HOUSTON (KTRK) --In a northside warehouse is a place where what was destined for dumpsters or heavy trash is transformed into things of whimsy, messages that can humorous or inspiring.
Once a top-selling corporate salesperson in the late 90's, Kiki Neumann was downsized during an economic slump.
"My mother told me, 'Don't get a gun, get a hammer,'" and she took it literally.
Neumann was drawn to weathered wood that had been fences, laid out on curbs for collection trucks. "I'd pick it up and put it in the car, through the sunroof of my BMW," she said with a smile.
The wood was fashioned into benches. Some had arm rests that looked like brightly colored arrows. They sold.
What really caught on were her birdhouses. Neumann sold 4,000 in all. Berings Hardware was one of the upscale retailers.
Then Neumann was treated for breast cancer. It cost her strength in her arms, so she put her hammer away.
"I was driving around and I saw the license plate in front of me, and I thought that's it," she said.
Now Neumann cuts and crimps pieces of old license plates into metal pieces of folk art. Some spell "TEXAS" in different letters from different plates. Others become the basis for dust pans, jewelry, and messages. It's whatever moves her.
"Everybody with a vehicle has two plates. Some people keep them, others hang them in their garage."
They've also made their way into the images for greeting cards, which are now sold at Buccee's flagship stores across the state. They're also in Bush Airport stores, for visitors who want a genuine piece of Texana. Each card is signed by Neumann.
The success she enjoys "pays her mortgage," as she puts it. But it's also a metaphor for her survival, from illness, and a change in careers. She gave up the BMW years ago for a pickup truck, which comes in handy when she makes her trash runs, looking for material.
"I was cast out to the streets, but the streets have what I need to make all this. So I literally repurposed myself," she said with a smile.
One of the pieces patched together through license plate letters -- "Just Make Something."
She does. Everyday.