Sunday, October 12, 2014


On the radio this morning Richard (hopefully) entertained KWMR listeners (hopefully) with three of his stories on Elia Haworth's program Original Minds. His story about Robinson Jeffers—one of the first 20th Century poets to point out our ecological profligacy—had these these lines, from 1924:

 While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth….From Shine, Perishing Republic

Richard makes regularly posts his stories to his blog 90 OJIME. You can hear a podcast @…it should be posted later this week. Look for the October 11, 2014 show.

Since we began the day with an early-call arrival at the broadcast booth, a bit off our usual, we decided it was OK if we went around the back side of Kehoe Marsh to the beach. We always, always hike the direct trail, arriving at Kehoe from what we call the "front" side where we scramble up the headland to take a photo of the beach from the same place every time. In a exercise of observing the seasonal changes, we have hundreds of images from that vantage point. There is something to be said for traveling the well-worn path, the exact route, though something may be lost, (who doesn't thrill to discovering the "new"?), there is something gracefully subtle in being in these exact spots 345 times (Judith's records) 614 times (Richard's records). (The term for Richard's writing is Creative Non-fiction, after all).

But, in the interest in exploration, we hiked through the thickets of reeds and rushes. Through this dense undergrowth we could hear the flitting and the "pink" call of the Red-winged Blackbird. "Pink, pink, pink, pink." We couldn't see 'em, but we are surrounded. "Pink. pink, pink"…so alive with sound. Amplified by the sandstone cliffs of the narrow canyon we're traveling through, the crashing wave sounds are roaring like jets.

As we come out to the open beach, there is a small group from a class on tracking, hunkered down by the dunes examining the scurryings of black, glossy darkling beetles in the sand. Easily spotted but protected by their willingness to spritz a stink in the face of any who'd want to nibble. Stink bugs. In this tracking class we spotted Ellery Akers, famed North Coast artist, writer, naturalist.  While searching for a link to her fine work we discovered Long Distance: England that includes a blackbird.

Typically the marsh flows all the way to the sea. But because of the drought it stops short. And on this day the beach face seems exceptionally wide — tufts of seaweed with a few larger pieces of plastic are the first harbingers of the seasonal wave pattern and variation in current that brings rain (and plastic). Rain is forecast (hope, hope) for next week.

Looking like the marching advance guard of the plastic onslaught to come, this piece is a wad from inside a shotgun shell. We always find them and have 1000's in our inventory.

The glint of plastic bag is always an eye catcher. Upon closer inspection this pile of debris was mash-up of transparent plastic wrap and Velella velellas or by-the-wind sailors as they are more poetically named. They are colonial jellyfish related to the Portugese Man-0-War. While Judith was taking this snap, a sneaker wave washed in, taking her precious bag of collected treasures back out to sea. Luckily, Richard had his shoes off and in a sprint, splashed in to the rescue. How funny just how seriously we feel about this trash gathering. Trash rising on the semiotic escalator toward value.

From the top of the hill, usually our starting point, we're can clearly see the stretch of the marsh creek not quite meeting the long finger of the wave washing in. Is this some pean to Michelangelo's Creation of Adam? Such longing we have for the benediction of rain.

Balloons, rubber, and these days, more often, mylar, have joined the taxon of "We-find-'em-every-visit." Who doesn't like celebrating birthdays, graduations, etc? As in this case letting someone know "you're so special." But now that there are over 7 billion "so special" people on the planet, maybe it's time to re-think how we let our loved ones know. Balloons are a killing snack for marine life.

There will be an art exhibit focused on plastic for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. We are proposing large, bigger than human scale, photographs of balloon debris called Balloon Samba. Sooner and closer to home we are offering artist proof prints of two of our dancers in Collect! a benefit auction for the Berkeley Art Center.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Bay Model

We are never very far from our coastal connection. This week the Bay Model was the field trip destination for Judith's babysitting with Clementine and Aloysius. The model is the creation of The Army Corps of Engineers, used to track the tidal flow for navigational changes and to track the flow of toxic spills. Along with the working hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta System there are many knobs to turn and buttons to press all designed to meet the rambunctious hands of children who like to explore every movement opportunity.

Big surprise! There is a display of all of the Coastal Clean Up Day posters including our 2010 contribution.

Josie Iselin, grad-school friend and colleague is exhibiting photos of algae INTERTIDAL HEROES: Seaweed Portraits. Seaweed is gorgeous and Josie's response did justice to this "primitive" life form bringing algae front and center. We are so glad that she makes visible these remarkable first responders to a niche opening over a billion years ago. They contribute so much to the health of the planet. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Like Diamonds - Plastic is Forever

Like Diamonds - Plastic is Forever 
Bolinas Museum
September 27- January 4

The North Pacific Gyre - a swirl of plastic debris in the ocean has been described as an island of trash, some say the size of Texas. Folks ask- why don't they just go and clean it up? Who is this they? If they could remove the heap of trash from the ocean they would put it where?

