Trash to Treasure: 6 of America's Coolest Junkyard Artists


(Photo: Lorelei Sims)

They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but that’s especially true for craftspeople such as Lorelei Sims.

“I have had access to a wonderful junkyard since college,” Sims tells Yahoo Makers in an email. Sims has been using discarded odds and ends to make beautiful creations for years.

“In the early days, when we had more industrial and manufacturing plants in the area, the junkyard was a plethora of drops and remnants from these places,” she says.

“Spun cylindrical forms, discs, plates in every shape and size, plus all the old agricultural items that went to their final resting place. These items filled the junkyard and I was fortunate enough to be able to ‘shop’ there.”

Sims says inspiration for her pieces, or “assemblage,” can usually be found in one single item that may remind her of something else. She says their unique shapes or original purposes can give way to the final sculpture. She often holds onto an item for years before feeling inspired to use it.


(Photo: Lorelei Sims)

One of her most beloved junkyard pieces was created after she came across a roughly two-foot-wide ball of barbed wire in the junkyard. It was its unique shape that caught her eye.

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“I have seen rings of barbed wire fencing gathered and tossed into the scrap yard, and I have actually made wreaths from the rings, but never a spherical shape. It reminded me of the big ball of string sculpture that was kitsch in my youth.”

Sims eventually decided it was best to find more like it and create a snowman. She found several more barbed balls in different sizes to complete the work

Through imagination and ingenuity, Sims crafted a stand for the snowman out of a standing shop fan that was missing the fan itself. She then sharpened the shaft and turned it into a spear to hold each ball.

Sims next crafted the snowman’s hat out of an old can and a small disk.

“The remainder of the pieces I made from forging stock for the branch arms, welding spikes on rounded corner, slightly domed squares that became his buttons, like charcoal briquettes, the scarf was heated and cut for fringe and the broom was a piece of mesh with a old steel handle welding to it,” Sims said.

And with that, “Rusty the Snowman was born from just finding one ball of barbed wire and the good fortune of finding everything else.”


(Photo: Lorelei Sims)

Although access to junkyards is more limited these days, Sims recommends junkyard artists check out rural farm auctions where artists are more likely to find the junk pieces they are looking for, for a little less than what the market is paying.

Sims now works full time creating iron works for the home and garden. She no longer creates junkyard art available for purchase, but rather keeps it for herself.  “I do not part with these because they are truly one-of-a-kind,” Sims said.

If you’re in the market for that one-of-a-kind piece made from reclaimed materials, check out a few of the amazing junkyard artists we found across the country.


(Photo: Derek McDonald)

Derek McDonald

McDonald, an artist from California, says on his Etsy site that his sculptures are “all created by recycled metal or other material that I’ve pulled from landfills or found strewn across the country. My obsession is to make clean welds, connections and seams that are almost always hidden.”

His pieces range from recycled metal flowers that go for around $85, to an $18,000 wine barrel surfboard.


(Photo: American Metal Art)

American Metal Art

American Metal artist Mike Jackson creates unique pieces out of found metal and horseshoes.

His piece, Horseshoe Cowboy, was made out of several horseshoes and a rock collected from his property in Southern California. The fire ring is just large enough to hold a tea candle. The entire piece is just under $40.

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(Photo: Kathi Borrego)

Kathi Borrego

Borrego, an artist from Oregon, has been working with reclaimed materials for the last decade.

“I seek out, not new, but old industrial castoffs such as farm tools and antique tractor parts. These pieces, that are featured in my work, hold the history of our farming and logging communities from rural Oregon,” Borrego explains on her site.

She makes beautiful side tables out of materials ranging from gears and chains, to railroad spikes and camshafts.



Jacque Frazee

Frazee, an artist from South Dakota, created his piece titled Implement Bird after coming across an old farm tool “with pieces that were vertical, full of gears and rusty. I saw a bird; the body, neck and upper pieces of the leg,” he wrote on Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk’s site. The piece is for sale at $6,500.  More examples of his custom work can be found on his website.


(Photo: Ruta Wilson)

Ruta Wilson

Wilson, an artist from Ontario, Canada, creates larger-than-life masterpieces such her majestic war horse entirely from mixed reclaimed metals and other materials.

According to her Etsy page, Wilson never cuts or alters the found materials, but rather assembles them using “the old tools and implements that make up these incredible pieces.”

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