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 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 need. 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 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, Clementine 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 @…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 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.!!!