Scientist and engineers, teams of brilliant people, are designing high and low tech clean-up schemes from vacuuming the surface of the ocean to trawling deep to retrieve the accumulation from the ocean floor. Unfortunately all of the ideas, albeit sincere, have serious drawbacks — the problem of by-catch and the removing of vital plankton along with the plastic.

In this exhibition of Judith's jewelry at the Bolinas Museum the scheme is to consciously create the conspicuous consumption of plastic by making beach plastic jewelry a status item. As with rare gems, the value of pelagic plastic will increase, making it so valuable that pirates and swashbucklers will trawl the seas seeking treasure.

Scarcity can also be a multiplying factor in the creation of value. When all of the oil has been extracted, plastic as we know it today will be a rare commodity, people will look to mine existing plastic and recover the hydrocarbons. Petrochemical plastic will have tremendous value as a treasured reminder of days gone by, when plastic was a term for something cheap and disposable. An increase in the value of the plastic bits floating in the ocean could make for a contentious situation. Imagine the Great Pacific War of 2050 where nation against nation are out at sea mining to clean up the mess.

Since 1999, we have collected ocean-born plastic debris exclusively from 1,000 yards of Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Each piece of plastic used in the creation of Judith's jewelry was collected from that 1,000 yard stretch. The brightly colored bits are "curated" from the confetti strew that washes up on to the beach.  In the studio they are cleaned then sorted into color and kind and become "inventory." Sometimes an unusual shape will spark a design reverie. Sometimes the rich surface, the sea-buffeted patina will incite the creative process. Sometimes the recognizable part of a something (a piece of a comb or a juice lid) will evoke the question - could that have once been mine?

Wearing an eye-catching piece of jewelry always attracts much attention and is a perfect segue to talk about what is going on with plastic in our oceans and on our beaches. Although the news about plastic pollution is dire, by putting a little fun and fashion into the conservation conversation, hopefully the value of the plastic detritus will increase so that soon everyone will be out at the beach “shopping” for a special piece of plastic trash or will be eager to “mine” the North Pacific Gyre for plastic treasures. Then, we get some great things to wear and to look at, plus we get a clean and healthy sea.

After years of collecting plastic, the choicest finds are hand-crafted into unique art-to-wear pieces — one of a kind, made exclusively from Kehoe Beach plastic. They can be worn or displayed as a precious artifact, a relic of contemporary consumer culture.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Coastal Cleanup Day 2014

Coastal Cleanup Day is the single largest one-day volunteer effort on the planet. Our little effort at Kehoe Beach, "just a spit in the stream" goes on year-'round. We like to say Coastal Cleanup Day is our Christmas, our Rosh Hashanah, our Ramadan and we wouldn't miss trekking out to the beach to join in with others however, besides our usual work-a-day its been a long week with several late nights including a presentation for the Marin Scuba Club and a visit from a dozen docents from the Oakland Museum. The Point Reyes National Seashore has organized a clean-up at Drakes Beach so at our "our beach" Kehoe, it's just the two of us and a lone surfer. It's fun watching him out there bobbing along and it occurs to us the sport shouldn't be called surfing, it should be called waiting 'cause as exciting as it is to see him glide down the wall of a wave about 99% of the time out there is spent waiting for a wave.

This year we were happy to be included in the California Coastal Commission's Faces of Coastal Clean Up Facebook page. Here is our contribution:

Picasso famously said "Others seek, I find" - a perfect description of our competitive spirit on the beach. To combat the anguish of the plastic washing in we make a game of it with prize categories.

1. Degree of difficulty in finding: The beige soldier wedged under a piece of driftwood. 
2. Rarity: A badminton birdie. Add to the category a disposable lighter, a balloon lip, a red cheese spreader, a green coffee stirrer, a lemon squeezer, etc. 
3. Mystery: Something mysterious we've never seen before. 
4. Identify: We recently learned that the pastel colored disks we often find are livestock eartags.

Being "in the zone" and "in the flow," that sought-after state of mind where the everyday disappears and time changes state, is something that comes during a long day at the beach where focus causes a kind of happiness. As artists making work from our beach gleanings, we love a day of finding while others seek.

