A musical instrument installation at Meow Wolf Convergence Station

One Person’s Trash is Another’s Masterpiece: Creating art out of garbage

Before throwing away that paper towel tube or foam packaging, think about what it could become with a little imagination. After all, one person’s trash can be another’s treasure, and the vehicle to make music, create art and even revamp into clothes.

The idea of using found objects, aka trash, and turning them into something else isn’t new. In fact, art historians consider trash art to have started with Marcel Duchamp and his iconic Fountain, which was created in 1917 and made from an upside down porcelain urinal. Today, artists around the world continue to push the boundaries on what is trash by showcasing sculptures, three-dimensional art works, concerts and more, all out of what’s just lying around.



14th & Curtis, Denver

The cast of STOMP plays musical instruments onstage

STOMP Created by Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas. Photo by Steve McNicholas

While your toddler banging on pots and pans might not sound melodious to you, using found objects to make music isn’t only for the little ones. In fact, the show STOMP is all about the beautiful sounds that can come from the everyday stuff we see, even items some people think of as garbage.

In just under two hours, listen as an eight-member cast utilizes push brooms, wooden poles, Zippo lighters, inner tubes, a kitchen sink, hammer handles and more to create an eclectic and energetic symphony. Experience STOMP yourself this February 21 through 26 at the Buell Theatre.

Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station

1338 1st St., Denver

A musical instrument installation at Meow Wolf Convergence Station

Photo by Nathan Hindman for Meow Wolf

Another place to hear music created from found objects is at Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station. Here you’ll find Gremlin Symphony, an entire room crafted with car hoods, road signs, and other scrap metal salvaged from the surrounding neighborhood of Sun Valley. But beyond the look of the area, it’s also a massive musical instrument.

The main musical components include a 120-year-old piano that’s animated by a combination of solenoids and electromagnets, a custom built three-octave vibraphone chandelier (that, as part of the story of Convergence Station, functions as a portal into the multiverse), and a 12-foot hemisphere of drums. These all play in tandem on their own, creating melodies that range from eerie to beautiful to chaotic. Sometimes, if listening closely, you may hear the composers’ names tapped out in Morse Code.


Craftsman and Apprentice

1325 E. 22nd Ave., Denver

Inside the Craftsman & Apprentice studio

My Make Studio. Photo by Jessica Dory

For Delanie Holton-Fessler, founder of the children’s art studio Craftsman and Apprentice in Denver, things that are normally thrown away can be a real treasure to kids, especially when creating.

“The sky’s the limit with how kids can use ‘trash’ to make art,” she said. “We collect bottle caps, cardboard, tubes, and all sorts of small parts for kids to build with.”

The result, she added, are projects such as dioramas, toys, games, and works of art to hang up or display. Currently popular projects at the shop include junk robots and marble runs, which comprise of cardboard, some tubes, scissors and masking tape. The kids have also found multiple uses for the bubble insulation often found inside of meal delivery kits. Holton-Fessler’s current favorite creation with this medium is space helmets.

“Trash is a low-stakes material and kids can take risks, make mistakes, and try different strategies,” said Holton-Fessler, who also wrote the book, Maker Camp: Heritage Crafts & Skill-Building Projects for Kids, which covers a lot of projects to inspire little and big kids to using just about anything. “Overall they’re working with free and abundant materials so they can feel free to experiment without wasting anything.”


Meow Wolf

A model walks the runway in Meow Wolf style clothing

Photo by Roxanna Carrasco

1338 1st St., Denver

Recently costume designer Kate Major created the first Meow Wolf fashion line, which debuted at the 2022 Denver Fashion Week and was made out of trash. She reuses whenever possible, and soon will have even more stylish looks featuring items others may see as garbage.

“I find working with trash great because it becomes its own inspiration,” said Major, who is the wardrobe Coordinator at Meow Wolf Denver. “I’ll have a pile of scraps that should be thrown out, but instead they look so beautiful as a collage on the table that I cover them in packing tape and use it as fabric, giving it another life.”

She has also utilized the sleeves from 300 long sleeve shirts that were cut into short sleeve shirts to make a monster. “It’s all about finding beauty in everyday things for me,” she said.


A portrait of Frida Kahlo made out of recycled items

Artwork by Heidi Calega

Colorado artist Heidi Calega started making pictures of her family, friends and famous people at home during the pandemic, all using beads, buttons, shells, broken toys and more. While she doesn’t have a show going on right now, see her work online.

Also look for pieces by Leigh Cabell, another local artist who uses discarded items in her creations. Think gum wrappers, twist ties and cereal boxes, which she sews together and arranges into a desired design or effect. Currently some of her pieces are on display at Artists on Santa Fe Gallery.


A children's playground made from recycled materials

Junkyard Social Club

Junkyard Social Club

25225 Frontier Ave., Boulder

In Boulder, there’s a whole complex created using found objects and trash called Junkyard Social Club. Hit up the 6,000-square-foot outdoor playground and look for a life-size giraffe made of garbage, a repurposed bus, tire structures, and plenty more creations to climb on and explore. Aside from the playground, the Junkyard also hosts dance parties, kids’ camps, game nights and more, and has a café attached to the venue. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 5:30pm and Saturdays 9am to 1pm the playground is open for visitors of all ages ($10 for kids, $5 for adults).