Mike Murawski of M&M Iron Works. He said he's been part of the festival for seven years, selling his hard-to-describe art made of stone and iron.
"I can't even describe what this is when people ask me what I do," Murawski said. "It's hard to tell them that I make birds and stuff out of rocks."
"I think just the quality of the work and the artists make it one of the finest in Western New York I think," he said of the Lewiston Art Festival. He enjoys the event more now that Center Street is closed to vehicle traffic and the Lewiston Council on the Arts, hosts of the festival, moved the artists' tents off the sidewalk and into the street. The new setup allows Murawski's customers more space to get up close to his stone and iron ducks, turtles and birds.
"It was like a salmon run on the sidewalk," he said of the old setup. "I had people that said, 'Mike, I couldn't even stop at your booth.' "
He said the new setup is "so roomy, it's not crowded."
"People can shop your displays."