10 Questions with Angela Haseltine Pozzi, founder and artistic director of the Washed Ashore Project.
Washed Ashore is a non-profit community art project founded by artist and educator, Angela Haseltine Pozzi in 2010. The project is based in Bandon, Oregon, where Angela first recognized the amount of plastic washing up on the beaches she loved and decided to take action. Since 2010, Washed Ashore has processed tons of plastic pollution from Pacific beaches to create monumental art that is awakening the hearts and minds of viewers to the global marine debris crisis.
- We understand you came to create Washed Ashore after a period of intense personal grief in your life. You describe going to the ocean to try to heal, and instead found a plethora of ocean debris. What was it like to experience that moment when the idea came to you to start this art and educational organization?
I have always loved the ocean. It has been the place where I spent all my summers as a child, where I happily explored the sand dunes, driftwood piles, tide pools and shorelines. I was and am still, intrigued with water patterns and driftwood forms and as a youngster would spend hours rock hunting and identifying sea creatures with my artist parents.
As an adult I lived away from the ocean, became a teacher and often taught my students to appreciate the designs and beauty of nature. When my husband of 25 years died of brain cancer I tried to disappear into making the found object art I had exhibited, but also needed the healing power of the ocean to bring me back to life. When I first moved to the ocean after his death, I only wanted to see beauty, I did not want to acknowledge the plastics on the beach. I stepped over bits of it in the dry sand in search of the clean shoreline. Then, one day the plastic debris was so intense and so expansive that I could not ignore it. I was devastated, I could not believe that humans were now destroying the ocean. I saw other people on the shoreline, just as I had been, picking up agates and shells and turning a blind eye to the plastic debris. I told myself I need to make it impossible for anyone to ignore this issue. I need to use the power of the arts and my knowledge of sculpture building to make that happen. It was at that moment nearly 11 years ago that I committed to try to save the ocean. I knew that I could rally and teach people, I knew that I could make art that could get attention, and I knew that if I could save the ocean I would have a reason to live. That was when I decided on this project, Washed Ashore was going to be my life.
2. Tell us about the pivot to create the new jewelry line. Will this be an ongoing product line for Washed Ashore, and will you continue to create your larger art pieces?
Covid19 has upended us all. Washed Ashore had just put up 3 huge art exhibits in one Aquarium and two Zoos when Covid quickly started putting the country into lockdown. Our home base in Bandon, Oregon had to be shut down and we laid off three workers. The uncertainty for our organization was intense at first and the only way we could deal with it was to write grants and make art!
For the past 10 years, we have had requests for smaller works of art that the public could purchase, but we never had the time. We have always made huge pieces for large exhibits. But, Covid changed everything, and since our usual venues were closed then I thought, maybe it was time to launch a new way of exhibiting our work, by making wearable art for the general public. Zoom was taking off and I was imagining people being able to share our mission with their friends and family by wearing an art piece and starting conversations. Each piece comes with an educational emphasis and gives the owner a way of interacting and teaching.
Hence, the Etsy store of fine art jewelry and small art pieces for the home.
However, now that our organization has gotten a fair number of grants to get us up and running again we have returned to making our larger sculptures. I love making the marine debris jewelry, but, we are back at the larger works and I no longer have the time. The Etsy store truly represents a limited edition of original artwork. As we head into 2021 we are finishing up a 14 foot long Sturgeon, a 12 ft. long Coral Reef and about to begin a huge 16 ft x 9 ft. Bald Eagle.
- Do the unique designs come to you from the debris you find, or do you have an idea in mind and go looking for the pieces to fit?
Making art with marine debris is a strange artistic process. The materials completely dictate your design. Although I have certain guidelines of where I want to go, it often changes along the way. No matter how much I think it through ahead of time the end result is often different.
I have also learned that getting set on one idea often creates frustration and failure. As a mature artist, I have learned to have confidence in the creative process and truly go with the flow.
- How long does it take you to first design and then create a new piece of jewelry?
Collecting, washing, sorting and selecting pieces is the majority of the work. With all of the Washed Ashore sculptures, this is the case. Sometimes collecting the right pieces or enough of the right color literally takes years. I have pieces of plastic that I have saved for many many years just waiting for the right time and place to use them. Just sorting by color and shape and type takes weeks, so how long does it take… is always a tricky question. Once my materials are in place, then a piece of jewelry can come together within days. Generally, our large sculptures take 6 – 8 months to complete.
- Briefly tell us how you process the pieces of ocean debris that become part of the art pieces you create.
Volunteers drop off debris at our marine debris processing facility anytime. Then we spray it down, wash it in vinegar and soap, spray, rinse, sort by color, type and size, cut and drill it. Our lead artist designs parts for volunteers to complete and then, when our volunteer workshops are running, we have people help us by wiring parts into panels and trash kabobs that get put onto a stainless steel framework.
In the past 10 years, we have processed about 30 tons of debris into over 80 works of art and had the help of over 14,000 volunteers.
6. Tell us a little about your traveling and museum exhibits – with changes in the world, how have they been affected?
All of our exhibits have been extended this year from 6 month shows to 12-month shows, in order for the venues to have a chance to bring the public into their facilities. Now we are having to hire contractors to take down our exhibits since we are not able to safely travel and do the work ourselves. Luckily we have outdoor exhibits scheduled in Botanical Gardens and Zoos and Science Parks this next year so the public can see our work in an outdoor setting with social distancing. We have shows often booked years ahead of time so we are looking into the future. Our new line of jewelry can allow the public to show our work to their friends through social media as well.
7. Tell us about how volunteers can help your organization.
Volunteers are an essential part of our organization. First, if everyone could pick up garbage on every waterway they visit it could make a huge difference. If you cannot drop by the debris at our facility in Oregon, then make sure it gets in a dumpster or recycle what you can. Second, stay tuned as to how you can participate in creating parts of our sculptures. We are working hard to develop kits we can send out to people so they can make a panel or kabob for our next sculptures. We will announce this on our Facebook and Instagram pages as well as our websites so make sure you stay connected!
- What is the first thing you would tell someone about ocean plastic/pollution?
Plastics in the ocean is not the fault of some other person or country, if you use plastic, you are responsible. Your purchase is your vote. Everything you buy means more of it will be made to replace it. If you want more biodegradable things, buy them. If you want less plastic in the ocean, buy less plastic on land. It is either supply and demand or demand and supply. Every action you take counts.
9. What do you feel has been your greatest achievement so far as you celebrate a decade of creating Washed Ashore fine art?
There is more research, more awareness, more caring, more publicity and more innovation around plastic pollution in the ocean than there was when I started Washed Ashore. I feel there is more hope. Over 28 million people have seen our work in person and I have seen the powerful response over the years. I have seen dozens of people brought to tears by our exhibits and I have seen children determined to dedicate their lives to help the animals after seeing our work. I feel the arts have reached into the hearts and minds of people and helped push the issue forward.
I feel we are doing the work I was hoping we could do, and that is satisfying.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The accomplishments of our non-profit organization, Washed Ashore are only possible with the truly amazing staff and heartfelt commitment of our volunteers. We live and breathe our mission:
To build and exhibit aesthetically powerful art to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in the ocean and waterways and to spark positive changes in consumer habits.
Please visit www.WashedAshore.org to learn more.