Trashy Treasures

By Madelyn McCrary

Alecia Vera Buckles paints a piece of wood for one of the upcoming projects that she has been working on. Tuesday, November 8, 2022. (Photo by Madelyn McCrary).

Adorned with bright colors and spunky personality, local Chattanooga artist Alecia Vera Buckles has found a way to create functional and sustainable art from an uncommon medium: trash. 

“I finally feel like I’m touching the toes of where I want to be in my career and that is truly one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had,” Buckles said in a recent Instagram post. 

Buckles has been creating art since she was a young girl. Some of her first memories of creating art date back to her early childhood, doodling on the pews during church services. But she was destined to do more than just doodle artwork.

She knew that art was a career choice that she wanted to pursue. “The passion has always been there,” Buckles said. Art has always made her happy and she knew if she did something that made her happy everything in her life would fall into place.

“Art made me happy, and I knew if I kept doing something that made me happy, then no matter what I did, whether that be other jobs or art, that it would just lead me to where I wanted to be and like I would be enjoying my life. From there it kind of took off into a career and in that moment, I was like, ‘all right, this is going to be it,’” Buckles said.

Alecia Vera Buckles holds two unique pieces that she had made in the past. Tuesday, November 8, 2022. (Photo by Madelyn McCrary).

Buckles’ mission revolves around wanting to create sustainable art and functional pieces that can be used in a multitude of ways. She has a passion for creating cool, fun, and funky art out of recycled materials. Buckles says that when she was a young college art student, she could not afford to spend thousands of dollars on oil paints and things of that nature, so she decided to be innovative.  

“I found objects that were inspired by the modern and postmodern era and turned those objects into intentional viewing pleasures that I liked,” Buckles said. She thinks that a culmination of everything she was inspired by plus trying to counteract waste shaped her into an artist that looks at the world as whole and she wants to do her part and help the world.

Buckles knows we all live in a capitalistic world where so much trash gets tossed out each day. She is also aware of how much trash an artist produces while making their art projects.

“I’m no saint, I still produce a lot of waste, but I do try to cut down,” Buckles said.

Her favorite material to use is XPS foam, which she utilizes to build her three-dimensional installations. Even when using unsustainable materials, Buckles is very conscious of the waste she produces and takes measures like saving leftover materials for future projects. 

Materials Alecia Vera Buckles has collected that she plans to use for future projects she may work on sit in the artist’s studio. Tuesday, November 8, 2022. (Photo by Madelyn McCrary).

“Whether that be keeping all my wood shavings and my polystyrene shavings and keeping them in a jar so that I can create a custom flock for speckling pieces. I mean, it gets so down to the details,” Buckles said. 

Buckles is known for creating art through reducing, reusing, and recycling. Her friends and family, as well as past clients, reach out to her whenever they have materials that they think she can use for a future project. 

One of Buckles’ favorite forms of recycling came about during the pandemic in the form of old grocery sacks that she uses as stuffing for her sculptures. She enjoys challenging herself to create things that are functional out of materials that are not eco-friendly or cautious.  

“Now I just try to challenge myself. It’s like, ‘okay, this is the waste that I created, now how can I use this into something else? And if I can’t, is it recyclable? Is it at least burnable and if not then what’s its next life,’” Buckles said.

Buckle’s creativity is constantly bringing her new ideas to reinvent the ways art is made. 

She recognizes herself as a content creator that finds joy within other people’s trash: “Afterall, one man’s trash, is another man’s treasure,” says Buckles.

Audio By Madelyn McCrary.

Meet the Storyteller

Madelyn McCrary is a Senior Communication major with a minor in Creative Writing at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Madelyn is a writer who enjoys multimedia storytelling that will entertain her audience as well and spark a discourse within her community. She has a passion for podcasting, photojournalism, and social media. For questions and collaborations, you can contact her at

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