Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Beach Scoop

It's rare day when it is clear enough to see, in sharp relief, the distance all the way from Kehoe Beach to the Point Reyes lighthouse. This scoop of strand called The Great Beach or 10 Mile Beach is usually drenched in fog, rain or surf mist. But on this day, it was sunny and warm—the horizon razor sharp. From the top of the hill where we snap a pic on every visit, Judith caught this image of our troop headed down to the tide line: Doug, Doug's brother Pete with his two boys Harry and Walker plus just in from Hong Kong our new friend Kwokzu.

Our old friend Doug Woodring has a keen eye for plastic. He is the co-founder of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, founder of the Plasticity Forum and coordinator for the Hong Kong International Ocean Film Festival. And, besides being a plastic activist par excellence, he has time to be a competitive open water swimmer. 

So our favorite place to take him when he visits from Hong Kong is Kehoe Beach. Although we all found bagfuls of plastic there was only one agricultural tie, found by Doug.

Check out those green sacks. The Gardener's Hollow Leg, donated to us by Bob Bloomberg, are an indispensable part of our beach attire. Yes, count 'em— four bags full.

Doug's keen eye also has us appreciating the sand flies scattering like wind blown chaff.

As 2014 draws to a close we are grateful for friends from both near and from far across the sea who are as avid as we are about doing something about the plastic pollution problem. 

We can't thank you all enough…yes we can!!! and the planet thanks you too. THANKS! and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Winter Solstice

Although there has been significant reduction in the amount of smog in the LA basin, there is still the smell of petroleum in the air. Oil rigs and refineries and the sweep of freeway overpasses remind us that who we are and what we do is fueled by the embedded remains of prehistoric creatures. The string of diamond headlights winding up out of the valley as we drove in on Friday evening tell us that we are indeed in the heart of car culture. But we have come to Los Angeles for another kind of culture.

We visit Tom Lieber, an old friend of Richard's now living and working in Pacific Palisades. For 35 years Richard and Tom have been traveling parallel lives as artists. The way way ups and the way way downs of what happens when the creative life is chosen…"not for everyone" as the sign on the door of Herman Hesse' Magic Theatre says in Steppenwolf. "For Madmen Only."  Agreed and well said. Richard is tasked to write an essay about Tom's work, another chapter in their adventure. Tom and partner Cheryl live beautifully amidst Tom's work and the lassos of his and Cheryl's accurate and coherent eyes they have for contemporary art. So carefully chosen, every piece is a passport to strange worlds unfamiliar yet glamorous. Last night's dream may show up in real life as you turn the corner from one room to another. Tom has long been a collector of antique furniture—not the top of the line Chippendale or Hepplewhite stuff, but quirky hand made things with the patina of use and age — like a stack of short benches, some painted, some honeyed wood. Picture a shelf crowded with old-time shaving brushes. 

Consumer culture gives us worlds within worlds of accumulation and it's a fine thing to encounter the carefully curated objects at Tom and Cheryl's that stir the psyche and the heart at once, so, we were primed for the exhibit of Clare Graham and MorYork.

On Wilshire Blvd, right in the heart of LA, life-size sculptures of mammoths roar up out of the belching methane of the asphalt ooze at the La Brea Tar Pits. 

Right across from the tar pits is the apotheosis of accumulation at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Stuff that falls away from us into a kind of tar pit of oblivion. Clare Graham resurrects, for example, quantities of pop-tops from soda cans (hundreds of thousands) sculpted into furniture. Wunderkammern are filled with unexpected delights like shelves of used paint brushes all on edge like the fur of some beast. Hundreds of Teddy Bears saran-wrapped into towering totems. As Graham says, "Materials are assembled in vast numbers so that they take on form and substance beyond the single unit appeal." Yes, indeed!!!

Makes us think about making one sculpture — one big pile of every piece of plastic we have ever collected from Kehoe Beach. We're thinking of making an exhibit called All of It.

When crooners sing and poets muse about Southern California, the beaches of San Diego are what loom in the imagination. The romantic notion of towering palm trees, balmy breezes and gorgeous sunsets are the reality, as is the tectonic reality of ever changing landforms. Here's a paean to So-Cal, riffing on Rembrandt's Three Trees.

