Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009


It’s fall. 2009. The tail end of the dry season. We go to Kehoe more as wanderers in a beautiful place, than as the usual collectors. Normally, in the “off” season for plastic we’ll head for the woody mountain region of the park. The towering columns of the old fir trees grow into a cooling parasol, a reprieve from the tired dusty fever of summer. Bear Valley Trail with its tributary trails up to the ridgeline is a favorite. We counted up, that after so long in one place we’ve been on that trail collectively over 600 times. But today we head for Kehoe. The summer fog that turns Kehoe into a refrigerator has lifted.

At its simplest this project has gotten us outside a lot, out and into this broad and nearly wild place. Birds alone count for the allure attractant with 490 species seen in the park. At Kehoe we see swallows nesting in cave cliffs of the Laird Sandstone, Ravens croaking overhead, Gulls of course, Terns and scarlet-legged Oystercatchers, Murres and Cormorants abound. Endangered Snowy Plovers nest here. One wintry weekday we came over the hill to the beach expecting an empty beach, and saw a herd of over 300 birders, all dressed alike in olive weather-wear, binoculars slung, and spotting scopes at the ready. The Bristle-thighed Curlew had been spotted, never seen here before and grist for the listers trophy count. In late spring the air is honeyed with yellow bush Lupine and earlier the cliffs above the beach you can see an archipelago of deep purple Iris mixing perfectly with bright orange Poppies. This is truly an alchemist crucible able to transform despair into uplift. We glad to be a very small part of keeping it that way.

We go not expecting much plastic to have accumulated, just a nice day, sunny, warm with a fairly low afternoon tide when the beach can widen by 100 meters: more real estate to scrounge if there is to be any plastic. From the cliff top we can view the Great Beach, ten miles of it, stretching south disappearing in pale blue surf mist. Our prediction proved right - though the beach was not completely clean of plastic. Random shards, mostly white, and tiny pieces in bright colors. Like gold miners we know nurdles will show up in depressions where heavier sands hold against the wind. We find trails of nurdles picking up 20-30 in each little “vein.” But really, there is little to pick up. Against the soft, buckskin colored Laird Sandstone cliffs, dunes form like drifts on the north side of houses in snow country, a gap forming in rolling wind tubes. There is always plastic to be found there regardless of season. We decide to check and see and then continue our walk. We struggle up the fifteen-foot sliding sand dune, dropping into the hollow. There is a hubcap size chunk of whale or seal blubber rotting into a nauseating stink. We paw through the sand to cover it up so we can stick around for a bit without gagging. In our digging we see a lot of plastic just under the surface.

Now, we are drawn in and on the hunt. We find the usual load of shotgun sabots and tiparillo tips, nurdles, a trio of lighters and two Handi-snack spreaders. Judith finds a sand abraded girl’s hairclip, always a reminder that this stuff belonged to someone, is connected to a human life. Like scraps from the middens of Troy, here parsing some kind of post-modern Linear B to decipher what we find. Then she gives out with a whoop and offers a closed fist extending and opening it in a classical gesture of “lookie what I got” to reveal a bleached white T-Rex. It’s tiny in her palm, an inch and a half long. A plastic T-Rex, Lilliputian, probably come here across the sea given its wear, left to tell us a story of a child’s fascination and dreamy play life using miniature dinosaurs in a drama of eat and be eaten.

The petite thing is made from petroleum fossil oil deposits like most plastic. The Sinclair oil  “Dino” popularized the notion that oil came from dinosaurs and in a crude way of thinking is only true if you think of the time of dinosaurs. It’s said that it would take one T-Rex completely rendered down to make enough gas for one cross-country journey. That’s a lot of dinosaurs. But the irony of finding the thing still hovers over our day. In all the years we’ve been doing this and the toys we’ve found at the beach there are probably a half dozen dinosaurs. A great find for our collection today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Arts and Healing Network Award 2009

We are pleased to be in receipt of the Arts and Healing Network Award for 2009. The theme this year is WATER which connects us with the other fine artists who are working with water issues. The Arts and Healing Network has posted interviews with all of the award recipients.

The main award page at

Coastal CleanUP Day

What a dazzling day to be on the Bay!!!

Richard and Megan Foulkes, a HSIC staff naturalist, took an early group out to the shore. At the Center as folks arrived for the CleanUP, Judith spoke to them about the Shore Stories exhibit and the art workshop. She showed them samples of the “jewelry” they could make and told them about the participatory public sculpture project.

