ARTS & CULTURE

Artist Restores Rejected Stuffed Animals, Encouraging Others To Embrace Their Imperfections

02/20/2015 08:13 am ET | Updated Feb 20, 2015

Artist Nina Salerno has a soft spot for abandoned toys. To her, there is something undeniably lovable about the raggedy critters, with their tattered fur coats and vacant yet wistful expressions. Perhaps she sees something human inside them that tugs at her heartstrings, something slightly defective yet utterly lovable -- and hungry for love.

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Wonder the Vegan Wolf

Salerno channels her passion for stuffed animals whose exteriors may not be up to snuff in an ongoing project entitled "Perfect Rejects." The Los Angeles-based artist turns recycled toys into the stuff of fine art, recasting every glitch and tear into a special and unique physical attribute to be cherished and treasured.

"One day I found a box of discarded plush toys thrown out from an estate sale," Salerno explained to The Huffington Post. "The toys looked so vulnerable, rejected and abandoned. Something motivated me to take them home to my studio and turn them into something else. It struck me that they still had value, even if someone else had failed to see it.

"I created my first toy and loved the final result –- by being a little odd and different, it was distinct, not flawed. I called it a 'Perfect Reject,' and it was that particular creation that started my journey of compassion and empathy through play. When I shared it with some friends, they loved the idea too. I received requests to make more, which I did. Pretty soon I was making dozens of Perfect Rejects, and I realized that what I liked about them was really resonating with others too, so I decided to turn the idea into a business."

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Wonder the Vegan Wolf

Salerno's creations are currently on sale at museums and art shows for prices up to $450. But the artist hopes her plush creatures can one day sell at retail rather than collector prices. Salerno is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to produce one particular critter, "Wonder the Vegan Wolf," in large enough quantities to make him more affordable to the average consumer.

"As I work to expand Perfect Reject from one-of-a-kind art pieces to a line of fun and affordable toys, I’m building on this idea," Salerno continued. "My first mass-produced toy, Wonder the Vegan Wolf, is (as the name implies) both a wolf and a vegan. That’s pretty different. And he’s a little odd-looking. He’s unusual, but the world is a better place because of it."

Salerno hopes to reach her $19,600 goal by March 16, 2015. If so, she will donate 10% of every plush toy sold to Wolves Offered Life & Friendship (W.O.L.F.), a wolf sanctuary and educational non-profit. "As humans, we often react to diversity by labeling the things that make us distinct as 'imperfections.' They’re not, and when we celebrate our diversity rather than condemning it, we foster joy, strength and empowerment."

Truth. Also, Wonder is just about the cutest wolf we've ever seen. See more of Salerno's adorable and utterly perfect rejects below.

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