Discarded, Lost, and Found Again

I’ve written stories about fishing rope, so when I saw a photo this morning on the New York Times website of a woman sitting on a pile of it, I figured I should read the article that went with it.

My hunch was right.

Turns out, the woman profiled in the piece is an artist who gets large quantities of her preferred medium from the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation, which for years collected tons of old float rope from fishermen who, due to federal laws that mandate protections for endangered whales, can no longer use it. Rope designed to float in the water column is believed to pose a hazard to diving whales, so federal regulators require fishermen who use gear beyond a certain distance from shore to use ground lines that sink to the bottom between traps that are set in a line with buoys at the end.

The NYTimes article says that, for the past two years, the artist and her assistants “have spent almost every day in her studio cleaning lobster claws and fish bones out of the rope and crocheting it into the chunky scarflike strips, some 150 feet long, that she used as building blocks.”

I know very little about the prevailing economics of the modern art world, but given the scale she works at and the attention she is getting for her work, I’d bet a wealthy collector or institution would be willing to pay a seven-figure sum for one of her major pieces. If that were to happen, I wonder what Maine lobstermen would think of artwork made from something they had to sell for a song (50 cents a pound, according to this AP story) fetching that kind of price?

Another online item about art made from material pulled from the Gulf of Maine also caught my eye this week.

Last summer, the BDN had two stories in a span of a few weeks about leatherback turtles spotted floating in the waters off Mount Desert Island – one about an entangled turtle freed by the Coast Guard and the other about a dead turtle found off Schoodic Point. Officials said they were not sure if it was the same leatherback turtle in each instance.

Turns out, a necropsy later performed by Allied Whale on the dead turtle revealed that it had a “cache of plastic” in its stomach, according to a release from College of the Atlantic. The discovery made an impression with COA senior Phinn Onens who decided to try to spread the word about the hazards of plastic pollution in the ocean through an art project. He collected plastic items he found on the shore of MDI and pieced them together into a sculpture now on display at the college.

I am familiar enough with art to know that undergraduate student works rarely sell for more than a few hundred bucks (and are out of my price range as a result). But with Onens’ piece, the kind of price it represents may end up being more about the environment than about art world economics.

Bill Trotter

About Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors. He writes about fisheries, marine-related topics, eastern coastal Maine communities and more for the BDN. He lives in Ellsworth. Follow him on Twitter at @billtrotter.