Ocean Plastic Collages


In February 2016, I made a trip to visit dear friends who have retired to Eleuthera, Bahamas, and to scope out a possible project about how coastal communities’ lives are affected by changes in the ocean, including increasing garbage in the water and on the shores and changing marine life migration and availability.

Eleuthera is a long, thin island with beaches running along both the Atlantic and the Caribbean side.

I took some lovely long walks along the island’s many beaches and, especially on the Atlantic side, I found a stunning amount of plastic garbage washed ashore.

I collected the more durable and colorful pieces (only a very few of which are in the image to the left) with thoughts of making a jewelry series (which I still may do). In the meantime, I was visiting during Valentine’s Day, so I made a collage using the warm colors:


Then, since I had so much fun with that image, I made a few fish collages. Perhaps I will use cards with these images to help raise awareness of the problem of plastic in the oceans.



And now I am inspired to make more! One small bag of plastic yields many possibilities. To be continued….



Ephemeral at GRACE

I am thrilled to be included in the Washington Sculptors Group show Ephemeral at Greater Reston Arts Center (VA).  This show is part of the group’s Sculpture NOW series and draws its inspiration from the Patrick Dougherty “stick” installation A Bird in Hand added to Reston Town Center this summer. I was able to volunteer to help with the installation for two days of the two-week installation.  What a wonderful experience!

The Washington Sculptors Group show includes work reflecting 27 artists’ meditations on the fleeting nature of things in general. My piece, “Bycatch I,” which I made originally for the Call and Response show at Episcopal High School in Alexandria (VA) fit nicely with the theme, and I was honored to be selected among the exhibiting artists for Ephemeral.

“Bycatch I” is made from white cotton fishing net cord and red flax thread knotted with traditional fishing net knots into a 9-foot suspended form, held open with a 2-foot fishing net hoop and draped to floor where it is anchored with 60 recycled water bottles refilled with tap water.









The piece presents the difficult position of coastal fishing communities throughout the world, where overfishing and dwindling fish populations due to damaged ecosystems, as well as changing fish migration patterns, are challenging the fishers’ livelihood.  Some fishers are catching species they are not permitted to keep (bycatch) and many are encountering increasing amount of yet another kind of bycatch – garbage. This cycle of human reliance on the natural world and our inability to resist putting overbearing pressures on it is affecting all of us, making an already tenuous balance even more fleeting.

I found out at the opening reception on September 11, 2015, that I had been chosen for the Washington Sculptors Group’s 2015 Tom Rooney Award for Excellence in Sculpture.  What a lovely surprise! I am excited about the Bycatch series and this award certainly encourages me to continue.



Fused recycled plastic – going global

I have been fusing used plastic bags for a few years now.  I often paint them with acrylic paints and then fuse a few layers together to get a stiff fabric that I can sew into jewelry pieces or incorporate into larger sculptures.

I have blogged about the piece that the Union of Concerned Scientists acquired a few years ago, “Can’t See the Forest for the Trees”

which included heavy-weight boutique shopping bags and Whole Foods vegetable bags labeled “ORGANIC” in a comment about the irony of earth-conscious consumption feeding our need to feel responsible (by buying local and organic) while adding to other environmental issues by increasing the demand for plastic.

I also made a fused wedding dress out of Target bags for a show at the Torpedo Factory:

This is an image of the bodice. This was another comment on consumption and excess vs bargain-hunting.

More recently, the piece called “Core, Drill, Spill” that I collaborated on with Michele

Banks and Ellyn Weiss for our Voyage of Discovery exhibit (shown at the American Association for the Advancement o

f Science and the McLean Project for the Arts in 2014) included about 2,000 bags fused into about 200 square layers and assembled into three pieces representing ice cores.

We liked the way the whiter and bluish layers looked somewhat like layers in ice core samples.  And then we used other colors to show a change in elements and substances found in more recent samples.  The final core/column included black garbage bags spilling out of the bottom to represent potential oil spills, now that the Arctic ice is melting and the water is open enough for oil exploration.  An accident is almost inevitable, and at the time we were making the piece, I think that was one of our biggest fears for drilling in the region – a catastrophic spill.

My experimentation with this medium will continue – although thankfully it is getting more difficult to find the raw materials as businesses choose to avoid plastic bags (or charge for them).   I plan to incorporate plastic into the Bycatch net series as well, especially as I move to pieces that involve coastal communities, where plastic is increasingly found on beaches and floating in the fishing grounds.

Call and Response

Bycatch - cotton cord, flax thread, repurposed plastic water bottles, steel hoop

Angie Newman Johnson Gallery at Episcopal High School
1200 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302

May 12 – June 14, 12015

Jessica Beels, Elsabe Dixon, Inga Hamilton – curated by Elizabeth Vorlicek

For the past year or so, I have been marinating ideas and slowly producing work for a 3-person show called Call and Response.  Liz Vorlicek invited the other two artists and me to collaborate on a show, and our similar interests in nature as both narrative subject matter and as a source of materials seemed an intriguing and inspiring match.

