Environmental artist visits Nags Head Elementary, brings awareness to single-use plastic

Published 4:55 pm Thursday, December 12, 2019

Bryant Holsenbeck, an environmental artist living in Durham, visited Nags Head Elementary School last week to shed some light on an all-too-familiar problem.

Holsenbeck spent the year of 2010 learning to live without single-use plastic. After visiting local schools and hearing just how little students knew about plastic and where it comes from, she started to get frustrated. She didn’t understand why more teachers were not spending time on this issue with their students. Holsenbeck slowly started to realize that it wasn’t just kids, but adults that had little knowledge on the subject.

“Instead of being upset, I just wanted to see what I could do,” Holsenbeck said. After her year without plastic, Holsenbeck published a book titled “The Last Straw,” which documented her time of changing the way herself and everyone else viewed plastic.

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She said the hardest part was “being careful.”

environmental artist

Bryant Holsenbeck talks to one of Cindy Wise’s art classes at Nags Head Elementary School about plastics and her year living without them. Danielle Puleo photo

“I had to go to farmers markets for my food; I had to make my own cookies,” she told a fifth-grade art class at NHES. Holsenbeck resorted to visiting local delis, bringing a reusable container for leftovers to restaurants and ridding her house of plastic bottles. “It was a little bit more trouble, a little bit more thinking, but it was fun to solve it,” she said.

After 2010 ended, Holsenbeck decided to dedicate her life to educating the public on plastics, making art out of the detritus of the world and appreciating the beauty and simplicity that life has to offer.

During her time with one of Cindy Wise’s art classes at NHES on Dec. 4, Holsenbeck asked the students where plastic comes from. Within seconds, a young boy raised his hand. “Oil!” he exclaimed. To that, Holsenbeck nodded. “It’s very exciting with these kids,” Holsenbeck said, “because they know about the ocean and they know about the plastic problem.”

environmental artist

Nags Head Elementary students worked on this vibrant porpoise made from recycled materials to bring awareness to marine pollution. Danielle Puleo photo

With Holsenbeck as a guide, the students made sea animals come to life by weaving recycled fabrics together. The kids worked in teams to create dolphins, mahi mahi, loggerhead sea turtles and sharks from these colorful materials. The animals will be hung outside the NHES art room in the hallway for everyone to see.

After answering questions from the students once the day came to an end, Holsenbeck said her next project will take place up in Maine. “The marine waste up there is mainly from lobster boats,” she said. Holsenbeck will be working alongside another artist and school up there to make “stones” out of this waste. The stones will be placed outside the local library to serve as a reminder about the marine pollution problem.

As Holsenbeck continues to spread her message of awareness for these issues, she has seen a shift in the world. It seems as though more and more people are recognizing that the planet and, especially, the ocean are in need of a change. She hopes that her campaign along with a communal, overall goal of a less polluted world will start to take shape as the years progress.



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