Yesterday's Trash Has Become Today's Art

By: Charlene Davisphoto

As people are becoming progressively more aware of how wasteful society is, many artisans are discovering wonderfully unique ways to address this environmental dilemma by "upcyling” everything imaginable. From converting old sweaters into stuffed toys to repurposing an old sign into a beautiful bowl, many artisans are finding interesting ways to bring new life to things originally destined for the dump.

Old, vintage book covers are redesigned into gift-quality journals and shadow boxes. Recycled plates from thrift stores and flea markets are recommissioned into unusual serving pieces, and antique typewriters are taken apart to be redistributed and used for unique jewelry. Even expended fire extinguishers have been turned into beautiful art forms.

Some artisans have the ability to give new purpose to old clothing by refashioning them into new garments and accessories. Mandy Mueller (design name Amanda Vernell) has developed a line of one-of-a-kind bridal gowns that are made by redesigning previously used wedding gowns. "For now it is mostly recycled items,” she says. "As the collection grows I hope to be all recycled.” Mueller is currently working on this line in the University of Washington’s Fashion: Concept to Market certificate program (

Other ways that earth-friendly artisans are reducing their ecological footprints are:

· Reusing junk mail such as catalogues and magazines that are turned into patterns and gum wrapper style crafts like purses. Santa Fe artist, Nancy Judd of Recycle Runway ( has created a unique collection of eco trash couture as an innovative and fun way to provide education about conservation.

· When using fabric, many artisans purchase material with organic fibers such as cotton, silk, wool, or hemp, or fabric made from recycled materials. Who knew beer cans could look so good?

· A growing number of artists use water or vegetable based inks and tree-free, 100% post consumer recycled papers. Others, such as Julia Garretson of Portland, Oregon, make their own handmade paper using recycled sources such as clothing, onion skins, junk mail, plants, etc.

· Old buttons and antique watch faces are refashioned into lovely ornaments and jewelry such as bracelets and watchbands.

· Plastic grocery bags are turned into durable floor mats and rugs; and vinyl records albums are reproduced into clever coasters.

· Jean Gonzalez, owner of "Say Anything,” a boutique business near Carytown in Richmond, Virginia, has been hand sewing for 40 years and NEVER buys new materials. What items are not donated to her, she buys from thrift stores and yard sales.

Another area of concern is the vast environmental destruction caused by the mining industry or the incredible pollution generated in the making of fine jewelry. In a 2006 report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, The Toxic Releases Inventory , metals mining was responsible for more the 25 percent of all toxic releases in the US in 2006, including heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and lead.

R. Craig Whitten, the nationally-acclaimed designer of the whimsy™ collection of fine rings (, counters these effects by using only reclaimed sterling silver, gold, and gemstones. "Today’s consumers expect more from the products they purchase -- merchandise that is created responsibly,” says Whitten. "Silver, gold and gemstones are finite resources, and mining is one of the dirtiest industries in the world. According to the NoDirtyGold campaign (, a single gold ring leaves a shocking 20 tons of harmful mine waste.”

Even if you don’t use recycled products in your craft or artwork, there are still many creative ways you can raise your awareness and become more environmentally conscious. Internationally recognized artist, Pablo Solomon (, lives and works with his wife, Beverly, on their historic 1856 ranch north of Austin, Texas. Pablo says some of the green things he does as an artist is:

· Stretches canvas over old window screens (both wooden and aluminum) instead of buying new frames. "This makes a great canvas while saving money and a few trees,” says Pablo.

· Purchases inexpensive, distasteful decorator prints found in junk stores to reuse. "The cardboard is great to paint over,” he says. "Plus I get a free frame for the new painting.”

· Pablo also uses lipstick, eye pencils, and other makeup products his wife no longer wants for his drawings.

· In addition, he uses natural materials as often as possible by painting on rock slabs and sculpting with local stone.

"Getting the most out of anything is saving energy and resources,” says Pablo. This is great advice that we can all aspire to live up to. So, if you haven’t already, start transitioning to a greener way of life today!


Charlene Davis ( is a nationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses ( The Association of Artisan Businesses (AAB) is a national, non-partisan, professional organization whose mission is to assist individual American artisans in reaching their full business potential, while also promoting awareness of the artisan industry to the public, government agencies and elected officials.