Retired cigarette machine dispenses art

Published Oct 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm (Updated Oct 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm)
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A Cecil Township craft artist says people have developed a healthy addiction to a vintage cigarette machine she retrofitted and rotates around the Pittsburgh area as an ambassador for local craft artists.

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Lynne Kropinak has cleverly recycled a decades-old vending machine with hand pulls into an artsy device from which to dispense inexpensive, handmade crafts in boxes the same size as cigarette packs.

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“Get a healthy habit. Support the local craft scene,” Kropinak said.

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She estimates nearly 4,000 crafts created by several artists have been sold in the past few years from the machine that pops up in such places as Bocktown Beer and Grill in North Fayette Township and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the city’s North Side. It’s currently drawing a lot of attention at the Mattress Factory Art Museum on the North Side.

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“People come in and stare at it for a while,” Kropinak said. “At first they don’t know what to make of it.”

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The top of the machine that once advertised Marlboro or Pall Mall smokes has been replaced with a hand-cut paper design in the Art Deco style bearing the name Craft-O-Tron.

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Kropinak borrowed the idea from the Art-o-mat created by Clark Whittington, who in 1997 began using recycled cigarette vending machines to sell art and culture in Winston-Salem, N.C. The concept since has spread across the country, providing outlets for nearly 400 artists from 10 countries.

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“I loved the idea and thought, ‘Why not do it with crafters in Pittsburgh?’” said Kropinak, a mother of six sons who also creates whimsical lamps from recycled items for a company she named Brought Back to Light.

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“It’s sort of a miniature mechanical craft show that travels around like a craft ambassador,” she said.

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She also uses the machine to promote the dates and locations of craft shows, such as Handmade Arcade, where she has been among more than 100 local crafters selling their wares at David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

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Among the items sold in the Craft-O-Tron are crocheted pierogi, bracelets, earrings crafted from small plastic replicas of Heinz pickles and keychains decorated with severed Barbie doll arms and legs.

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The Barbie keychain is the work of Nikki Telladictorian, who refers to herself as a “small arms dealer.”

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Liz Patton of Bentleyville makes flower pins from recycled wool sweaters, and those items are hot sellers.

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“The pierogi earrings are real popular,” she added. “I’m really lucky it has kept going.”

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