May’s cover art

photographs by Christer Berg

It takes an artist’s eye to find beauty in the everyday: Denise Hughes did just that with her family’s recycling bin. “First, I noticed how easy it is, even as a family of four, to fill up the massive blue recycling bin we roll down to the street,” says the local muralist and painter. Then she looked closer. “Most of it is plastic and actually very colorful.”

Hughes began making mosaics out of plastic caps, “just to see what I could do.” At first, her works were of marine life – compelling, multilayered renditions of an octopus, a seagull, a crab – meant to raise awareness about the impact of plastic waste on the environment.

As Hughes branched out to human portraits, an ode to her adopted hometown was, she says, a given. “I just love Raleigh. What better way to show that than with Sir Walter? He was such a flamboyant dresser, with intricate patterns on his Elizabethan coats and the feather always in his cap. What a fun thing to try.”

The resulting 8’ x 8’ piece, which graces Walter’s cover, contains some 12,000 caps, from family-sized yogurt container lids to itty-bitty brightly colored medical caps donated by health care professionals. It took Hughes three weeks of “all day, every day” work to finish the larger-than-life mosaic. “I wanted to do something of and to the city. I knew it had to be large to get the details of his hat and coat right. It’s kind of obsessive; it’s like putting together a puzzle. It’s a lot of fun.” –J.A.