My View: an artistic project sheds light on the plastics scourge | Opinion


As I write these lines, I am sitting on the shore of Lake Erie. Waves flow and laze over rocks and sand. It is a beautiful scene of blue sky, blue water and the natural tones of the earth. But standing out from this nature are brightly colored pieces – plastics washed up on the shore.

Elizabeth Leader’s portrait of a muskellunge hangs at the Buffalo Zoo.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association recently provided funding to Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper through its

Subsidy for the removal of marine debris. Waterkeeper offered me the chance to create a public artwork to highlight the issue of plastics in our waterways and I was happy to accept this opportunity.

I have been painting pictures of the damage to our oceans, lakes and rivers since 2009 and have shown pieces of this work across the country. Naively, I thought it should be easy.

I met Elizabeth Cute and Wendy Paterson, community engagement managers at BNWaterkeeper. They requested a portrait of a muskellunge, a unique fish native to the Great Lakes and rivers. This portrait would not be an ordinary painting, but would be constructed entirely from plastic salvaged by volunteers during this season’s “Shoreline Sweep”. When completed, it was to be hung in the “Diversity of Life” corridor at the Buffalo Zoo.

After accepting the challenge, I discovered everything I could about my subject, the muskellunge. The internet was teeming with photos of this huge predator. It can grow up to 50 inches long and weigh up to 36 pounds or more. It is nicknamed the “water wolf”, due to its status at the top of the fish food chain. As an artist, I have studied the features of the giant mouth and the long body. How would I create a pose that would suit this creature in the allotted 52 by 58 inch space?


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