When you take your little beachcomber for walks along the sandy shores of Puget Sound, you’re sure to spot lots of cool stuff—crabs, anemones and coveted pieces of colorful sea glass. But we’re guessing you’ve also spotted some plastic discards alongside nature’s treasures which just happens to be the inspiration behind this latest exhibit, “Washed Ashore, Art to Save the Sea.” Sound intriguing? Read on to find out how a local artist has turned plastic trash into whimsical art, with a message your kids are going to love.

 photo: Allison Sutcliffe

An Idea Takes Shape
After a personal loss, retired art and dance teacher Angela Haseltine Pozzi was drawn to the sea. She had spent the summers of her youth along Oregon’s sandy shores and knew them as a place of healing. What she found when she got there surprised her. And eventually inspired her. In addition to the occasional objects she used to spot as a kid that had floated in from Japan or China, she now found mounds of plastic trash accumulating along Oregon’s beaches. Everything from soda bottles to toy shovels to full-sized coolers, castaways from a sunny afternoon spent boating. Clearly there was a problem.

photo: Russ Carmack

Relying on her expertise as an artist, Pozzi decided to do something about it. So she called attention to the situation in a most unusual way—by creating sculptures of sea animals made entirely of found plastic pieces that had washed up on Oregon’s coast. Since starting the Washed Ashore project seven years ago, she and her team of volunteers have transformed 20 tons of garbage, dragged from over 300-miles of Oregon shoreline, into 70 colorful sculptures, ten of which you and your sidekick can explore at Point Defiance Zoo.

photo: Nathan Howard

These Aren’t Your Everyday Animals
The bulk of the sculptures are displayed on the grassy lawn behind the entrance plaza, outside the aquarium. This is where you’ll find Chompers the Shark, Octavia the Octopus and Priscilla the Parrotfish, to name a few. Each larger-than-life sculpture is made up of intricately laced, stapled and nailed together pieces of plastic that seamlessly become the colors and textures of sea creatures affected by ocean pollution. And your kiddo will find it every bit as fascinating to look at as you do.

photo: Allison Sutcliffe

The Newest Addition
While wandering the lawn, be sure to check out Steve the Weedy Sea Dragon, named for a Tacoma resident who inspired Pozzi to learn about sea dragons. He’s making his worldwide debut at this exhibit. Standing 10 feet tall, and running 20 feet in length, he’s the longest of any sculpture on display. When you look closely you’ll see his thick appendages are made from lost swim fins and much of his body is dotted with plastic bottle caps and cans. There’s even a toy robot hidden somewhere on his body. Can you find it? But what you won’t see is the gigantic plastic highway drum, usually filled with sand and blocking off parts of the highway. That’s because it’s used as a base around which the sculpture was built. And yes, it too is something that washed up on shore.

photo: Allison Sutcliffe 

Just for Kids
But for all the bright colors, fascinating finds and overwhelming size of these playful sculptures, the thing your curious cutie will love the most is that she can touch every inch of any sculpture… well, at least if she can reach it! And we’re not talking the gentle one-finger touches reserved for the delicate stingrays housed next door. We’re talking get your hands out there to touch, tap and sense your way around each awesome sculpture. When little hands have taken it all in, kidlets can play a game of I Spy. Each sculpture has a challenging list of specific objects found somewhere on the creatures. Your task is to find it, if you can!

 photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Beyond the Sculptures
To celebrate this unique exhibit, the zoo’s education staff came up with some daily activities that will help your little environmentalist connect the artwork’s theme to the animals they see at the zoo, and simple things they can do to be part of the solution. Before you head down, print out a scavenger hunt activity page. Then, work through the I Spy, Think and Meet Me options to enhance your walking art tour. Find out how plastics get into our oceans with imagery and activities over at the Marine Discovery Center. And be sure to follow up that interesting lesson with a trip to the Earth Aid Station. This is where your kidlet will find out how plastics break down in the ocean. Now that’s art with heart!

“Washed Ashore: Art of Save the Sea” at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
5400 N. Pearl St.
Tacoma, Wa 98407
Online: pdza.org/washed-ashore

Dates: Now through Oct. 21, 2017
Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through May 19; 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, May 20-Sept. 4 (excluding July 28th)
Cost: $17.95/Adults; $13.95/Youth (5-12); $9.95/Kids (3 & 4); 2 & under Free; $2 discount for Pierce County residents and military. Admission includes access to all exhibits.

Do you plan to check out Washed Ashore with your crew? Tell us about your favorite sculpture in the Comments below!

— Allison Sutcliffe