Chesiel John • Transforming Discarded Objects into Works of Art

As a single mom at a maternity shelter, Chesiel (jhee-ZELL) John couldn’t afford art materials so she used whatever she could find around her. “I didn’t have oil paints or acrylics. All I had was these bottles that the nuns threw away, and one of those bottles looked like a pancake syrup bottle with arms that were almost shaped like a mother holding a child.”

Taking her “found object” to her room, Chesiel wrapped discarded magazines around the bottle to form a dress and added a baby made out of tissues and cloth in the mother’s arms. Her son still treasures that work of art today. “Out of everything I’ve made, that boy holds onto that bottle because that was a turning point in my life.”

She discovered more than her niche as a found objects artist; she found healing during a time when she felt broken. “I saw myself in those broken things,” she says. Transforming those things into something beautiful and giving them a purpose became a journey of restoration for Chesiel. “Art was my healing.”


The biggest champion of her art dream, her mom made it a ritual to take Chesiel shopping for art supplies every Saturday throughout high school in their Caribbean island home of Trinidad. That support carried Chesiel through the challenges she faced after moving with her family to New York, including her mom’s death when Chesiel was 17 as well as pregnancy and homelessness.

The Sisters of Life and the Missionaries of Charity became her heroes, and when the Sisters of Life found a family who volunteered to sponsor Chesiel and her son and daughter in their Austin home, she stepped out in faith and moved to Texas. Now in Round Rock, Chesiel continues to transform found objects into works of art and carry on her mom’s legacy by taking her own daughter to buy art materials every Saturday.

From vintage postcards on eBay to old wires and bottle caps in parking lots, turning found objects into art has been a unique adventure for Chesiel. “Some were found by the roadside. Some were found in dumps and landfills. Yet others were found in antique malls and thrift stores, and they all had one thing in common: they were no longer wanted. I make anew what has been condemned as old, unwanted, or unloved. It is my duty as an artist to bring such objects back to life. When I see them I don’t really see found objects; I see possibilities.”

One of her found objects adventures started with a curiosity about Old Settlers Park and its farmland and pioneers. Using discarded cans and old farm wire she gathered from the park as well as an old washboard, she created a piece of art that she ended up donating to the Old Settlers Association. “It was remembering the past and showing homage to the old pioneers,” she says.


In addition to her interest in hosting lectures and workshops, Chesiel plans to tell her story in a book set to be released next year. She hopes it will encourage others in their goals, creative or otherwise. “Whatever you’re called to be, whatever you’re here to do, whether it’s a project, or you feel called to go on a mission trip, whatever that thing is—for me it’s my art—pursue your calling so it can change the world, change your life, and touch the lives of others around you.”

To other single parent artists, she says, “Even though you have to work to support your family, your art is also a support because when your family sees you being creative and that you are pursuing your dreams, it also motivates your children to pursue their dreams as well.”

Visit her page to check out Chesiel’s work.