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Finding Beauty In Disposable Things

The Greenport artist Cindy Pease Roe makes sculptures out of beach trash. Bottle caps, old sneakers, flip flops, surf-battered plastic in various stages of decomposition, miniature dolls, sand pails, shovels, sun visors, shredded tarpaulins, and bullet casings are the raw materials of her work. The flattened side of a shoe might serve as the belly of a whale; Mylar balloons, the bane of the ocean, give substance to her armatures. For Pease Roe, who seeks to make viewers aware of the link between the things we throw away and the pollution of our waterways, it’s entirely natural to incorporate discarded tampon applicators into the body of a sea creature. If we are what we eat, then the protean forms that inhabit Roe’s watery vision are what we throw away.

A blonde wind-seared woman with bright blue eyes, Roe works out of a studio in Hanff’s Boatyard. It’s no coincidence that she ended up in such a privileged spot, since Roe has long been fascinated by the boat trade. Years ago, while living in San Francisco, she used to spend hours watching boats “being hauled in and out of marine railways. Day in and day out, I observed this incredibly vibrant waterfront where condominiums were scheduled to go up. One afternoon, looking out over the water, I thought, I must record this. If I don’t do it, no one will.”

Some time after that, she switched coasts and moved to Sagaponack. At the launch of a Gill Smith Catboat that was built by Wooden Boatworks at Hanff’s Boatyard, she conceived the idea of a series of paintings about the place. To execute it, she made frequent trips to the North Fork.

“When I saw this boat yard,” she recalls, “I thought, this is the East Coast version of where I was on the West Coast, and it all made sense. Having grown up around boat builders, I know what I’m looking at and I have a deep respect for the craftsmen who work here. Also, I care very much about the state of our marine environment, and I believe it’s up to us to take care of it.”

By the end of the year, she says, she decided to move to Greenport.  “I fell in love with the town and the people and the simple way of life. You can run errands without a car or even cycle to Orient. And there’s such a wonderful sense of community here.”

From painting boats, it was a small conceptual leap to making sculptures out of debris. On her daily beach walks with her dogs, she was shocked by the amount of litter that the surf washed up. Roe explains that because of the currents from Long Island Sound and the tidal patterns, the problem is more acute on the North Fork than on the South Shore. “People are always shocked when they see my work and they realize that every bit of it came from the beach. These days, whenever I find a good piece of plastic, I get excited because I know I can make something beautiful out of it.”