For Mexican-born Leticia Rodarte, trash is a diamond in the rough from which she extracts materials to create "art with a conscience," works that she exhibits and sells at her studio in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

"People often talk about starving artists, and sometimes that's true," Leticia told Efe Tuesday, recalling that she started dumpster diving for the first time at 18, when she first lived alone and had no money to buy art materials.

She said that since "art doesn't sell like tortillas in a store" she had to look for the most economical way to practice it, and in doing so she also found a way to "make a difference" to the conservation of the planet.

I also go to second-hand stores, where I look for little jugs that I decorate with pearls from broken necklaces, wire and little bows.

- Artist Leticia Rodarte

Hunting along alleyways she picks up newspapers, bits of wood, bottles, tin cans and pill bottles that she paints and decorates to turn into little jewelry cases.

She also said that people think her home is a dump and drop off their junk there, which she later uses for her artistic creations.

"I also go to second-hand stores, where I look for little jugs that I decorate with pearls from broken necklaces, wire and little bows," she said.

Her friends give her old chairs that she restores and then people want to buy them. "At first I did it for myself, but people started liking my stuff and the orders started coming in. That's how my business of making art out of trash began," the artist said.

Leticia, who was born in Monterrey 36 years ago but came to Chicago with her family when she was 14, said that art has been a part of her life since childhood.

After graduating from high school she studied fashion design, always intent on creating art with a social conscience.

She sees the planet as "a reflection of the abuses we all commit," throwing rubbish in the street without thinking twice about the need to recycle or that we're polluting the water supply.

"My art seeks to minimize the impact of trash and city dumps," the artist said.

She also does paintings that reflect the big problems of our time, from domestic violence to cancer to the need for organ donations.

"I don't want to just paint pretty pictures, but to send a message," said the artist who tries to "practice what I preach."

Rodarte goes beyond recycling found objects into art and has begun to make body creams and non-polluting laundry detergents, though these are still in the experimental stage.

"I had a lot of problems with skin allergies and began to look for alternatives. I worked in stores that sold products for the skin and learned enough to do research and create my own formulas," she said.

"I think that if they work for me, why not for everybody. They may not be the best in the world, but they're cheap," she said.

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