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Stunningly beautiful trash

Harald FranzenOctober 31, 2015

Using plastic debris found on the coast of Oregon, Washed Ashore is creating stunning scuptures of marine animals, raising awareness and cleaning up the beaches at the same time.

Bildergalerie Washed Ashore
Image: Washed Ashore

Giant sharks, birds and seals made of nothing but plastic trash washed up on the beaches. The #link:http://washedashore.org:Washed Ashore# project is combining artistry, art education and activism to create stunning sculptures, educate the public and clean up our beaches all at the same time. And they are always looking for more volunteers. Global Ideas spoke to Washed Ashore’s founder and lead artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi.

Can you tell us briefly about your background and what inspired you to start Washed Ashore?

I was raised by two artists. My father was a museum director; my mom was a professional painter. So I have always felt that the power of the arts can do great things. That’s why I became an art teacher and I did that for 30 years in public schools, universities, museums.

And then about 17 years ago I decided I would try not only teaching art but really taking myself seriously as an artist and started a series of works based on recycled materials and repurposing materials into sea creatures. I was buying things from thrift stores and things like that and did a series of work and that was successful.

But a few people, including my husband at the time, asked me, what the point of my work was. And I kept thinking: what are they talking about? [laughs] Then, my first husband died of a brain tumor and I really started thinking about what I would want to do with my life, what would make it worthwhile?

I decided to go to the beach because I loved the ocean so much - I knew it would help me heal. And as I walked along the ocean I found all the garbage on the beaches and I thought I should never buy another piece of art supply. I need to use everything that’s here and try to save the ocean. That would give me a really good reason to live.

And that’s it: I want to save the ocean and get everybody involved. I want to use all the skills I have, working with people, teaching them, and try to educate people about this horrible plastic pollution issue that’s taking over the ocean and so I started Washed Ashore.

How does Washed Ashore work?

It’s really community-based art. First, we have to get the garbage off the beaches and wash it, scrub it, soak it, drill it, cut it, prep it. We work with all kinds of service groups, with schools, the boy scouts, the girl scouts.

Bildergalerie Washed Ashore
Image: Washed Ashore
Bildergalerie Washed Ashore
Angela Haseltine Pozzi shows a large seal sculpture to a group of children.Image: Washed Ashore

People in Oregon are known for caring about their beaches a lot. People used to collect garbage on the beaches and throw it away. Now everyone knows to bring it to us.

I design the overall piece, sometimes with an assistant designer, and I do the heads and the detail work. But then I figure out which parts of the sculptures can be done by volunteers, children, senior citizens, people of all ages and abilities.

We do community workshops that are free and everyone can come in and help. The volunteers help to stitch on things like toothbrushes and bottle caps, which makes them stop and think: ‘Oh my god! I use those things!’

We want everyone to feel like they are not only part of the solution but of the problem. We all have to work together to make a change and ask ourselves 'What am I going to do differently?'

How many sculptures have you completed so far?

About 66. A lot. [laughs] Some of those are indoor pieces or wall pieces. But they are all marine debris sculptures and we've processed about 17 tons of garbage in five years.

Our standard size is about 12 to 14 feet (3.60 to 4.30 meters) long and 9 feet (2.70 meters) tall. Our biggest one is a bird that’s 14 feet tall and has a 23-foot (7 meter) wingspan. We also have a parrotfish that’s about 16 feet (4.90 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) tall.

The idea is that you have to grab people’s attention and noone can resist a huge plastic animal! They all want their picture taken next to it. And then they have to tell people about it. And then the education and awareness kick in.

Bildergalerie Washed Ashore
This whale skeleton consists of nothing but plastic debris washed up on the shores of Oregon.Image: Washed Ashore

What happens with the sculptures when they are done?

We have about three traveling exhibits with about 15 pieces each that can travel to zoos and aquariums. That’s one way to sustain ourselves as we lease out our exhibits.

Six months are the ideal amount of time because that really allows a lot of field trips by kids to come in and see them. We try to keep everything on the road all the time.

We also do commissioned work, especially for aquariums and zoos and that’s very exciting. It stays there and they keep teaching with it.

You have done quite a few exhibitions in the US. Any plans to take your artwork abroad?

Absolutely yes! We are very interested in setting up global satellite projects where we are brought in by another organization that wants to learn how to do exactly what we’re doing. We can teach them how to set up the whole garbage processing and design and to work with other artists in other parts of the world.

Basically, I have always thought of this as an epidemic art exhibit. It goes somewhere and it inspires more people to want to do something very similar and that way we get more garbage off the beaches and more awareness internationally. That’s our ultimate goal.

Bildergalerie Washed Ashore
"The idea is that you have to grab people’s attention and noone can resist a huge plastic animal!" says PozziImage: Washed Ashore