Sculpture illustrates local trash problem

Sculpture illustrates local trash problem
Trash the Turtle, a sculpture by artist Wendell Graham, was created out of trash left behind on Longboat Key beaches. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON – Locals know that trash gets left behind on local beaches and washes up onshore, but artist Wendell Graham has completed a new sculpture that she hopes will be a teaching tool to illustrate just how much stuff is abandoned on our shorelines.

Trash the Turtle, a sculpture of a loggerhead turtle, was created by Graham using trash and abandoned items left on Longboat Key beaches.

“He’s a plastic-back,” Graham joked while discussing the species of her turtle sculpture. “He has his own personality.”

Artist Wendell Graham talks about her sculpture “Trash the Turtle” and how she hopes it will help shed light on the trash left behind on local beaches. – Kristin Swain | Sun

It took more than two months for Graham to create Trash from items collected on the beach by volunteers from the Longboat Key Turtle Watch. Items were collected from the start of sea turtle nesting season in May through September and Graham said after Trash was created, she still had pounds of collected items leftover to recycle.

Items used to create Trash include bottle caps, plastic bottles, detergent bottles, flip flops, a sun hat, baseball caps, cigarette butts, plastic bags, snack wrappers, beer cans, fishing lures, shoes, Styrofoam pieces, rubber gloves, a towel, football, masks, goggles, clothes, beach toys and buoys, among other items. Graham said that about 200 plastic bottles were used to create Trash’s plastron, or underside. Once completed, the Trash sculpture weighs about 20 pounds.

Trash the Turtle’s plastron is made up primarily of plastic bottles. – Kristin Swain | Sun

To create Trash, Graham said she would take buckets of items collected off of the beach by volunteers, soak them in bleach for a few days to sanitize them and then put the turtle together like a jigsaw puzzle. She said she began putting the turtle sculpture together on September 1 and finished it in November. He was debuted at a Longboat Key Turtle Watch event in late November 2019.

“People don’t intentionally leave trash, some do, but very few. They need to be more aware,” Graham said. “There’s no reason why parents can’t pick up children’s toys.”

“It’s just amazing,” she said of the items left behind that were used to help build Trash.

Now, Graham says Trash is ready to be put on display and used as a teaching tool for the public. Any proceeds that she earns from the display of the sculpture she said she plans to donate to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring and Longboat Key Turtle Watch to help fund their continued efforts to protect local wildlife.

Trash the Turtle’s face is made from an abandoned sun hat while his jellyfish snack is made of plastic left on the beach. – Kristin Swain | Sun

“I’d like to do a Tour de Trash,” she said. Graham added that she would like to see the sculpture shown to children in a learning environment where they can discuss what items they can identify on the turtle sculpture. Her hope is that Trash the Turtle will start a discussion among viewers young and old and help make people more aware of what they’re leaving behind when they leave the water or the beach.

“He’s a great teaching tool,” she said. “To see him in a picture is nothing like seeing him in person.”

Her hope, Graham said, is that when people see the sculpture, they’ll not only see the art but also the trash that was used to create him and take away something positive from the experience.

“He’s an ambassador, a turtle ambassador, a trash ambassador. That’s Trash,” she said.

To inquire about viewing or displaying Trash the Turtle, contact Graham at Trash the Turtle’s adventures continue online in his blog.