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A very different day at the beach

By Carolyn Males

Gazing at Pam White’s “A Day at the Beach” from a distance is like standing on the edge of the dune line gazing out at the Atlantic. This large mosaic collage is a happy scene of people lazing on blankets, walking along the sand, playing fetch with a dog. The perfect afternoon.

Well, maybe. But edge closer and look deeply, and the scene takes on a darker tone. That orange umbrella? A piece of a cheese puff wrapper. That woman’s swimsuit? A fragment of a Marlboro package. That fencing? Used popsicle sticks. And that glorious sky? Fragments of Dasani water bottle labels.

What’s going on here? Trash, that’s what. Garbage discarded on Hilton Head’s thirteen miles of beaches. And that’s the point. It’s one both artist Pam White and the Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head, a dedicated group of volunteers who protect sea turtles, want you to know. And do something about.

“We’re on this earth for only a short time, and it’s our job to take care of this earth,” White declares. “I’ve tried to protect the turtles for the eleven years I’ve lived here. My husband and I have walked the beach and picked up any trash we’ve seen, mostly bottles and cans — they’re big and they stick up from the sand –– and thrown them away.”

So back in January when the Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head asked her to create an artwork to submit to the Port Royal Foundation’s annual Recycled Art Contest, a competition designed to create awareness of the impact of trash on our waterways and local sea life, White needed a plan. She thought back to the custom oils she’s done of people’s happy vacation memories here. What if she created a beach scene out of what she and the Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head were picking up in their daily cleanups?

That’s when she began looking more closely at less obvious discards, things that often got half-buried in sand. Suddenly she was noticing throwaways like menus, real estate brochures, gum wrappers, bags,
popsicle sticks, used Band-Aids and, yes, face masks. The list goes on.

“As I’d go farther into it, sadly I’d find a piece of trash and think ‘Oh, this is a treasure.’” She shakes her head. “For instance, someone had built an illegal fire on the beach, and they’d left behind the bag from the firewood, which had a little picture of a chiminea on it that I used for an umbrella.”

To create the different skin tones of people, she dyed paper from a rum bottle left on the beach and later dunked some of it into the dregs of a half-drunk red cocktail. “So I’d be disgusted and excited at the same time.”

It was a dirty job. Back in the studio, she and a team from the Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head, who hauled in more trash, now had the nasty task of cleaning it all before cutting it up into mosaic pieces and gluing them down. Then the pieces were covered in three coats of resin. The whole process took four months. Ironically, there are a few subtle admonitions scattered among the cut-up menus, business cards and paper debris of the sand: “Don’t Litter” snipped from a cigarette pack. And “Protect Our Beaches” from a Corona box. Both are good advice for beaches here and everywhere. Let’s do it.

See it
“A Day At the Beach” will be on view in Town Hall through September and part of October. After its stint at the Port Royal Foundation, it will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to Turtle Trackers of Hilton Head.