Warden and Folk Artist
A walk along Vancouver Island’s Long Beach with Pacific Rim National Park Reserve warden Pete Clarkson is both lovely and illustrative. This wilderness shore is golden sand brushed by Pacific swells and breeze. It’s also among the places where Clarkson collects the thousands of pounds of debris he has used for 20 years to make distinctive folk art.
A whimsical “Float’em Pole” at Chesterman Beach in Tofino incorporates buoys, balls and boat keel ribs; “Sea Change” is a large, elaborate installation at the Ucluelet Aquarium that resembles a wave breaking on shore. The pieces he fashions in his “Washed Up Workshop” are on display throughout the Esowista Peninsula, including at the Tofino Botanical Gardens and Wickaninnish Inn. The coast’s marvelously intense storms draw throngs of visitors November through April, but that weather often makes beaches hazardous in winter. During calmer weather, visitors can take part in cleanups organized by Surfrider Pacific Rim, Clayoquot CleanUp and Ucluelet Aquarium.
What inspired the idea of art from trash?
Early in my career in the Jasper National Park backcountry, I had to make use of whatever material was at hand for cabin, tack and trail repairs. When I moved to Pacific Rim I was blown away by the amount of trash along the shoreline. Then one day a faded piece of plastic caught my eye. I liked the way it looked, so I took it home, thinking that if I didn’t find a use for it, at least I had removed it from the beach. I collected more and soon had enough to make an artwork for some friends as a going-away gift. I was hooked. The material was plentiful and free, I enjoyed beachcombing and repurposing stuff, and it was an opportunity to get trash off the beach.
How often do you “harvest”?
I hike local beaches all the time, whether on park patrol, for personal pleasure, or participating in a cleanup. When I look at all the material I’ve collected over the last 20 years, it amazes me to think every piece represents another hike on the beach.
How can people help?
I encourage folks to participate in shoreline cleanups. Sadly, marine debris is now a global problem, but it means there is need and opportunity everywhere for folks to get involved. It’s a great family-friendly outdoor activity that also helps the environment.
Has your work changed your perspective of what is waste?
Everything ultimately has a use. If we find value in plastic beyond a one-time use, it becomes a raw material for something else, and instead of ending up in the ocean it’s now a valued resource. As these objects remind us, there is no longer an “away” when we throw things away.