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University: UL custodian recycles trash into dolls

Megan Wyatt, The Advertiser, July 13, 2014

Click here for video.  University of Louisiana at Lafayette custodian James Gallien creates recycled art pieces out of items thrown away by university staff and students. Watch him share how he creates his doll art. Video by Megan Wyatt and Leslie Westbrook, The Advertiser


James Gallien, a custodian at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, shows off his doll, named Blanche Devereaux after the character from "The Golden Girls.” Gallien made Blanche and similar dolls out of recycled materials.(Photo: Leslie Westbrook, The Advertiser)

She wears a gray cotton dress, black Crocs and her blonde hair in a bob.

Though she sports a pearl necklace and beaded earrings, she’s no ordinary doll.

Named Blanche for "The Golden Girls" character Blanche Devereaux, this girl has a tin-can body and plastic bottle arms.

She is just one of several recycled art dolls that University of Louisiana at Lafayette custodian James Gallien, 50, has created from items thrown away by students and staff at the university.

"I enjoy making them and the conversations that result from them," Gallien said.

Gallien got the idea to craft recycled dolls after visiting the Jockey Lot Flea Market, where he saw a vendor selling robots made from tin cans.

"I saw the robots, and I thought, ‘If they can make it, I can make it,’" Gallien said. "But I put clothes on mine to make it different."

The university employee forages through the cafeteria and trash cans for what many would consider trash for his artwork. He checks the large waste containers near dorms at the end of semesters for hair accessories, beads, clothing and other items that he can use in his creations. He also visits thrift stores in search of baby clothes and accessories to fit his dolls.

Gallien’s creativity is something that his supervisor values.

"He has an artist’s mind," said Garland Rodriguez, assistant director of the UL Student Union. "It’s a good quality to have in an employee."

Gallien has worked for the university for 14 years, and his favorite part about the job is getting to know the students.

"It’s the people," Gallien said. "They’re good."

Gallien has been creating recycled-art dolls for about three years now, and he gives away most of his creations.

One day he might sell his art, but for now, Gallien is just creating for fun and to contribute to the sustainability movement on the UL campus.

"Using recycled materials is a big thing on campus," Rodriguez said. "It’s pretty cool that James uses these materials for the art he creates."

Gallien is currently crafting a doll based on the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz." This piece will have a broad, tin-can body that will open up to reveal the character’s heart.

Some of Gallien’s other ideas include a doll based on the "Cinderella" character, a robot doll with bottle-cap-and-Christmas-light eyes and a UL cheerleader doll he wants to donate to the university for the upcoming football season.

Although Gallien makes the dolls at his home in his spare time, he almost always has one of his creations at his side.

"I keep this in my car when I just want somebody to see it," Gallien said of Blanche. "I’ll put her in my front seat sometimes just to see people’s reactions."

Most people light up when they see Gallien’s recycled dolls, although a few get spooked.

"They think voodoo," Gallien said. "It’s just art, but people get scared and think I’m putting pins in them."

The next time you’re on campus or at a parade, keep an eye out for Gallien and one of his creations, which is sure to lead to an intersting conversation.

More online

See more of James Gallien and his recycled art doll Blanche in a video at theadvertiser.com.