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On The Oregon Coast, Turning Pollution Into Art With A Purpose

Dec 4, 2019
Originally published on December 4, 2019 10:58 am

At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.

This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you'll find bits of plastic.

"I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish," she says.

Haseltine Pozzi is a local artist and longtime art teacher who's made it her mission to collect as much of this shameful garbage as possible. It washes up from Asia, Europe, California and right here in Oregon.

Angela Haseltine Pozzi founded Washed Ashore in 2010. The nonprofit turns plastics taken from Oregon's beaches into eye-opening sculptures of threatened marine life.
Kirk Siegler / NPR

In her gallery in the nearby town of Bandon, where she'd spend summers with her grandmother exploring the wild beaches, she's now taking these plastic invaders and turning them into jaw-dropping sculptures. The plastic bottle caps, cocktail toothpicks, shotgun shell casings — anything — form life-size garbage creatures of the very marine life threatened by all this plastic.

"The idea is you can't ignore something that's really big," Haseltine Pozzi says. "It grabs your attention."

Some are almost comical, if in a dark way. It's indeed hard to ignore the giant weedy sea dragon, its neck made of suction cups from old vacuum cleaners, its eyes of black plastic water bottle caps. Nearby, there is a jellyfish sculpted from golf balls. There are sharks and birds with feathers made from flip-flops and plastic lighters fastened together.

A to-scale sculpture of a juvenile humpback whale rib cage made of plastic bottles.
Kirk Siegler / NPR

And you can't miss the life-size replica of a juvenile humpback whale's rib cage made of, you guessed it by now, plastic household bleach bottles. You can walk under it or even bang on it like a drum if you're frustrated by this point.

Haseltine Pozzi's goal in creating this project is to reach the general public, not just converted art connoisseurs and environmentalists.

"I want to reach everybody. I want to reach kids," she says. "I want to reach people who might throw something on the beach and not think about it, and I want them to start to think about it."

In 2010, she founded the nonprofit Washed Ashore to support all this work, including the popular gallery and extensive education and outreach nationwide. They've built 80 sculptures made out of 26 tons of garbage collected from the Oregon Coast. They've been displayed across the country — from the zoo in Tacoma, Wash., to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. There are classes for students young and old, beach cleanups and plenty of hands-on opportunities to help build these sculptures in the Bandon gallery.

One of the most popular there is a 6-foot-wide sea star made from plastic water bottles, most from the 2008 Olympics in China.

A sea star made mostly of plastic water bottles from the 2008 Summer Olympics in China that are still washing up on Oregon beaches today.
Kirk Siegler / NPR

"They're still coming in," Haseltine Pozzi says. "Still washing up on our beaches [with] the insignia on them."

As dismaying as all of this is, Haseltine Pozzi is a pragmatist. She's not on a crusade to end all plastics. She knows we have to use them in critical things like our phones or our medical equipment.

But will these enormous plastic sculptures make us rethink how much we use?

"Single-use plastics are the most dangerous because you use it and in five minutes you're done with it and then it lasts a thousand years," she says. "We were never taught that. If we [had] we'd think differently."

Education, Haseltine Pozzi says, can make a difference. After all, we invented all these convenient plastics, so why can't we create our way out of this crisis?

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is estimated that more than 1 million tons of plastic garbage contaminates the world's oceans every year. But one artist on the Oregon coast is making a small dent in that. NPR's Kirk Siegler has the story from the seaside village of Bandon in southern Oregon.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Here at Coquille Point, the wind is tumultuous and the sea violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant moss-covered rocks perched off the beach. The rugged Oregon coast is famous for being pristine and wild, but train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand itself and even here you find bits of plastic.

ANGELA HASELTINE POZZI: Well, I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish.

SIEGLER: Artist and teacher Angela Haseltine Pozzi has made it her mission to collect as much of this shameful garbage as possible, washing ashore from Asia, Europe, California, right here in Oregon.

POZZI: Well, I hear this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUMMAGING)

SIEGLER: In her gallery nearby, she takes these plastic bottle caps, cocktail toothpicks, shotgun shell casings, anything and turns them into jaw-dropping sculptures of the very marine life threatened by all this plastic.

POZZI: This piece over here is a giant weedy seadragon, and it's 18 feet long and 10 feet tall.

SIEGLER: Its neck made of suction cups from vacuum cleaners; its eye is a black water bottle cap.

POZZI: And the idea is that you can't ignore something that's really big, and it grabs your attention.

SIEGLER: Like the jellyfish sculpted from golf balls or the puffin bird whose feathers are made from fastened together flip flops and plastic lighters and the life-sized replica of a juvenile humpback whale's rib cage made of - you guessed it - plastic household bleach bottles. You can walk under it and even bang on it like a drum.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

POZZI: My goal in creating this project is to reach the general public, not the art connoisseurs and the environmentalists. I want to reach everybody. I want to reach kids. I want to reach people who might throw something on the beach and not think about it. And I want to make them start to think about it.

SIEGLER: A few years ago, she founded a nonprofit called Washed Ashore. They've built 80 sculptures made out of 26 tons of garbage collected from the Oregon coast. They've been displayed across the country, from the zoo in Tacoma, Wash., to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. One of the most popular sculptures, though, is right here in the gallery - a 6-foot-wide sea star made from individual-use plastic water bottles.

POZZI: A lot of these right here are actually washed in from the 2008 Beijing Olympics that still wash up on our beaches. They have the insignia on them.

SIEGLER: 2008.

POZZI: Yep, yep. And they're still coming in.

SIEGLER: And you can play this one like a drum, too. It's a hit with kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING)

POZZI: It's more sound than music (laughter).

SIEGLER: Angela is not on a crusade to end all plastics. She knows we have to use them in our phones or medical equipment. But will these enormous plastic sculptures make us rethink how much we use?

POZZI: Single-use plastics are the most dangerous because you use it, and in five minutes, you're done with it. And then it lasts a thousand years. And we were never taught that. You know, if we were taught that, we'd think differently, I think. And that's part of the thing is education.

SIEGLER: Education, she says, can make a difference. And after all, we invented all these convenient plastics, so why can't we invent our way out of the crisis? Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Bandon, Ore.

(SOUNDBITE OF VUREZ'S "GLORIOUS CRYSTAL GLEAM [MMX2 - CRYSTAL SNAIL STAGE]") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.