A montage of details from Call and Response


Here is Liz’s curator’s statement for the show:

“In music, call and response is a technique where one musician offers a phrase and a second player answers with a direct commentary or response to the offered phrase. The musicians build on each other’s offering and work together to move the song along and create a sound that’s inventive and collective.” When I ponder the process of call and response in visual art I become drawn in by the idea of generating a buzz of conversation in a gallery space. From the moment I asked these artists to show together, a wonderful interplay started to happen that I think was critical to the creation of some of these pieces in the scheme of each artist’s individual artistic practice. This back and forth between friends not only started the first notes of “What if?” for this exhibition but also generated the forward momentum to stay connected. Over the period of two years we engaged in a dialogue. It involved an exchange of ideas, stories posted on Facebook and tender morsels shared about our practice as artists and teachers and people in the world. A collaborative work is also in progress in the linear, wall construction called Call and Response. We are eager to watch it take shape and change during the duration of the show.

Details of Bower - dogwood branches, mulberry bark fiber, steel, and gut

It has been fascinating watching the artists work on site from their respective mobile studios. I have experienced recycling at its finest in Elsabe Dixon’s tactile and gutsy, Hive sculpture; weaving in action with the delicate threads and linear elements that make up Jessica Beels’ environments and the explosion of color in the cornucopia of fiber and mixed media elements collaged together in Inga Hamilton’s mythical creatures. Thematically this exhibition is tied together with each artist’s unyielding desire to connect with her materials and to make a commentary through installation art and storytelling. The themes are unified under the umbrellas of fiber work and the building up of structure through repeated actions and elements. Each artist knows her materials in a way that harkens back to a time when most people actually knew how to make and repair things by hand: like darning a holey sock. Dixon’s, Beels’ and Hamilton’s practices are profoundly connected to the world of the craftsperson and re-define traditional practices like crocheting, net making and bee keeping through an evocative artistic inquiry. This connection and respect for the past is compellingly modern. The artists’ actions implore us to take notice, stay a while and learn something new. As viewers this is our invitation to connect with the work. It is our call and we are invited to respond with questions, “AH HA!” moments and perhaps a broad smile or furrowed brow.”


In addition to work we each produced individually, we installed a wall piece using materials gathered from all three artists’ stash and building by successive additions, one artist after the other, in a responsive cycle – a sort of 3D collage. This piece is about play, light, time and transformation. Because Inga lives in N. Ireland and was unable to make it “across the pond” to participate in person, we held video meetings with her to get her input on what to add where in the responsive piece, as well as feedback on our installation of the other pieces.

Call and Response collaborative piece as of May 7, 2015

Migrating Radiozoa – Voyage of Discovery

Stylatractus giganteus

“Radiolarian” is the word generally used to denote a large family of microscopic sea animals that includes radiolaria (silica-based), acantheria (strontium-based) and foraminifera (calcium-based) – hundreds of tiny creatures found in the oceans throughout the globe.

Heliosphaera echinoides

My focus on this group for the Voyage of Discovery show was inspired by a 2012 article in The Journal of Micropaleontology that describes how species of radiolarians usually only found in tropical waters are more frequently being found in the Arctic.  Because these animals rely on ocean currents to carry them while alive and their hard “skeletons” endure after they die, they are an interesting measure of change.  The significance of this change, and the many possible reasons for it, inspired me to make this series called Invasive Species. The sculptures are high-shrinkage flax paper over steel wire, ranging from approximately 1 to 3 feet in diameter.


installation viewed through lobby window at AAAS, downtown Washington, DC (January 2014)

The show traveled to the McLean Project for the Arts in September 2014 and some of the pieces from this series will be featured in a show in February – April 2015 of this year’s DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities arts fellowship grants.

installation at McLean Project for the Arts, McLean, VA (September 2014)

The radiolarians are designed to be hung in loose groups, hanging above the heads of visitors as tough floating through the ocean. They respond to slight changes in air flow and cast dramatic shadows on the walls nearby.

As with much of my work, while I knew that shadow and movement would play some role in the final piece once installed, I started to work on the series with the forms of the individual elements in mind.  I did research into which species were migrating to the arctic, drawing on the wonderful online resources for such research, especially Radiolaria.org and an archive on the site 19thcenturyscience.org that includes all of the plates from Ernst Haeckel’s Challenger voyage.  In the end, I decided to build pieces that were most compelling to me as pure form and happen to be radiolarians (for the most part) instead of sticking to a strict list of only those that were changing their migratory pattern.  I even built a few structures that I have not been able to match to particular radiolaria (although, with hundreds of species and such a wide range of forms, I wouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to be “real” after all).

