Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival Portland Oregon

‘Washed Ashore’ turns plastic garbage into art-with-a-message on the Oregon Coast

Students are using non-recyclable debris to create a tidal-rock sculpture that will grace the new Lincoln City Cultural Center Plaza.

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Someday, a former Lincoln City school student is going to drive by the Lincoln City Cultural Center, spot the big piece of art on the plaza and say, “I helped make that.”  At least that’s how Krista Eddy, art director of the center’s Chessman Gallery, envisions it.

Eddy is leading a new art project involving students from Lincoln City schools in creating a piece of sculptural art made from non-recyclable plastic. She expects the piece to grace the cultural center’s new plaza for many, many years to come.

It’s all inspired by the current exhibit, Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.

Flash the Blue Marlin erupts from a spume of plastic garbage in front of the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Flash is part of the “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” exhibit at the center through March 13. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center
Flash the Blue Marlin erupts from a spume of plastic garbage in front of the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Flash is part of the “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea” exhibit at the center through March 13. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center

“That’s one of the reasons we’re making this collaboration,” Eddy said. “Washed Ashore has been amazing to have here and we want one we can keep.”

The Washed Ashore exhibit, on display at the center through March 13, features 19 works of sculpture made from marine debris — including Priscilla the Parrot Fish, Flash the Blue Marlin, and Gertrude the Penguin — arrayed on the Cultural Center’s west lawn. Inside the auditorium, visitors will find 9-foot-long Leo Jelly and a “bloom” of smaller jellies, Giacometti the River Otter, and a variety of wall mosaics and informational panels. 

Beneath a bloom of plastic jellyfish, Lincoln City students sort through non-recyclables for pieces to turn into art at the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center
Beneath a bloom of plastic jellyfish, Lincoln City students sort through non-recyclables for pieces to turn into art at the Lincoln City Cultural Center. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center

The nonprofit Washed Ashore project was founded in 2010 by artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi, using debris she collected from the beaches in Bandon. (Pozzi talks about the project here. Read David Goldstein’s 2017 ArtsWatch review.) Pozzi says the project has turned about 30 tons of plastic into 85 sculptures, which have been shown around the country, including at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Zoo, and SeaWorld Orlando. “Everywhere they go, these engaging creatures graphically illustrate the tragedy of plastic pollution in our ocean and waterways,” said Niki Price, executive director of the cultural center. 

The project underway for the plaza is a sculptural tidal rock with several sea stars, sea anemones, and mussels, and expected to measure about 6 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide and deep.  It’s being crafted on a stainless-steel base by local welder Henry Hoovestal and will be covered by plastic textural skin – made largely from non-recyclable caps. The sea stars and rock are being created separately but will be one sculpture when finished.

Eddy says it’s coming along beautifully, though it hasn’t gone exactly as planned.

The original idea was to take students to the beach and collect ocean debris and plastics for the art. But that proved to be a bigger challenge than expected.

“We didn’t realize the problem until we started collecting plastic and ocean debris from the public in October,” Eddy said. The process begins with collecting beach debris, which then has to be cleaned and sorted by color. The problem: “It takes a really long time to clean and process debris to make art,” Eddy said. “And most of what we got was clear plastic and black and white, and that’s not what we needed for the sculpture. We needed a whole lot of purple and red…”

A variety of non-recyclable plastic caps is strung together to become part of the tidal rock forming on a stainless steel frame welded by Henry Hoovestal. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center
A variety of non-recyclable plastic caps is strung together to become part of the tidal rock taking form on a stainless-steel frame welded by Henry Hoovestal. Photo courtesy: Lincoln City Cultural Center

So, they switched gears to make the sculpture from non-recyclable plastic, which often comes in the form of caps and generally in a multitude of colors. It’s an easy project for local schools to contribute to, and it’s also been a great way to get the message across to students that plastic is pretty much permanent.

“We’re talking with kids about unrecyclable plastics and explaining that even though this plastic isn’t in the ocean yet, most recent data says 80 percent of plastic trash found in the ocean and on beaches comes from inland,” Eddy said. “We’re also posing the question, ‘If everything is made of plastic and most is not recyclable, how do we reuse or stop buying so much single-use plastics?’”

The sculpture is about one-fifth complete, with a goal of completing it by the time the new plaza is constructed. There’s no date for that yet, but Eddy expects the sea star component will be ready by the time the Washed Ashore exhibit leaves next month.

“Our new plaza design is supposed to be full of public art of all different types, so this is the beginning,” Eddy said. “This will be very special. It’s part of our community; it‘s a collaboration, and it will hopefully last a long time. I hope all the students that worked on it have some pride and ownership in a local sculpture that’s right in the middle of town and hopefully will be there for decades.”

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Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival Portland Oregon

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In conjunction with the Washed Ashore exhibit, Allison Cobb, author of Plastic: An Autobiography and a writer for the Environmental Defense Fund, will speak at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13, in the cultural center auditorium. Attendees 12 and over must present proof of vaccination at the door.

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