To celebrate the winter solstice we head to Carlsbad Beach with Janis (Judith's sister) and Paul (brother-in-law). Janis has become an avid beachcomber and collector of plastic. She photographs the plastic in place on the beach and frequently contributes to Litterati the "digital landfill." In 2015 she will be presenting an exhibition of her work at the Bay Model in Sausalito.

Right away Judith found a pink Barbie doll high-heel shoe (hey, this is going to be fun!!!) and soon thereafter a toy soldier (wow, what a beach!!!) The competition between the sisters was off and running. Sibling rivalry—call it what you will, these sisters are game for the game. 

When Janis found a soldier she danced with both arms raised in a faux touchdown six-shooter dance of joy. Pow-Pow-Pow. When Matt Simms NFL player danced that "gun simulation" he was fined $7,875. 

At LACMA James Turrell's Breathing Light was a highlight (so to speak). As you let the slowly changing light of the work wash over you, you find yourself caught in an existential Never-never Land of no time, no space. Viewers are given fifteen minutes to bask in the glow. Richard, ready to be in there forever, was gently led away by a guard.

And then at dusk we enjoyed the vintage street lamps of Urban Light by Chris Burden at LACMA's entry pavilion.

In Oceanside, home of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendelton, we found at the Oceanside Museum three surprising exhibits. Neil Shigley's giant woodcuts of homeless folks, breaking the silence of these all too often invisible people. Nudes from the Bram and Sandra Dijkstra collection—he is one of our favorite art historians who's written beautifully about the WPA project in American Expressionism. Plus, given our Southern California sojourn, we were engaged seeing the traveling exhibit California Dreaming. Judith especially liked a 4-part series of photographs—tops of the heads looking like arial shots of wheat fields with dark hair roots growing in contrast to the bottle blond-ness. 

And speaking of light (tis the season) in La Jolla we were awe-struck by the architecture of Salk Institute. Designed by Louis I. Kahn, the building itself and the mission of the Institute, is definitely a point of light. It's a monument to our highest values of curiosity, discovery and good works. The sisters raise their hands in praise.

As the astronomical event of the solstice passes we are relieved to be turning once again towards the light. We are blessed to have such great friends and family and to be in California Dreamin'. A line from Anna Akhmatova comes to mind: Sunset in the ethereal waves: I cannot tell if the day is ending, or the world is ending, or the secret of secrets is inside me again. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Out to Sea?

Out to Sea? The Plastic Garbage Project organized by the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich started its journey in 2012. Our nurdles and pieces of micro-plastic are included in this traveling show that continues on to Beirut, Casablanca and Amman. 

To keep up to date:

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Black Friday

Get your Secret Santa list ready. 
On Friday we're headed to the beach to scoop up bargains galore.
Hey, you can't beat the price — it's free.
All you have to do is pick it up — and that's fun! 

Post turkey, stuffing and pecan pie, as we kick off the holiday season we are thinking about filmmaker Kate Schermerhorn who just before Thanksgiving sent a secret sample with the exciting news that DO I NEED THIS? her latest film is definitely making progress. With lots of humor she encourages us all to never go to the mall again without asking ourselves, DO I NEED THIS?

Here is the trailer — the full feature is going to be a blast. 

And Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir have been caroling in malls asking customers, What Would Jesus Buy?

With these good questions in mind, on Friday, Black Friday, to get into the spirit, we headed to the beach to do a little shopping. Bolinas Beach, not our usual Kehoe digs, was our special destination. Eli wanted to surf and we had  grandkids in tow. Plus, given it's the shopping season, it would be a fine time to stop by the Bolinas Museum to see Judith's show — Like Diamonds, Plastic is Forever.

With a break in the rain, the weather was balmy, so there were lots of folks out enjoying the waves. And, there was plenty of plastic, shells and stones for our stop-shopping pleasure.

It was a typical collecting day in that it was easy to find at least one of most common items on our "hit list": bottles, lids, wads, tiparillo tips, food wrappers, straws, spoons. Plus, there was one glove, a sock, two pairs of sunglasses - one with the lenses and one just the frames, and a handful of small colorful pieces of plastic that we call "confetti."

There were several mysterious pieces of layered paint. Something that we have never seen before. Our best guess is that these multi-colored pieces are from some seafaring conveyance - either from surf boards or boats. Like counting rings on a tree to determine its age, we tried to count the layers of paint to figure out the years of maintenance required to keep the vessel afloat. One piece had at least 15 layers. We are keen on our new category: "paint chips" and are eager to find out their source. 

