For centuries, artists have reclaimed items to turn them into their art: whether it’s reusing canvases (as X-rays demonstrate almost all the old masters did) or incorporating found items into sculptures, such as pop artist Robert Rauschenberg’s creative way of reusing items ranging from bicycles to roosters. These artists, though, take it to a whole new level.


Named by TripAdvisor as the second wackiest attraction in America (second only to a toilet seat museum in San Antonio that, ironically, has no public restrooms), Carhenge is probably the best known work of art on this list. Located in Alliance in Western Nebraska, this car sculpture by Jim Reinders incorporates 38 automobiles into the life-sized replica of the famous stone monoliths in Stonehenge, England. Future generations will assume it had something to do with the annual progression of the sun.

Animals and People Made from Discarded Plastic Parts

Anyone who has a child (or has been one) knows that plastic toys don’t last forever. However, even after they go to the landfill, the broken pieces can last for decades, even centuries. Enter artist Robert Bradford, who turns such misfit toys into playful, colorful works of art. His life-sized and supersized sculptures of animals, people, and architecture utilize discarded plastic items such as toys, brushes, combs, and more. If Bradford has his way, these works of art will be truly immortal in a way we all hope landfills won’t be.

Portraits Made from Found Items

Originally a textile artist, Jane Perkins moved to reclaimed plastics. In her fun, colorful creations, she draws inspiration from objects found in the trash. Starting with a large photo or artwork, she matches up and attaches colored objects such as buttons, bobbles and fragments, to create 3-D versions of such classics as the Mona Lisa and Girl with a Pearl Earring and portraits of people like Queen Elizabeth II of England and President Barack Obama. Her art is inspired by bowerbirds, who collect objects like shells, pieces of glass, stones and discarded plastic to turn their nests into living works of art.

Angels Made from Guns

In the 1990s, as gun violence plagued Los Angeles, artist Lin Evola (then Evola-Smidt) developed a creative solution. She convinced L.A. residents to relinquish their guns, which were then melted down and used to create statues of angels. What began as a small project grew larger, with Evola increasing the size of the statues to be featured in parks. Her 13-foot-tall angel, “The Renaissance Peace Angel,” was moved to Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has since expressed an interest in a global version of her project, which would decrease the “proliferation of small firearms, light artillery and other weapons of war.” How beautiful would that be?

Realistic Animals from Discarded Plastic

The “reclaimed creations” of artist Sayaka Ganz are so stunningly graceful that it’s hard to believe they are made from things that someone threw out. Composed from thrift store plastics, these astonishing works are inspired by the Shinto belief that all objects and organisms have spirits. Her artist’s statement says that she strives to help each object to transcend its origin by being integrated into organic forms “that are alive and in motion.” And when you see one of her horse sculptures galloping across a gallery, it seems she’s achieved her goal.

Celebrity Portraits from Cassette Tapes

Self-taught artist Erika Iris Simmons takes a post-modern approach to pop art, with imagery based on concepts of data and memory. But whether or not that statement makes sense to you, her astounding portraits of musical celebrities — fashioned in looping lines from cassette tapes — will blow your mind. In her artist statement about her “Ghosts in the Machine” series of such portraits, she writes, “I imagine we are all, like cassettes, thoughts wrapped up in awkward packaging.” Her gift is to find the elegant beauty inside such packages.

Intricate Abstract Sculptures Made from Books

In this day of digital publishing, are books becoming archaic? Artist Brian Dettmer is doing his best to make sure books are remembered: if not for their intended purpose than through his imaginative sculptures. He begins by sealing the edges of an existing book, creating a stable surface. Then, using knives, tweezers and surgical tools, he carves into them. One page at a time, he creates layered images, sometimes representational (a gear or a house shape) but often abstract and always dreamlike.

Fantastic Landscapes Made from Food

From his earliest days, listening to music and drawing in his room, inspired by posters of work by Salvador Dali, Patrick Woodroofe and album artist Roger Dean, artist Carl Warner created his own worlds. Those lush inner landscapes are now transformed into “foodscapes,” creating miniature landscapes using pins and super glue. The no-longer-edible sculptures have a limited shelf life, but thanks to Warner’s other love — photography — he sees that each is immortalized in breathtaking wonder. Children and adults will have fun viewing his works and figuring out exactly what formed each portion of it: from lentil gravel to real onion-bulb cathedrals.

Leaves Made from Human Hair

Artist Jenine Shereos, who specializes in textiles — creating lace based on tree shadows, for example — fashioned a series of amazing intricate leaves by wrapping, stitching and knotting together strands of human hair onto a water soluble material. When that material is washed away, what results are skeletal leaves that look exactly like the veining that underlies an autumn leaf. Shereos calls her painstaking creation process “meditative,” and it’s easy to imagine that each leaf is suffused with the thoughts that ran through her mind as she was fashioning them.
Shadow Sculptures Made from Garbage

At first, it looks like a pile of garbage, but shine a light on it, and you’re likely to gasp in surprise. Sculptors Tim Noble and Sue Webster assemble cast-off materials like scrap metal and wood into sculptures that take on new life when hit the right way with a beam of light. A pile of nondescript garbage, or a series of elongated metal scraps, turns into a detailed portrait in silhouette. Check out their sculptures, and you’ll never look at garbage the same way.