Ceratospyris polygona

"invented" radiolarian form

Washington Guild of Goldsmiths – Metalwork 2014

The Washington Guild of Goldsmiths 2014 Metalwork show will be open November 1–29 at Gallery B in Bethesda, MD (7700 Wisconsin Avenue).  Fifty WSG members will be showing their work, and I am honored to be among them!

The opening reception is Saturday, November 1, 4 – 8 pm. Hope to see you there!

The jurors accepted two of my necklaces for the show:

A fused recycled plastic necklace called “Reclaimed”:

And a beaded virus necklace:


Melting Sea Ice – Voyage of Discovery

Finally, after about a year of collaborating, Michele Banks, Ellyn Weiss, and I have installed Voyage of Discovery at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in downtown DC.

All three of us create work with scientific themes, so a joint venture seemed a logical and exciting prospect.  We were thrilled when the AAAS accepted our proposal and gave us the time and freedom to pursue our ideas for an exhibition contemplating the possible effects of global warming/climate change on polar regions.  We called the project “Voyage of Discovery” to pay homage to the scientists (Darwin, Haeckel, and others) who have explored the globe in search of new life forms and to gain a greater understanding of the world around us.  Also, this project was our own voyage of discovery, as we did research into recent changes in polar regions and delved into new media and means of expressing our reactions to the information we absorbed.


Detail of In the Balance - flax over steel, plastic tubing, copper

We all work in different media and with different aesthetic sensibilities.  Collaborating was exciting and rewarding, and yes, sometimes challenging.  What we produced, in the end, was a show that includes two collaborative installations and series of our individual work.

Ellyn working on Waning Albedo - mixed media collaborative fiber installation

Michele and I assemble Core Drill Spill, which includes approximately 2,000 recycled plastic bags gathered from, among other sources, AAAS staff.

The AAAS produced a short video about the project, which interviews all three of us and shows some of the work in progress, viewable at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tfIWf7TY6U&feature=share

The show is open from January 22 through May 31, 2014, in the main lobby gallery at the AAAS building in Metro Center, DC – 1200 New York Avenue, NW.  The building keeps regular business hours – Monday through Friday, 9 – 6 – so no evenings or weekends.  Some of the work is viewable through the windows from the street, however, including the 9 x 24 foot wall installation Waning Albedo, Michele’s ink-on-Mylar paintings (attached to the windows), and my hanging radiolarian sculptures (through windows near the front door).

More posts to follow about specific work in the show.  Enjoy!

Weigh Your Words – continued


Last spring, amid the end-of-school-year insanity heightened by our daughter’s graduation from high school, I was preparing for the rebirth of the Weigh your Words project that I started at Artomatic in the summer of 2012 (see the post on this blog from May 17, 2012).  My seesaw and sorting bins for Weigh Your Words were accepted as part of the FIGMENT NY event on Governors Island, a short ferry ride from South Ferry (Manhattan) or Brooklyn.

This festival is like a mini-Burning Man – free arts event with no sales allowed in order to focus on creativity and exploration rather than commerce.  Participants who need an established space and/or need to transport/install more material than they can carry in on the festival days are juried in.  Anyone else can just turn up and perform or demonstrate during when the event is ongoing.  It is a perfect venue for a contemplative, interactive installation geared toward a wide range of ages.  Plus, you get to take the ferry there, and I am always happy for an excuse to ride on a boat.

We installed in the rain, but the weather was lovely over the weekend when the show was open.  I was tucked along the edge of the grounds, so I had a relatively slow and steady trickle of visitors – ideal for an installation that requires some concentration. At first, I used the rubber mats just as a place for people to sort through the stones, but then I rearranged it with an empty space in the middle for special arrangements.

Searching for Words

People participated alone or in groups.  One mother and daughter stayed at the site for over an hour, having a very detailed and intense conversation about which words they were picking and why. Then they took a “selfie” lying on the rubber mat with their words surrounding them.


This became a theme, with some wonderful variations:












Some people got pretty obsessive about finding all of the right words and arranging them:




Some people just wanted to play with the stones and dump them in piles.  That was OK too…


And the seesaw got lots of action as well.  I monitored it a bit, helping people figure out how to balance it (if they wanted help) after they had filled two bowls with words/stones.

They particularly seemed to enjoy the revelation that, in order to balance two sides, you could take a stone from one of the bowls and place it along the edge of the seesaw, closer to the center, to alter the weight.  Then we could have a conversation about how to pick which words should be moved.  If two people were playing with the seesaw, and each had described themselves, but the two sides didn’t balance, could they eliminate or move words that didn’t describe them as accurately as the others?  Or could the other person pick a word that they thought was less accurate?  If a person had filled one bowl with positive aspects of their personality and the other with negative ones, which ones are really closer to the middle and could be moved to help the two sides balance better?  A simple mechanical solution could become a deeper psychological exploration.

