When my friend Mari Seder suggested we go to the opening of a new exhibit at the Fitchburg Art Museum—an exhibit entirely devoted to plastic—I was dubious, but it turned out to be full of funny and serious art that inspires visitors while addressing the subject of how our plastic trash can threaten the environment.
The infamous pink plastic flamingo was invented in 1957 by designer Don Featherstone for Union Products in the Fitchburg/Leominster area of Massachusetts, so it was not surprising that a flock of flamingos greeted the many visitors to the opening of “Plastic Imagination” on September 25.
Inside we found enthusiastic crowds of all ages as well as the ten artists who contributed to the show. Dominating the lobby, hanging from the second floor ceiling, was “5 Gyres, All in the family debris” by artist Lisa Barthelson, who built it specifically for the show, using only bits of plastic culled from her own family’s discards. “It’s an ode to the plastic gyres which are clogging our oceans into this horrifying plastic stew, while celebrating all the plastic that has come through my house,” she said.
It was part of her “family Debris Series” which also included this beautiful Mandala, made primarily of toothbrushes, contact lens containers, peanut jar caps and other plastic throw-aways—all used by her family.
Lisa also created this “dis-carded armor” made up of her family’s old credit cards and other plastic cards like the ones that clog my wallet.
Here is Lisa (right) talking to Mari in front of an installation called “Shell Symphony” by Margaret Roleke, which is made entirely of plastic rifle shell cases.
Roleke uses plastic toy soldiers in her art and is often sending a message about war, as in “Barbie Lives in a Police State” and “White War”, but she says her art is also evolving into ideas about popular culture and consumerism.
The curator of the Fitchburg Art Museum, Mary Tinte said, “This show, hopefully, is an invitation to come explore and tap into the wonders of plastic, but also allows us to grapple with… how we’re walking the fine line between its necessity and usefulness and how it…makes our lives better, but on the flip side, how we might need to address the pitfalls of how we are consuming it in such great quantities.”
“Yellow Barrel” by Tom Deininger weighs nearly 300 pounds. Here it is from afar and close up.
And here’s his “Mt. Rainier” seen from far and near.
A history of the plastics industry was provided at the exhibit. It began in Leominster in the 1800s and the area still includes more than 70 successful plastics companies, some of whom helped sponsor the exhibition. In the 1800s many businesses in Leominster made hair combs from animal horns, but when the supply of horn was dwindling, and an early form of plastic was discovered, the machines for horn items were converted to using plastic.
Here is one of the vintage advertisements I saw on the wall—“Tupperware. Best thing that’s happened to women since they got the vote.”
On one wall is a pink flamingo holding a bag of plastic pieces with the message: “Have you been inspired by the artwork you saw today? Purchase a bag of plastic ‘stuff’ in October and November at the Museum’s front desk for a refundable $5.00. Take it home and make a fabulous sculpture or wall hanging. Bring your creation back to the museum for an exhibition on December and we’ll return your $5.00.”
I didn’t purchase the bag full of plastic ‘stuff’, but I did decide I would take a good look at all the plastic detritus that comes into our house before throwing it out (yes, we do recycle!) and will try to turn some of it into art, instead of trash.