#CoastalCleanupDay #FacesOfCoastalCleanup 

Our friends at the San Francisco ad agency BBDO used some of our very own Kehoe Beach for the ad campaign for this years poster:

And yes, that is our plastic in the sand making the cameo appearance in this PSA

As David Brower said: "Have fun saving the world or you are really going to depress yourself" so today our "fun in the finding" list includes:

1. Degree of difficulty in finding — Some previous winners include: a buried monkey in a space-suit, 1 inch black M-16 rifle, a mummy action figure wrapped in seaweed. But today, the tiniest speck of plastic poking out of the sand was the head of a tiny scuba diver complete with tank and regulator. Not too surprising since on Wednesday we presented our power point to the Marin Scuba Club. We hope they tune to the blog for the prize of the day. When Judith found this she said, "OK, we can go home now."

2. Rarity — Some previous winners include ballot box lid from San Francisco 2001 election (1), Barbie comb (2), Plastic cat-toy mice (3)  Bratz Doll sunglasses (1). But today its the first time ever to find a head of iceberg lettuce in a plastic bag, ready for that sand-wich?

3. Mystery — "Ocean Spray" the perfect name for this label in the sand made it the pic of the day for our mystery item. 

4. Identify — we found fasteners for livestock eartags but, they were still attached to the livestock. Who let the cows out?

Prize winner for the worst product idea ever found on the beach: (almost as bad as Kraft's Cheese 'n Cracker snack kits with the red plastic paddle spreaders) —presenting MIO, a plastic bottle of flavoring for your water in a plastic bottle. We don't want to pile on Kraft Foods (what would we do without Velveeta?) but really, guys & gals a plastic bottle filled with sucralose, propleyene glycol, red 40, etc.!!! 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Connect with a Scientist

We donned lab coats and goggles for our presentation Connect with a Scientist at the California Academy of Sciences. Emphasizing our collecting and categorizing methodology we invited museum go-ers to help us sort a bin full of Kehoe Beach plastic. Special thanks to our moderator Matthew Tucker who cajoled us and the audience with his lively banter.

Inspired by the groundbreaking work of Nat Bletter, Kurt Reynertson, and Julie Velásquez Runk. 2007. Plantae artificiae: The taxonomy, ecology, and ethnobotany of the Simulacraceae. Ethnobotany Research and Applications 5: 159-178. and the exhaustive and exhausting investigation by the dedicated Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group who have spent years classifying the plastic clips used to secure the closure of bagged bread and pastries, we decided to add a bit of performative fun to our talk. 

We dazzled the crowd with photographs from our Known Quantity series. Like specimen drawers in a natural history museum our "drawers" catalogue some of our most common finds from the beach. 

Before our demonstration, we visited the "Skulls" exhibit now on display at the Academy.
Over 400 sea lion skulls sweep across the wall, greeting visitors in a vivid exposition of "all the same —all different." Every sea lion skull is unique and every skull is from the same species, very much like the Tiparillo's we find and every piece of plastic as well. 

We were fascinated by the time-lapse video of the dermestid beetle larvae that exhibit preparers use to clean the flesh from skulls. Oh, that there were a creature able to devour plastic—but then, imagine your car bumper infested, your stroller wheels, your pacemaker.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Necco Wafers

Judith's eye-catching jewelry is often a great conversation starter about beach plastic and plastic pollution. So when she wore a necklace to the watercolor class she teaches at the Rohnert Park Senior Center, her students were curious about the "beads", the round NECCO Wafer colored disks. 

We had no idea about what these simple round shapes might be. We knew that they had to be something because over the years we have found a bagful of them.

The next week student Connie Allen was sure that she had found the answer in the livestock area at the Sonoma County Fair. The round disks are ear tags. Like a pierced earring they are stapled through the ear of sheep, goats and cows for numbering and identifying. 

Special thanks to Connie for her help identifying this mysterious piece of plastic. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Bottles are at the top of our "hit list" of items we find every time we go to the beach. So over the years we have amassed hundreds, no thousands of these ubiquitous no-deposit, no return throw aways. Although there recycling messages aplenty only a small percentage bottles are actually recycled. Putting a bounty on the bottles is an idea that is long overdue. 

Thanks to the tireless efforts of our friend and colleague Doug Woodring his Global Deposit Program is gaining traction. It's simple - PET has value, capitalizing on that value instead of throwing it away is kind to the environment plus it makes real economic sense. Reading about Doug's visionary project prompted us to put together this summary of how, over the years, bottles have been a recurring theme (not dream) in our artwork. 

