The Art of Upcycling

Discover how old sewing machines are transformed into retro masterpieces by local award-winning artist Billy Vandeberghe

By Donna Gable Hatch
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In the eclectic world of contemporary art, few artists have captured the imagination like Billy Vandeberghe, the mastermind behind BillyV’s Upcycle Art. Known for his unique sculptures that fuse vintage sewing machines with an array of antique collectibles, Vandeberghe creates pieces that are both nostalgically evocative and strikingly modern. His work reflects a lifelong passion for antiques and vehicles, brought to life through his imaginative vision. 

 He began his professional career at Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. on May 28, 1973, coinciding with his high school graduation, and retired after a 30-year tenure. 

 Driven by his passion for motorcycles, he and his wife Vicki launched an online business in December 2003, Fox Hill Farm Leather, selling motorcycle products from their home. They employed two college students and sold the business in 2011, marking his second retirement. 

 After retirement, he volunteered full-time with a megachurch in Leawood, Kansas, assisting with a mission initiative in Haiti following a major earthquake. He made several trips and stayed in Haiti for three months to gather intelligence for community development projects.

 “The next three years were spent helping a friend with his construction business and managing a church ministry called Kingdom Builder,” he said. 

 “We built wheelchair ramps for those in need. The ministry sparked the creation of Accessibility Solutions in 2015. We did disability-related projects, funded by a HUD grant for accessibility. We built tons of wheelchair ramps and did home modifications, including roll-in showers. I sold my half of the company to my partner and retired in February 2020.” 

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 After working over 50 hours a week for more than 30 years, retirement wasn't quite what he had expected. The couple decided to relocate from Kansas to Texas to be closer to their son and youngest daughter. 

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 Placeholder image“Retirement has such a different meaning than [it did in] generations past,” said the father of three, grandfather of 10, and great-grandfather of two.

 “I like to think of it more as redirecting our passion. I have had a very diverse work history, starting with growing up on a produce farm that continued through high school. When I retired for the third time, it left me with a lot of time on my hands. Vicki said, ‘You need to find something to do.’ So, I tell people that I went into the garage, and this is what happened.” 

 From his garage emerged sculptures that start with a foundation in history - an antique sewing machine that is more than a century old. Around this, Vandeberghe constructs various vehicles using an assortment of antiques and collectibles. 

 “I’ve been an avid antique collector for nearly 50 years. I also love motorcycles and have owned a few over the years. As I look at old cast iron sewing machines, I see their shape within most transportation vehicles,” Vandeberghe said. 

 “I have built trains, motorcycles, tractors, cars, rat rods, and trucks of all types.” 

 Among the artist’s notable achievements is winning Best of Show at the Galveston Art League's Spring May 2024 juried show with his piece "310 to Yuma." 

 The title of the piece is a nod to one of his two favorite western films, “310 to Yuma.” His other favorite is “Tombstone.” 

 “This was only the second juried show that my work has been in and the very first time I displayed my work at the Art League of Galveston. My first juried show was The Art League of Baytown Upcycle Art Challenge in August 2023, where I was awarded First Place in the Decorative Category,” he said. 

 In 2023-2024, he operated pop-up booths at the annual Corvette Expo at the Convention Center and the Moody Gardens Air, Boat & Car Show. 

 The creative process for Vandeberghe begins with a vision of the piece he wants to build. The selection of the sewing machine is crucial; chosen for its design, shape, and condition. 

 “When I acquire a new machine, I research it to determine the manufacturer, model, date, and quantity produced,” he said. “The search for the perfect wheels is often the most challenging part.” 

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 His favorite finds are baby buggy wheels and vintage pedal cars, circa 1920 to 1930. “I start pulling parts from my inventory, and that’s how a new sculpture begins.” 

 Placeholder imageVandeberghe’s attention to detail extends beyond the visual elements of his work; he meticulously lists the age and description of all the parts he uses in each piece. 

 “I saw the list as a natural part of creating the piece. It turns out that when you are in an UpCycle Art Challenge, you must provide a list of items used in the creation. I think it enhances the value, and it’s always fun to watch people identify different objects within the sculpture.”

 With no formal background in art, Vandeberghe jokes that he “attended the Father Guido Sarducci Five-Minute University.” He says he allows the art within to forge its own path, and then he allows the art to find its own audience. And it does. 

 “My art appeals to ‘gear head’ type people. I try to have a new project underway in my shop space every week,” he said. His work starts at $1,500. “I have done a couple of commission pieces and would love to attract more of those.” 

 BillyV’s Upcycle Art can be viewed at the Baytown Art League Gallery and the Galveston Art League Gallery. Additionally, Vandeberghe has a private gallery in the Mont Belvieu home he shares with his wife Vicki, who is also an artist. Their home gallery is open by appointment only. 

 For more information about his work, email or visit his Facebook page, BillyVs Upcycle Art at

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