It’s grown increasingly difficult to ignore stories about the oceanic gyres, five massive churning currents filled with trash that is regularly deposited on the world’s beaches. But Angela Haseltine Pozzi, an artist and educator for more than 30 years, has found an inspiring way to confront this epidemic: turn this washed up material into art depicting the very wildlife threatened by the mess.
Pozzi moved to the coast of southern Oregon seeking solace after bereavement from a death in her family was compounded by the death of her husband following a long illness. And while she says she found peace, she also became disturbed by the large amounts of plastic she found washed ashore during walks on the beach. “I decided to do something bigger than myself and try to save the ocean that had always healed me,” she says.
Through the Artula Institute for Arts Education, a Bandon, Ore.-based 501c3 nonprofit Pozzi operates, she founded “Washed Ashore,” an ongoing, traveling exhibit of large sculptures made from trash washed up on the shores of the Pacific. The exhibit debuted in August of 2010. Pozzi leads the effort but gets help from countless volunteers who help collect the trash, sort and clean it, and assemble it into deceptively beautiful pieces. The exhibit includes everything from plastic-feathered seabirds to massive jellyfish comprised primarily of water bottles, and sea turtles and harbor seals tangled in netting. The exhibit currently includes 16 pieces, but is constantly growing.
About 98 percent of the material collected is plastic, and almost all of it gets used. Pozzi says some materials are cut up into more usable pieces, especially larger items like bleach and detergent bottles. But, she adds, “as much as possible I try to use [the materials] as they are so that people can see the garbage and see the things that are washing up. And when I alter it too much, people don’t see that and just see it as an art supply.”
The chief mission of “Washed Ashore,” says Pozzi, is to raise awareness. In service of that mission, she has taken her artworks to many locales and accepts commissions from organizations looking to draw attention to the issue in other regions. She also encourages educators and volunteers to come learn how to run similar projects in their areas.
“Plastics are getting in the food chain and that’s really scary stuff,” says Pozzi. “We need to stop thinking about plastics being used for everything. We need to be selective and careful and really move toward more biodegradable products that are safe for humans and animals and the ocean and the world.”