Cannon Beach classes turn litter into learning

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Few things ruin a walk on the beach like seeing it littered with trash. I’ve picked up kite packaging, water jugs, firework debris, shoes, lighters — just about everything but cash. I once came upon an entire fleet of children’s plastic trucks sitting on the sand, waiting for the surf to sweep them out to sea. The kinder, gentler me likes to think that was done in the spirit of sharing with the next kids who came along. The cranky broad in me suspects the culprits were just lazy and disrespectful.

Many of us here on the Coast make it our duty to pick up what we can. In Cannon Beach, they’re taking it one step further with Trash Talks, a nine-part series of classes that guide participants in transforming beach trash into art. The series is presented by the Cannon Beach Arts Association and Haystack Rock Awareness Program and supported by a grant from the Oregon Coast Visitors Association.

A workshop in December turned plastics collected on the beach into holiday ornaments.

“The idea of the classes is to get people to reframe the way they think about beach trash,” said Meagan Sokol, arts education director for the arts association. She noted that besides the visual blight, trash can be deadly to seabirds, which are attracted by bright colors and often ingest it with deadly consequences. She added that the program is trying to get people to think about that, “to think, I can pick this up and do something with it. I can be a beach steward by cleaning up.”

Previous classes have made Christmas decorations using glass ornaments, trash, and beach plastic encapsulated in vegetable-based resin. The latter prevents the continued off-gassing of the plastic. In the Ocean Knots/Karma Mat Making class, students created small mats from fishing rope collected from the beach.

In some classes, participants collect their own beach trash; in others, the instructor brings it. In still others, the art doesn’t include litter, but is aimed at educating participants about how litter affects marine life and seabirds. Details on classes are available here.

Seaside artist Dorota Haber-Lehigh, who created this colored-pencil illustration of a puffin, will teach others how to make their own puffin portraits in a May 18 class.

Two upcoming classes are centered on the popular, and at-risk, puffin. In April, local artist Brianna Ortega will lead a class in sketching puffins and other birds. In May, Dorota Haber-Lehigh will also lead a class focusing on drawing puffins.

The colony of nesting tufted puffins at Haystack Rock is the largest in the state, but numbers have been declining.

Human-caused climate change has dramatically affected puffin populations globally, according to Haystack Rock Awareness Program materials, continuing: “September through March, when the puffins are not at Haystack Rock they are out on the open ocean. During this time, puffins survive on forage fish, and try to eat as much as they can to regain their strength in between breeding seasons. Changes in ocean temperature has caused puffins’ food supply to shift, and as a result, many puffins cannot find food and die from starvation.”

Last year, the awareness group tracked 50 to 55 puffins at Haystack Rock, down from a high of more than 600 recorded by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the late 1980s.

Artist and instructor Pooka Rice shows an old window that’s been turned into a picture using trash picked up along the beach. Photo by: Rita Goldfarb/R Gold Photography

Along with sketching, Ortega and Haber-Lehigh will talk about what beachcombers can do to help through beach stewardship, Sokol said.

Sponsor

Many of the classes are kid-friendly and class numbers are kept low – the figure depends on the subject – to allow for more one-on-one instruction. As part of the grant requirements, the classes are held only during the coast’s off-season, when visitor numbers are down.

“The idea is to get creative about how to get more visitors in shoulder season,” Sokol says. “My hope would be that in the future we could do this year round. I’d love to see the program grow even further. I would love Cannon Beach to be a place people visit and think of this as part of the process – take a bucket and pick up what they find on the beach and take it home to make into art in the future.

“If they don’t end up doing art classes, that’s OK, too. Just getting people to think about the way they can be beach stewards, that in itself is the most important thing. That
when they are thinking about going to the coast, they are thinking creatively on how they can be keeping our ocean safe, whether it’s Cannon Beach or anywhere else on the coast.”

About the author

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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