Next-Gen Green Giveaway: Mosaic eco-artist uses trash to create treasures

Compliments of: Ryan J. Bolger Imagery  

One of our Chicago-based Facebook fans, Colleen Miltenberger, creates beautiful handmade mosaics using recycled goods. I recently virtually sat down with Colleen to discuss her art and motivation to create it using others trash. As a bonus, she has offered to create a custom 5"x5" mosaic tile (pictured below right) as a free gift to one lucky Next-Gen Green reader. How do you win? You must go to Next-Gen Green's Facebook page, go to Colleen's album on Facebook or comment below using the secret phrase: “Thanks Next-Gen Green. I love Colleen’s recycled art!” You have one week to do it, so do it today!

How long have you been making mosaics?
I've been making mosaics since 2008. My friend Collette makes beautiful mosaics and got me started by sending me some of her scrap glass, a few simple how-to’s and then I was on my way.

What materials do you use?
I mainly use stained glass. But every now and then I will incorporate bits of broken jewelry, "findings" like buttons, keys, beads, ball chain, and even scrap pieces of metal/wire. In fact, I work for a hook and wire forming manufacturer and will snag scrap pieces. I also use decorative glass baubles like the ones you can put in vases for accent.

I also re-use glass and plastic jars (of all types and sizes) as well as plastic containers from butter, carry-out, etc. for storing my supplies. My mom saves her empty dog treat containers, and they work perfect because they are clear, plastic and lightweight, which makes it easy to find what I need.

How often do you buy new versus finding material for your art?
It's rare that I buy anything new. I buy scrap glass by the pound from a local stained glass maker outside of Michigan City, Ind. I'll pick up used or even broken costume jewelry from second-hand stores and yard sales. My friends often save such things for me that they'd otherwise throw away.

My grandmother passed away last year, and I acquired a lot of her costume jewelry, nothing too fancy. I plan to incorporate that into future pieces, maybe as a tribute piece to her.

What about the material used as a backdrop for the mosaics?
It’s the same with what I mosaic upon. I'll repair and seal cracked clay flower pots, pick up used, small furniture at second-hand stores and yard sales and take things from friends that they were planning on throwing away. If it's broken and repairable, I'll fix it. I also recently started making mosaics on leftover ceramic bath tiles that were extras from jobs.

What is your inspiration?
My inspiration is hard to say. The majority of the mosaics I make I give as gifts, and I give gifts that are suited to the person I make them for, so I guess I am inspired by my friends and their personalities. Sometimes, I can't explain, ideas just pop into my head and I go to work.

Why is it important for people to reuse instead of toss away materials?
I think that it's always important for people to take a second look at anything they're planning to throw away and give a little thought to how that item can be re-purposed. I also think that everyone knows someone in their circle of friends that can find another use for "trash" and, at the very least, offer it to that person (like me). My first furniture piece was the ugliest, two tiered 60's style end table. With the help of only a screwdriver, and a little motivation, I removed the top tier, glassed the top of the bottom half, and now have a beautiful piece that receives compliments from everyone who stops by. I even used the smaller, top tier, then topped it with durable, non-slippery glass (called vitreous glass). My best friend uses it as a bathroom sink step stool for her small kids. Simply put, with a little imagination, anything can be turned into something beautiful. I like to turn other people's trash into a treasure.

E-mail Colleen if you want to buy a piece of her art or commission her to develop a one-of-a-kind piece.

Giveaway rules: Must be 18 to enter. Not valid in Canada. Names will be printed and placed in a sealed box and picked at random/pure chance of winning. The giveaway ends on 12 a.m. Jan. 19, 2012. Any giveaway worth $600 must be reported to the IRS.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You are entered to win!

  3. Yay Colleen!!! Your work is awesome. What a cool project!

  4. “Thanks Next-Gen Green. I love Colleen’s recycled art!”

  5. Thanks Next Gen Green! I love Colleen's recycled art and I also love you too :):)

  6. Thanks next gen I love Colleen's recycled art!

  7. I am in love with the second one! It's beautiful!

  8. This is great Colleen!

  9. Such beautiful artwork. You should seriously consider taking orders Colleen. Alyssa said she would like something small, LOL!! Best of luck!!

  10. Thanks Next-Gen Green. I love Colleen’s recycled art!

  11. As a proud owner of one of Colleen's creations, I think everyone should own one. Love it all!

    1. Thanks Next-Gen Green. I love Colleen’s recycled art! It's truly inspiring.

  12. And the winner of the mosaic art pieces are.... Janessa Liskovec and Anne Neulieb. Please e-mail me today at and tell me what initial you would like on the art and your mailing address!