As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This is certainly true when it comes to artists who use recycled materials to create works of art. Here are ten unique creations artists have made from recycled materials.
Ross Palmer Beecher is a mixed media artist who constructs quilts out of recycled materials–mainly metal. For example, her Large License Plate quilt is made of tin, wire, and, of course, license plates. It’s 65 x 98 inches and goes for $12,000. And, then there’s her Happy Easter quilt. It’s made of fabric, tin, oil paint, jacket patches, and bullet casings. It’s 60 x 33 inches and goes for $7,000. Her Clipped Wing quilt is 11 x 19 inches, goes for $3,000 and is comprised of oil on tin, beads, and painted gum wrappers.
9. Shoe Trees
There’s nothing unique about decorating a tree-like sculpture with a bunch of miniature shoes, right? It is if those shoes are made out of bread. Dusan Kusmic, a reclusive Yugoslav, began molding bread into miniature pairs of shoes after a fellow inmate in a prison camp in Sicily committed suicide. Traumatized by the event, Kusmic, rather then eat the pieces of bread he was given, turned them into works of art–using his own spit, mind you. When he was released from the camp, he began selling his artwork to a jeweler’s shop. The Irish Red Cross then brought him to Dublin in 1950, where he lived until his passing in 1990. According to The Irish Times, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin included his work in an exhibition titled “Art Unsolved: Works From The Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection.”
According to Arvind Gupta Toys, “the best thing a child can do with a toy is break it!” That’s because this toymaker believes that some wonderful creations can result from recycled materials. There’s the toymaker’s Can Train, which is comprised of film cans, buttons, thread, needles (used for the axles), and an an old bicycle tube with valve, which represents the train’s smoke stack. Then there’s his Puppet, which he makes from bottle lids (those are the hands), thick string (for the arms and legs), a card that’s been cut and colored (this is the puppet’s face and body), matchboxes filled with sand (for the feet), and a ball and two sticks joined together by some string (this is used to control the puppet). There’s also a dinosaur he made from computer parts he soldered together.
Project Learning Tree has some unique ideas on its website for animal art projects made with recycled materials. For example, you can make a cute snake craft from paper towel tubes. Or a paper maché platypus using a water bottle, cardboard, some newspaper, and forks. To make a nutty squirrel craft from recycled materials, they suggest painting three egg cartons brown and using pompoms and felt to make the face. To make the tail, use a pipe cleaner and felt. Then, hot glue the whole thing together. Want to make it extra fun for the kids? Project Learning Tree suggests hiding an acorn under a squirrel and having them guess where it is.
English glass artist Deborah Thomas fashions iridescent chandeliers from broken bottles. “Everyone fantasizes that I throw them against the wall and have this smashing time, but it can get a bit painstaking,” Thomas told The New York Times back in 1993. Here’s how she really does it: Thomas gets bottles from friends or recycling centers. Next, she reaches for her gloves and goggles. Then, she puts each bottle in a bag and smashes them with a hammer. Afterwards, she shapes the broken pieces and uses wire to tie them to a steel frame. Back in ’93, it would take her about a month just to make a chandelier. She even named them. For example, the the clear, blue or green chandeliers were named “Frozen Branch,” “Night Frost” or “Northern Fleet.” The chandeliers sold for $5,000 a pop.
Mark Serwinowski and Jennifer Wozniak of Denver spend time in their garage making purses out of vinyl records and album covers. They make mini purses with smaller 45’s and even opened an Etsy store called ShesARainbowCO. Wozniak also sells the purses in boutique shops and at outdoor markets.
The purses came about from an idea Wozniak had. She wanted a way to make a beautiful purse that was also roomy and sturdy. “It’s been evolving, but when my husband figured out how to cut the vinyl, that’s when this really got going,” she told The Columbian. To make the purses, Serwinowski uses a saw to cut the vinyl, then he drills holes into them. Wozniak then hammers decorative rivets through the holes to help hold the purses together. She also uses leather belts she finds at thrift stores for the purse handles. Album liner notes serve as the inside lining for the purses.
Jewelry artist and educator Ron Ho often incorporated objects he collected while traveling to places like Afghanistan, Thailand, Nepal and Vietnam into his jewelry. His “Dog Stars” pendant, for example, is comprised of an African gold weight, a bronze Afghan fragment, sterling silver, and a 1930 reproduction of Pre-Columbian dog beads. His “Treasures of the Orient II” necklace is comprised of carved ivory kagami-buta (a variant of the netsuke), carved Chinese jade button, pearls, and forged and fabricated silver. And, his “Lepidoptera” necklace is comprised of Lapland incised scabbard case, Iranian bone beads, and repoussé, forged, and fabricated silver.
FUN FACT: The very first piece of jewelry Ho made was a necklace crafted out of an old bone domino a friend of his gave him.
3. Sculptures and Furniture
Artist Clare Graham uses recycled materials to make sculptures and furniture. “He collects hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of the same object and assembles them together at Mor York Gallery in Highland Park, Los Angeles,” ABC affiliate KABC-TV said in an article published on its website in 2016. In fact, he told KABC that he has probably used over 15 million pop tops alone! Other objects he uses include buttons, bottle caps, and Scrabble tiles. “When you give [recycled materials] the signifier of being arranged in a certain way as art, people sort of get it and they realize that it all doesn’t have to go into a trash can,” Graham told KABC. “It can become something else and have further use,” he added.
2. Children’s Crafts
In 2017, the Baraboo Public Library in Wisconsin held a craft workshop that allowed kids to create art from recycled materials. “They had no trouble using their imaginations to create unique pieces,” WiscNews said in an article on its website. “Some made telescopes from toilet paper rolls, while others developed plans to build robots from Star Wars.” A four-year-old girl even painted a rock to make it look like a lady bug.
The workshop was held at Campbell Park in partnership with the city’s Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department.
1. Succulent Gardens
Mother magazine posted a unique idea for making a succulent garden out of empty would-be-recycled tin cans. For this craft, you’ll need between two to four tin cans with the labels removed, potting soil (ideally, a mix specifically for succulents), one to two handfuls of small rocks, and succulents (between one to two per can, depending on the size). To begin, drill one or two small holes in the bottom of the can so the soil can drain. This is necessary since succulents don’t need a lot of moisture. Next, fill the can halfway with potting soil and transfer the succulent into the can. Then, scoop more soil around the succulent until the can is full and the succulent is secure. Depending on the climate, you should water your garden every 10 to 14 days.
Have you ever used recycled materials to create a work of art? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!