Walking along Baranof Island’s rugged and rocky beaches can be an adventure. On the leading edge of the Alexander Archipelago, it often bears the brunt of the Gulf of Alaska’s ever-changing weather and moods. But that unpredictability excites artist Allie Spurlock each time she leaves her studio in Sitka to explore. See, for her, a day spent roaming the tree-lined beaches is like a treasure hunt, and she loves finding her version of treasure in the form of washed-up trash.
It takes a particular person to look at a piece of used-up fishing gear and other discarded items and see possibilities in them. Most folks scoff at the idea of turning refuse into beautiful works of art. Luckily Spurlock isn’t like most people. After heading north almost eight years ago to work in the fishing industry, she quickly realized that she loved Alaska and would never leave. Excitable and energetic, she quickly immersed herself in the community of artists, creators, and similarly adventurous individuals she found in Sitka.
"I love the idea that something that's outlived its purpose in life can have a second chance. I look at each item and try to impart something distinctly Alaskan into it. They need to reflect the individuality of the state and the slightly off-kilter lifestyle we all live here."
As a lifelong artist, she was drawn to the washed-up buoys and such that would routinely appear on the island’s shores. She began to toy with different techniques and ideas, using anything she could get her hands on to interpret her vision. The idea of repurposing the plastic buoys became something that grew and grew.
“I love the idea that something that’s outlived its purpose in life can have a second chance. I look at each item and try to impart something distinctly Alaskan into it. They need to reflect the individuality of the state and the slightly off-kilter lifestyle we all live here.”
As Spurlock’s skills grew, her community bought in. Her partner and friends were fishing boat captains and crew and started pulling items they found from the sea to bring back home. Unknowingly she created her own garbage collection crew, one that didn’t ride on the back of trucks, that looked for anything odd that she might use.
It wasn’t long until she started looking beyond her little island for other items to work with. The old hand-blown glass buoys from the Japanese fishing fleets in a wide array of colors that washed up in Bristol Bay were perfect for etching. The horse clam and scallop shells she and her son found could be painted. Glass insulator bulbs from the Lower 48 were another item to work on.
In 2022 she decided to dive into the trash heap and became a full-time artist. These days she spends her time drawing intricate images of the sea creatures surrounding her island, the fishing boats that ply its waters, and the nature images she resounded by on all types of things. It’s her way of bringing others into her isolated world.
“I love the idea that cruise ship passengers and travelers can pick up my creations instead of some terrible mass-produced bear magnet or such. They get to take a part of the island back with them and have that connection.”