Michele Grgas Postal, The Triplicate

As Rick and I walked toward the grocery store Sunday, I spotted a couple loading what looked to be about 20 bags into the back of their SUV. All the bags were plastic. I wondered if they were aware of the movement to decrease/eliminate plastic bags. Perhaps they just ran out of the house and forgot their reuseables?

We try to always bring our own. Rick likes his two heavy canvas boat bags and I prefer nylon bags that fit easily in my purse.

"I wish more people brought their own bags," the clerk at the checkout stand volunteered. "Especially here, near the ocean."

I told her that we'd recently been to Bandon where plastic bags and other debris washed up on beaches had been transformed into huge sculptures of sea life. Just the prior weekend Rick and I had photographed a seal and a fish posing on an empty lot in Old Town Bandon next to the cafandeacute; where we ate breakfast.

The clerk knew all about them, and more. She said the sculptures were by a woman who came to Bandon after the death of her husband. The widow, Angela Haseltine Pozzi, became the proprietor of Art 101 Gallery and launched Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education, whose mission is to provide opportunities to express and teach environmental issues through the arts.

When we got home I jumped on my computer looking for some photos I'd taken on a prior trip to Bandon. I found what I was looking for: images of a giant jelly fish and bird near a purple yurt on the Art 101 Gallery property. I zoomed in to read a sign that directed me to the websitewashed

ashore.orgwhere I could learn more about the project and Angela.

Within minutes I was on the phone with Mary Johnson, Washed Ashore's community outreach director.After about 20 minutes of lively conversation with her I called Development Director Frank Rocco. Both Mary and Frank's enthusiasm was contagious as they told me about Angela and her work.

Angela, who has an MS in education, has strong ties to Bandon. Her grandfather was mayor when the legendary fire of 1936 destroyed most of the city and took nine lives. Angela grew up in Portland but her family spent their summers in Bandon.

For 30 years she's been an educator and an exhibiting artist. She's created art from recycled materials since childhood. Today she orchestrates the construction of towering, aesthetically striking sculptures of marine life made from ocean debris with the help of volunteers in Bandon.

Washed Ashore sculpture exhibits have traveled to Sausalito, San Rafael, San Diego, Honolulu and many cities along the Oregon Coast. Requests for sculptures have come from as far away as Holland. Currently the exhibit at Harbortown Event Center in Old Town Bandon (open Tuesday through Saturday, 2andndash;5 p.m.) showcases 20 large pieces. But there's more work to be done.

In Frank's words, "Now our raison d'andecirc;tre is a recent commission by a chain of aquariums to create 30 sculptures this year." The sculptures, constructed solely of marine debris from our coast, will be exhibited throughout the United States beginning in 2014.

This is an opportunity "to make more people aware of the pollution and make more people aware of this part of the country," Frank said. Mary told me communities that have hosted an exhibit of Washed Ashore's sea creatures have seen a significant uptick in tourists.

In an e-mail conversation Wednesday, Angela Haseltine Pozzi told me, "After my husband died in 2004, it was the ocean that brought me back to life. In walking the beaches I realized that it was suffering more than I was. In this way, the quote that is often used (about me) came about, 'I came to the ocean to heal but found an ocean that needed healing.'

"The plastics on the beach made my heart ache and propelled me into examining how I could use the gifts I was given to help. My 30 years of teaching, doing community-based public art and using the arts as a language congealed into the Washed Ashore Project."

Angela, along with her dedicated staff and passionate volunteers, keeps Washed Ashore afloat and going strong. The non-profit has experienced incredible successes since it was formed in 2010. But now it needs our help.

"Now we are challenged with collecting as much as we can this year from the beaches and showing the massive marine debris problem with 30 sculptures that will be displayed across the country." Angela wrote.

"Unfortunately the supplies are not a problem. Just along the Oregon Coast it is normal for a spring beach cleanup to render as much as 25 tons of debris in just four hours of collecting. This is before any Japanese tsunami debris."

In order to produce 30 sculptures this year, volunteers are needed for hands-on work. Mary has been reaching out to schools, Girl Scout troops, Rotary Clubs and other organizations for volunteers. Frank and Mary assured me no experience or special skills are required.

Angela elaborated, "Now we are gathering a workforce to help us construct the sculptures. Our staff is already cleaning and sorting and drilling and cutting up supplies in preparation for workshops and we are ready for families, school groups, tourists and community members to help put their hands on the creation of sea horses, whales, turtles, jelly fish, sharks, polar bears and penguins! All ages have great fun and make a difference at the same time. It is purposeful work that ends up carrying a message and teaching others about what is happening to our oceans."

The folks at Washed Ashore believe that their art projects can open people's eyes and minds to the extent of marine pollution. They are hopeful discourse will follow. Angela wants to "save the ocean, the sea life, the turtles. Turtles think plastic bags are food, are jelly fish," Frank told me.

"Everyone loves the ocean," Angela wrote me, "and the Washed Ashore Project gives us a way to tell it so."

I don't know about you, but I want to help and Rick and I plan to volunteer. Currently workshops are offered at the Harbortown Event Center, 325 Second St. S.E., Bandon, Tuesday through Saturday afternoons. Additional locations are being added forMarch and April.

If you're interested - for yourself or a school field trip or a club outing - contact Mary Johnson, Community Outreach Director, at 541 217-4006 for details. Or e-mail mary@artula.org. It's a chance to have your fingerprint on art that will travel the nation telling a story that needs to be told.

Reach Michele Grgas Postal, the Del Norte Triplicate's publisher, atmpostal-@triplicate.com,464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.