By late morning folks were returning to the Center with bag loads of trash. They transformed their trash into colorful arrangements of plastic that they took home as sculptures and necklaces.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Evidence from the Gyre

A twisted mass of rope, tangled nets and buoys, a “ghost net” arrived on Tuesday direct from the North Pacific Gyre. Project Kaisei returned from their three-week ocean voyage to study the gyre and needed a place to store some of their tremendous finds. We are thrilled to be in receipt of these treasures. As Doug Woodring, project founder described it, “These samples are ‘like moon rocks.’” This precious evidence from the gyre describes the horror that we have all suspected was true. There is debris, great quantities of it. Now, deposited in our yard, is tangible proof.

Dennis Rogers, Doug and I tied a long rope to the mass of the ghost net and then strapped the rope around the sand filter for our septic system then like a come-along winch dragged the net out of the trailer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mnemba Nurdles at the Bay Model

We went to Mnemba Island, off the north-eastern tip of Zanzibar in the azure Indian Ocean, for a vacation from detritus. We wanted to enjoy being at the beach without the obsession of picking things up. But, even on this remote island, to our great dismay, we found plastic trash and bright cobalt blue nurdles. Our first morning out we gathered enough to send to Dr. Hideshige for sample analysis.
International Pellet Watch

In Africa, single use single use plastic water bottles are the primary way that potable water is served. The caps of the water bottles are bright cobalt blue and the bottles are extruded translucent blue.

And, they are everywhere.
Back in our studio, we arranged the nurdles on Mnemba sand. The nurdle photographs were accomplished at Electric Works, San Francisco using a Phase One 4X5 digital camera, printed with archival pigment inks on Moab Entrada paper then face mounted on acrylic.
The nurdle prints are now on display in KNOWN QUANTITY our show at the Bay Model in San Francisco until June 21. There is will be no reception but there are many hours when the model and our exhibition is open. How to get there:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Rising Tide at Stanford University

In order to demonstrate the ubiquity of plastic waste in our oceans, we have categorized our collection of plastic by type.

Beauty First has become our creed. By exciting the aesthetic sensibility, we hope to rouse a call to action.

Sunday, April 26, 2009




Most plastic packaging is called “disposable” from “disposable” food containers, “disposable” lighters, but we know that everything disposable goes some where and that some where is for a long, long time.

By giving aesthetic form to what is considered to be garbage, I serve as both cleaner and curator. While the content of my work has a message about the spoiling of the natural world by the human/industrial world, my intent is to transform the perils of pollution into something beautiful and celebratory.

These necklaces were made from plastic collected from Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore. Irresponsible visitors did not leave this plastic on the beach; rather it washed up from the ocean. Some pieces show evidence of being at sea a long time, roughed and tumbled by the salt and the waves. Some have identifying markers indicating that it traveled far, from Korea or Japan.

I hope by putting a little fun and fashion into the conservation conversation, that the value of detritus will increase. 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.

Milk Tab Bracelet

Milk used to come in clear glass bottles delivered early morning on our doorstep. Years later, at the store we bought milk in a boxy wax carton with a fold open spout. Now, in the name of sanitation and convenience, milk cartons have been “improved” with plastic safety milk pull-tabs. Now, thousands of these ubiquitous tabs are making their way to the landfill. It will take thousand of years for them to go away.

To draw attention to this blight, I created a bracelet by looping one loop inside the other and on around until the final one loops into the first one. People always take note of my unique jewelry, which gives me the opportunity to talk about plastic and to encourage action about everything, even about milk cartons.

During a recent trip to Tanzania, I visited a Masai village where the inquisitive fingers of an elder Masai woman touched my bright white bracelet trying to figure out what could be the source and the material of my unusual adornment. I asked our guide to explain that I had made the bracelet out of milk pull-tabs; that they were something that would otherwise be thrown away; that I am an artist who uses recycled plastic in my creations. I was babbling so fast that probably neither she nor my translator understood a word of what I was saying.

When she expressed interested in my bracelet I was thrilled. She is also an expert crafts person who makes elaborate bracelets and neck collars. With mutual respect as artisans, we made an exchange. I now wear one of her fine beaded bracelets and she now wears my milk-tab bracelet. 

I imagine that when I am telling this story about my amazing experience with the elder Masai woman — she is telling someone about the crazy white woman who came into the village telling stories about recycling plastic? and milk cartons? I have to laugh, they subsist milk and blood from cows, probably have never ever seen a milk carton — so I was indeed crazy-talkin’.

In a gesture of appreciation of art and adornment, the Masai woman and I connected. ART held the moment — through beauty we were able to speak when language just wouldn’t do.