From trash to treasure

Designers, artists and creative business people are making beautiful things out of trash found not only in Dumpsters, but at other flea markets, secondhand stores, old barns, garage sales, auctions and wherever.

Artists have used recycled materials in their artwork since the early 20th century — think Picasso, Braque and Gris. Today, salvaged treasure shops and junk markets are popping up in unexpected areas and on websites where some of these folks choose to exhibit pieces that incorporate recycled and found materials.

A junk market is very similar to a flea market, where inexpensive, secondhand or refurbished merchandise is sold. These markets may be indoors, outdoors or under a tent. The vendors may rent a table or a space to sell their items.

Flea markets date back to the late 17th century and were called "marchés aux puces" in France, or "market with fleas," because some folks felt that people ran around like fleas looking for a bargain in the northern edge of Paris.

Today, junk markets have become very popular throughout the world. Going by the old saying, "One person’s junk is another one’s treasure," each year millions of people attend these markets in search of that ideal item at an ideal price.


As we move from being a disposable culture to one that recycles, junk markets are the ultimate form of reusing materials. They have become more like community gatherings, a place where people meet friends and share a few laughs.

Cheryl Woodward of Pine Island is a junk-market vendor in this area, working with a business by the name of Junk Devotions.

When it comes to buying and selling secondhand items, Woodward says, "We feel that we are making a difference in the environment." Sometimes, she adds, she'll come across items that are actually collectible.

"Have I ever sold anything and found out it was worth more? Yes, a pie bird I sold for 75 cents and later found out it was a collectible and worth a lot more," she says.

Janis Minerart of Decorah, Iowa, likes to collect vintage linens, sewing notions, buttons and lace. She displays some of her items at Generations of Harmony in Harmony.

"I find most of my items at auctions, flea markets, junk markets and thrift shops. Folks do just drop off items at my home with an occasional button or two missing, or stains, but this is why I love my work because I never know where I am going to find a piece of lace or linen," Minerart says. 

Some people prefer going to a  junk market or flea market rather than shop for second-hand items online because they like being able to get up close and personal with the items. Here they can feel and examine the items before making a purchase.

Ki Nassauer of Long Lake, Minn., is the founder and president of Junk Revolution and Junk Bonanza. She says she is the original "Junk Lady," and has been referred to by the media as the "Martha Stewart of Junk" and "America's most famous Junker."


Nassauer and a team of select Junk Bonanza vendors will display and sell vintage wares, antiques and junk at the Gold Rush in Oronoco. Those that stop by their Bonanza booth on Aug. 20 can pick up a copy of Flea Market Style magazine and have it signed by Nassauer.

"It has been my goal since 2000 to make a career out of junk," Nassauer says. "I have spent the last nine years scouring flea markets, garage sales, surplus stores and occasionally a street-side junk pile for raw materials to work magic on, repurposing junk into tastefully inventive and decorative items."

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