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Ocean Garbage becomes Art with a Message

Graham Larose © Canadian Museum of Nature.

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The sculpture was designed and built in Pete Clarkson's Tofino workshop before disassembling it to ship to Ottawa. He and Dan Law then rebuilt the entire sculpture piece by piece in the Water Gallery.

By Graham Larose, May 25, 2017

Visitors to the Canadian Museum of Nature will have something surprising to admire this summer: trash!

Artist Pete Clarkson from Tofino, B.C., collaborating with artist and long-time friend Dan Law, has constructed a sculpture made entirely of marine debris for the Canada C3 Hub in the museum’s Water Gallery.

Clarkson has been beachcombing for most of his 30 years working for Parks Canada. Since 2000 he has been using material he finds to create folk art. “Each of these items have been handpicked when I’m out beachcombing,” says Clarkson. “It’s inspiring and you want to use it for something other than throwing it in the garbage.”

Onlookers may be surprised at the variety of debris—from soccer balls and flip flops, to fishing nets, Japanese fish-processing baskets and even hula hoops.

Most of the material has been collected from the West Coast, specifically Pacific Rim National Park, but Clarkson also gets material sent to from across Canada. The sculpture includes items from the coasts of New Brunswick and Canada’s Arctic.

For Clarkson, the offer to work with the museum was a huge opportunity.

“The Museum of Nature is one of the most important institutions that we really relate to in the Parks service,” he says. “For me, having this sculpture in the museum was kind of the pinnacle of representing conservation efforts in Canada.”

Clarkson has been featured in two documentaries, one about combing through and returning material that washed up on Canada’s shores from the 2011 Japanese tsunami. He was also the subject of a National Film Board documentary that followed him as he built a memorial to the victims of the same tsunami.

Graham Larose © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Friend and fellow artist Dan Law travelled with Clarkson from Tofino to help him assemble the sculpture. Here they spread the fishing net that encapsulates the entire piece.

While the sculpture conveys a conservation message, it also comes with a personal side. Clarkson included debris that belonged to two of his friends and mentors, to honour their memory.

Barry Campbell, a Parks Canada employee was known as the “glass ball king of Tofino.” Traditional glass-ball floats still wash ashore today and are highly sought after as collectibles. To honour Campbell, who had over 300 glass balls in his collection, Clarkson included one in the sculpture. He also included a lure from another beachcomber and avid fisherman, Bob Redhead.

Clarkson’s and Law's creation will be a centrepiece for the education hub in the Water Galllery that will track the Canada C3 expedition vessel as it journeys along Canada’s coastlines this summer and fall. The expedition kicks off June 1 in Toronto, and is expected to end October 28 in Victoria.