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Kathy Poehler, Riding the Current, seaweed collage, 18 x 24 inches.

8.25.20

Piece of Work: Kathy Poehler

“You can have an idea of what you want, but sometimes it can have its own idea….That’s the nice thing about seaweed, there are no set rules.”

As a child, Kathy Poehler tagged along with her father, a science teacher at the Tisbury School, on field trips to the beach in search of seaweed. Back home, he taught her the proper techniques for mounting and preserving the ocean-brought gifts. She learned to love the sea and to make crafts using the material. But it would take many more years for her to think of seaweed as an art form.

“After college I was back here and started experimenting and creating small pieces for friends and family,” she said. She continued to create while working as an early education teacher at Harvard University. When she moved back to the Island ten years ago with her husband, Poehler began focusing on her art full time.

These days, she walks the shorelines on which she grew up, her special stick for grabbing seaweed in hand. One of her favorite spots is Vineyard Haven Harbor; it was there that the inspiration to create the piece at left, titled Riding the Current, came to her. “I was out collecting early spring seaweeds,” she said. “One in particular was very thin and translucent. The way it moved in the water made me think it would be perfect for the top of a jellyfish.”

With plans for a jellyfish piece formulated, Poehler set to work last spring. Time was of the essence: once the seaweed is collected and stored in plastic bags, she has about twenty-four hours to finish the artwork. “I work wet, so I need to complete the creation portion of this piece in a relatively short period of time,” Poehler explained.

“But equally important is the drying process.” She uses special cloth, blotters, and boards to add weight and remove excess water. “You don’t want it to mold and fester, so you are constantly changing the towel and the blotter,” she said.

After the drying process is done, a piece can still transform. For Riding the Current, it took several weeks of exposure to light to uncover the piece’s real beauty, said Poehler. “As the brown protective layer of the seaweed burned off, it revealed an amazing purple.”

To view more of Poehler’s work, visit the Old Sculpin Gallery in Edgartown or go to oldsculpingallery.org.