In 1992 Judith created SUCK, a powerful image of a baby bottle filled with cigarette butts, designed to speak to young women and children about the detrimental effects of smoking on infants and children. SUCK was exhibited in 1993 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the bus shelter kiosk as part of an experimental venue for artworks. HEALTH EDCO, a leading national distributor of health education products provides resource materials on drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse, nutrition, patient care and the healing arts. Since 1994, they have sold thousands of the SUCK posters through their catalog and online store.

Terroir (Tare-Wahr/French): A Sense of Place
At the Marin French Cheese Factory          
7500 Red Hill Road, (the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road) 
Petaluma, CA
March 20-June 21, 2009
WaterLily was made from 365 bottles in a visual representation of the quantity used by one person, one a day for one year. By floating groups of bottles (lilies) on the lake, Judith created a beautiful reuse of what otherwise would, hopefully, be recycled or might otherwise be trash. Those 365 bottles are a drop in the bucket compared to the 37 billion disposable plastic water bottles Americans use every year. All that consumption of bottled water is pretty astonishing given that in most parts of the country, tap water is not only perfectly safe, but is also more tightly regulated that its bottled counterpart. Only 23 % of the plastic bottles get recycled, the others end up in the landfill where it takes some 700 years before they even begin to decompose.

In the summer of 2009, Project Kaisei a team of innovators, sailors, ocean lovers, scientists, environmentalists, and sports enthusiasts traveled to the North Pacific Gyre to study the marine debris that has collected in this oceanic region. They were interested in processing techniques that could be employed to detoxify and recycle these materials into diesel fuel. Doug Woodring, project co-founder, describes the plastic collected during that expedition, “These samples are ‘like moon rocks.’” This precious evidence from the gyre confirms the horror that we have all suspected was true. There is debris, great quantities of it.  The marine growth accretions on the plastic are evidence that the plastic has been at sea a long time. This bottle and shelf, direct from the gyre, were displayed at the Hayward Shoreline Interpretive Center in 2009 in our exhibition Disposable Truths. 

Silent Spring, the book about pesticides and pollution by Rachel Carson published in 1962, launched the ecological movement. Judith was inspired by that influential book, and published in 2011 an empty plastic water bottle labeled Silent Spring to herald yet another environmental catastrophe. With the proliferation of the single-use plastic bottles a monumental ecological and health crisis loom. The shift away from drinkable tap water to bottled water creates mountains of needless garbage. The leeching of chemical compounds from the plastic into the water has unknown health consequences. The label on Judith's  Silent Spring uses the original font and cover color from the first edition of Silent Spring. The bottle is displayed on a glass coaster with a collage of a dry lakebed and photographs of empty water bottles. “Silent Spring” is an apt description for the transformation of pure mountain spring water into a corporate-owned commodity, a silencing of the source.

In 2012 the Palo Alto Art Center sponsored On the Road, a series of temporary site -specific installations. For that program Judith was commissioned to create a larger version of Water Lilies to float near Byxbee Park in the Baylands Nature Preserve.

Water Lilies opened April 8 with a reception on Earth Day April 22 and floated in the Baylands until August 14. Thanks to an intrepid team of assistants more 1,000 recycled single-use plastic bottles were glued together to make the pads.  While the volume of bottles in this sculpture is significant, it represents only a small fraction of the more than 37 billion plastic water bottles American use every year. 

In the Spring of 2013 we were commissioned to create a permanent installation for the Oakland Museum, Natural Science Gallery. Our ceiling piece The Great Conveyor represented the ocean currents as the great conveyors bringing us debris from all around the Pacific Rim. Single –use bottles and bottle caps are among the most common items found in the ocean waste stream. They come to our beaches, from our neighborhoods and from thousands of miles across the sea, connecting the world in swirls of single-use plastic. On the top of each cap is a small round mirror to reflect back that we are a part of every choice we make has a consequence. Recycling helps, but reduced use is the real answer. 

For the activity station we curated a collection of bottles arranged like a specimen drawer in a natural science museum. Hey!!! this is a natural science museum. On Kehoe Beach we find telltale product labels from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, even Russian. And our bottles from the San Francisco Bay end up on distant shores.

Hong Kong International Ocean Film Festival, April 2013
Ocean Art Walk
Stanley Bay
This time lapse film tells the epic story of the many bottles and the many hands that made creation of the Stanley Bay Water Lilies possible.

There is an undeniable beauty in the bottles as in these arrangements we photographed and printed for Cavallo Point Lodge in Sausalito, CA. Every guest room in this lodge at the restored historic Fort Baker has one of our prints. View the collections here. 

It is surprising that after all of these these years we have found only one message in a bottle in 2000 just before the presidential election — the scrawled note, a political message said gush v. bore — got that right!

or maybe after all of the years the bottles are the message.