Spotlight Artisan: Elizabeth Roberts

beach trash fish sculpture wall installation

Make Art Not Trash

Elizabeth Roberts is a beachcomber and beach artist from Bandon, Oregon. She started converting beach junk into art when she was in high school, but says the art became a true passion once she moved to Alaska to work on marine debris clean-up projects. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast and contributing artist at the Washed Ashore Project in Bandon.

elizabeth roberts sculptor

Elizabeth has always been an artist—as a kid she was constantly using her finds to make small pieces of art; she even sold some art when she was in high school. Throughout her career, she has owned a fiber arts shop, taught art in schools, and participated in community projects and art workshops. When she moved to Alaska for work, she became inspired by the beautiful colors in the plastic and also saw making art as a way to address plastic pollution in the ocean.

“In Alaska, it’s almost impossible to not become connected to the ocean,” Elizabeth says. “Our whole life is intertwined with the seasonal and cyclical give and take of the ocean.”

sculptures made with marine trash

Elizabeth’s artistic process is intense. She uses band saws, jigsaws, Dremel tools, and other hand tools to shape the materials she finds while beachcombing. She also uses screws and nails instead of adhesives, as they are less harmful. Though she manipulates many of the items she finds, she tries to leave the majority of them intact so viewers can see the origins of her creation. Today, you can see Elizabeth’s art pieces at the Washed Ashore gallery in Bandon, Oregon, and on social media. She participates in beach-related events and was the featured artist at the 2018 Santa Barbara Sea Glass and Ocean Arts Festival.

large scale marine trash sculpture

When she’s not beachcombing or making her art, Elizabeth loves to educate people about harmful plastic pollution, and she explores forests, taking in the wildlife and foraging for sustainable wild foods. Since she wants to entirely remove her plastic footprint, she preserves all of her foods and cooks many of her meals from scratch.

“We only have one planet. It’s finite resources are rapidly being depleted and polluted as populations grow and we continue to consume more and more stuff,” says Elizabeth. “Much of that stuff is frivolous and unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. We are going to have to change our habits, or else we are going to overtax the systems that support life on earth.”

When at the beach, Elizabeth prefers to hunt for fossils, agates, bottles, Japanese glass fishing floats, and the plastics she uses in her art. Her dream find is a Japanese Glass Rolling Pin. She beachcombs primarily during the winter time, because winter storms bring most of her desired materials for shore. In the summer, she makes her art.

Elizabeth is torn when trying to choose her favorite beach—it’s a tie between Tugidak Island and Kayak Island, both in the Gulf of Alaska. “They are filled with fascinating glass bottles, floats, fossils, and lots of plastic from the 2011 Japanese tsunami,” Elizabeth explains.

Most of the beaches in Elizabeth’s local area are great for agate hunting, and Bullards Beach in Bandon is nice for the occasional fossilized shells and petrified wood. Besides the beaches, there’s a lot to do in Bandon as well. Visitors can enjoy hiking, kayaking, surfing, paddle boarding, canoeing, fishing, crabbing, clamming, windsurfing, horseback riding on the beach, mountain biking, camping, golfing, and beautiful views all along the coastline.

If you’re hungry, visit Face Rock Creamery in Bandon for delicious cheese curds, Rolling Pin Bakery for cupcakes, or Coastal Mist for hand-crafted chocolates. And, if you’re looking for a full meal, Elizabeth highly recommends 7 Devils Brewing Company in Coos Bay. With locally sourced food, live music, fundraising events, solar-powered energy sources, and a community-minded staff, it’s no wonder Elizabeth loves it.

Consider a visit to Coquille Point and the National Wildlife Refuge, where you can see nesting puffins, Acres State Park, Simpson Reef Overlook, Cape Arago, the Charleston Marine Life Center, and the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. If you have time, visit the many lighthouses along the Oregon coast and to take in the gorgeous sunsets. And, of course, Washed Ashore Project in Bandon is a great place for visitors to learn about sea debris, sea art, and for people to participate in many art workshops.

Learn more about Elizabeth and see more of her work on Facebook @makeartnottrash and on Instagram @marinedebris911.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine July/August 2019 issue.

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