Some people just liked to sort through the stones, filling bowls and thinking about words, and adding missing to words to my ever-growing list.

I had a wonderful time, and I think visitors to my installation enjoyed themselves.  Some people expanded their vocabulary, some had a mini therapy session, others just goofed around.  All in all, a great experience.  I will continue to post information about this project as I find more venues to show it on the separate blog devoted to Weigh Your Words.



For Pulse: Pass it On

This piece is about neurons in the brain, specifically about explorations about their communication (or lack thereof) as part of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  I have incorporated neurons into my work in the past – two of the Courage Unmasked pieces (both for the 2009 auction) had neurons in the interior of the mask, where the brain would be, indicating the patient’s escape from the claustrophobic world of the radiation treatment environment into a more freeing world of their imagination.

Neuron in View from Within (in progress - 2009)

I also decided, one day, that I “needed a spine” (as in needed to find more courage to stretch myself in my work) so I made one:

Spine – 6″ high – enough for my purposes

Now, I wanted to go big.  So I started making larger neuron armatures.  And I wanted to add movement, so I decided to make a mobile with each section approximately 2 feet in diameter, each touching the other off in a spin – sparking a reaction, sending information.


Two neuron armatures - testing the movement and shadows

I knew that once I covered the armatures with flax paper, the pieces would change dramatically.  The shiny metal would become matte, neutral paper.  So to bring it alive again, I added metallic leaf to some of the ends to catch the light as neurons pushed and touched each other.  And I added bound pieces of broken mirror to the interior of each neuron – a reference to the loss of memory and identity that accompanies diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  The neurons are suspended with swivel hangers so that they can turn more easily/smoothly when only lightly touched and hang with about a 6″ overlap at the outermost tips so that they bump into each other fairly easily, but don’t lock dendrites.

Neuron Tangle


Installed at Strathmore

Now that the five neurons are installed at the Strathmore show, I can see how I could fill the entire room just with neurons (50 or more of them?!), suspended throughout the room at different heights, with narrow pathways so that the visitors touch off movement as they try to navigate the space.

For Pulse: Clot (a series)

Once I had started on one piece (HPV Deconstructed), the others flowed more easily.  I wanted to do a piece about blood, and blood cells in particular.  I also wanted to work more extensively with non-paper materials.

Mesh – In college, I had taken a course called Projects in 3 Dimensions, in which we explored many media, including wire window screening, playing with its bias and springy quality, the difficulty of finishing the edges and the connective possibilities of those spiky edges, as well as the shadow and moire effects of its distorted grid.  A couple of years ago, I took a class with Dennis Nahabetian, learning to distort the grid pattern and electroform bronze mesh.  So, I came up with a form reminiscent of a blood cell in its springy, doughnut-like shape, but also, it turned out, connected to other more symbolic references to blood.  One of the symbols for the Norse god Odin is a triangular shape made of three interlocking horns, drawn from the three horns full of mead made from the blood of Kvasir (another Norse god) that Odin drank.

I was thrilled that I could make a form similar to that out of wire mesh, and so began experimenting with the shape in both aluminum and bronze wire mesh.  First runs of the three-sided form included extra folds in the segments, making the “cells” puffy and textured.

This effect was pleasing, but the surface seemed too busy, so I backed off and made slightly simpler forms, with stiffened stripey edges and no central folds.  I concentrated more on combining the two colors of the mesh and creating a composition of stacked (clotted) cells within a steel frame. In addition to the beautiful effect of the translucent mesh and the shadows it creates, I liked the additional reference to the mesh-like material (niobium webbing) used to make stents used to prevent clots in medical procedures.

In the end, I made quite a few extra cells so that I had maximum flexibility, and they each took up to two hours to make!  I pinched the edge pattern in each piece, three pieces per cell, and then folded over all of the edges (one wire at a time) to help them catch less on each other and look more finished.  I like the way that the mesh still catches some, a reminder of how clots form.

The frames (made by Elle Brand – thank you!!) were welded 1/4″ steel and I covered them with high-shrinkage charcoal-colored paper to create a matte finish.  I wanted the frame to be a shadow element that contained the forms, but didn’t compete with their shiny surfaces.

In the end, I made three clots, choosing to use only one bronze cell per piece to highlight the cell form and give a dramatic focus to each piece.  When lit close to a wall, the shadows are quite dramatic.  The image below is of the installation before final lighting at Strathmore, and I will update this post when I have final photos.  The shadows should be higher on the wall.