Sculptures lifted by airborne debris

Published 9:52 pm Monday, January 21, 2019

Keep Suffolk Beautiful Jan. 19 project from Suffolk News-Herald on Vimeo.

Volunteers sorted through more than 11,000 pieces of sand-covered balloon debris on Saturday in order to put together artwork that’s both eye-catching and educational.

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Approximately 30 people met at the Suffolk Art Gallery on Bosley Avenue for the public art project. It was a collaboration between the gallery, the Suffolk Art League and Keep Suffolk Beautiful and was accomplished over several hours using two extravagant, metal sculptures.

Suffolk Art League Executive Director Linda Bunch said the environmental project was a great partnership to show how artists examine issues through creative expressions.

“The art league is very much also a community-based organization, so we want to be part of things in the community,” she said. “What Keep Suffolk Beautiful does is help make our city a better place to live, and we want to be a part of that as well.”

They started on Saturday morning in the gallery’s courtyard, where they separated colored balloons from the others with colors dulled from age and wear. The balloons came from a study conducted by Clean Virginia Waterways, which is based at Longwood University in Farmville.

Researchers Christina Trapani, Kathy O’Hara and Katie Register conducted 46 balloon-related litter surveys from June 2013 to November 2017. They covered about 111 miles of remote Virginia beaches and collected 11,441 balloons and balloon-related debris, such as ribbons.

The balloons came from numerous holidays and occasions. There were several years’ worth of graduation, a few Valentine’s Day and plenty of commercial brands. There were plenty of superheroes, according to Wayne Jones of Keep Suffolk Beautiful, and Spider-Man was by far the most popular among them.

Jones said the purpose of the project is to raise awareness of the damage caused by balloon debris.

“We want people to think about what happens to balloons when they release them at weddings, parties, funerals,” he said. “It’s litter, (and) it’s going to fall down somewhere. They go up, and they never land in a trashcan.”

Seniors in welding instructor Thomas Shirk’s class at the College and Career Academy at Pruden crafted two large sculptures for the project, one in the shape of a butterfly and the other a turtle.

The Saturday volunteers worked together to weave clam netting around the two sculptures. The netting was recovered from the shores of Fisherman’s Island. Pieces of it were cut and scattered on the floor alongside ribbons used to tie the netting.

“We’re using it to create a skin for the sculptures,” Jones said.

Many of the volunteers were students of Lakeland High, King’s Fork High and Nansemond River High schools. The students packed the sculptures’ inner cavities with balloons of many colors to turn the debris into rich collages.

Lakeland High School junior Emily Owens, 16, was one of the students who got sandy in the process, but that didn’t dampen her fun.

“I think it’s a really good project,” Emily said as her fellow students fiddled with the sculptures. “It will really open people’s eyes as to how much garbage is really getting put into the ocean.”

The sculptures will be brought to North Suffolk Library on Feb. 2 for Keep Suffolk Beautiful’s presentation on the Clean Virginia Waterways study, which will be led by Trapani, according to Jones. A naming contest is also in the works for the two sculptures.

Visit and Keep Suffolk Beautiful on Instagram for more information.