At the museum, Judith's shawls knitted from translucent dry cleaner bags and blue plastic shopping bags were a hit. 

Back at home we sorted the bag full of treasures. Shells and stones were wrapped and bowed - the perfect gift for someone who has everything.

Do I need this? Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kindred Spirits

After many cyber-communications it was a special thrill to meet in person Howard and Dyan Ferren from Seward Alaska. Howard was Director of Conservation at the Alaska SeaLife Center and his wife Dyan is an fine artist and was formerly the human resources director for SeaView Community Services. Together they were the visionaries and instigators for Gyre: the plastic ocean that became an expedition, book, award winning film and exhibition at the Anchorage Museum. 

They recently retired, sold their home, packed their belongings and have set off in search of a new place to settle for the next phase of their lives. We were happy to be a way station on their journey.

They had followed our work for years so were eager to finally go to Kehoe Beach with us and pick up some plastic. These two intrepid adventurers are truly kindred spirits. No instruction was needed. As soon as we hit the beach they got right to it picking up plastic. They have a keen eyes and know exactly how to identify even the smallest pieces of plastic in the sand. Howard found a tiny fragment, the hook end from an agricultural tie and before we knew it Dyan had gathered up a bag of brightly colored small pieces. 

Agricultural ties that are commonly used by wineries are often found as marine debris on shorelines in Northern California and we have found plenty on Kehoe.  NOAA Fisheries has been doing outreach to wineries involved in a sustainability certification program. To support their efforts we have sent some of the photos of ag ties we have found on Kehoe so we are happy to have yet another pic to add to the documentation.

It's not yet the plastic season so there was not really very much plastic to be found. But, what we really found on the beach — some great new friends.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


After a successful night of trick or treating, our grandaugther is counting up the spoils, arranging the sweet goodies into rows according to brand and flavor- chocolate or fruity, hard or soft. Skittles, M&M's,  Reese's, Kit Kat, Hershey's. 

You mean I get to eat only ONE now?
Save the rest for later? to be "portion controlled" in an agony of one at a time for months? 

To honor the Dia de Los Muertos, Judith headed to Kehoe Beach to reflect upon her ancestors who have gone beyond and in this case plastic that is gone but not forever. Even in spite of the brutal wind and whipping sand she walked the tideline in a ritual procession in search of mementos of the living and the departed.

She collected a bagful of spoils - there were plenty of food and candy wrappers. In thinking about all of those Halloween confections and in an acknowledgement of the durability of the thermoplastic polymers, she re-phrased the familiar dieters saying into a different kind of forever. "A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips” is now,  "A moment in the hand, forever on the sand."

Skittles, Snickers, Reese's, Choco*pie. 

These spoils really are….

Saturday, November 1, 2014


In 2010 we visited Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay at the De Young Museum with a group from the San Francisco Art Dealers Association. 

The exhibit of nearly 100 crowd pleasing paintings are the antecedents of what is one of the most popular (and recognizable) styles of art. With luxurious brushstrokes and gorgeous pastel colors, it is hard to imagine why Impressionist paintings and Post- ever evoked distain and outrage. Today we thrill at the fanciful bustle dresses from the late 1800's and marvel at the similarity of their sashay to the balloons we often find on the beach.

Against the muted tones of the gallery walls we were especially awestruck by the brilliance of the posed and poised stately figures of women which sent us on a reverie of other flourishes and grand dames of the Belle Epoch. 

Who wouldn't want to dance with Le Carmencita 1890 by John Singer Sargent?

Other stunners were Madam Roger Jordain 1886 by Albert Besnard and A Dance in the Country by Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Intrigued by the thought of our balloons gracing the museum, we photoshopped our images into place. We would love to see the illuminati of San Francisco basking in the glow of our balloons. Here is how we imagine Jan Whal, show biz personality and film critic, with hat and Gavin Newsom, mayor in awe of one of our balloon interventions.

And here an art connoisseur enjoying our masterworks.

In 2016 there will be big doings in Rio to accompany the Olympics. Given the exuberance of Brazilian culture we think our Samba Balloon series would be perfect for the Rio 2016 exhibition. Printed 1.5m x 2.1m our balloons would embody the frenzy and grace of the last planetary dance.

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 regularly posts his stories to his blog 90 OJIME. You can hear a podcast @ http://www.kwmr.org/show/124…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 of 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 the grandkids. 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.!!!