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The Pulse: Meet The Woman Who Creates Art Out Of Trash Found On The Beach

Deborah Hecht is exactly as I pictured she would be; petite, wearing tie dye, with big round eyes and small round glasses.

I met up with Deborah on Monday to talk about her newest exhibit at Inland Seas Education Association. The exhibit was inspired by all the trash Deborah collected from the shores of Lake Michigan near her Northport cottage.

“It really started 10 years ago with the balloons.”

Deborah has pieces of dirty balloons and tangled up ribbon that she found on the beach. She framed the balloons and the sand with a poem written on the frames. In the poem she talks about walking down the beach and finding “straws and caps and tiparillo tips nestled in the algae.”

In 2017 Deborah decided that there were more possibilities for making art out of beach trash, and this was when she was inspired to create the mosaic collection. The first factor in each mosaic piece was the frame.

“These are all recycled frames,” Deborah said. “I knew I wanted to do a sunset for this one because of the horizontal frame. It almost looks like a painting if you stand back.”

The mosaic Deborah is talking about is Beach Trash Sunset. There are all sorts of unusual little trinkets of trash in the piece, plenty of bottle caps, balloon string, and a lighter.

Another mosaic in the exhibit, titled Something’s Fishy, has a row of fishing lures hanging from the frame which were also pieces of trash Deborah found while collecting.

“They’re from fisherman obviously!”

It’s shocking to see how much trash Deborah has collected off the beach, and just as shocking to see what kind of trash she finds. Deborah has been cleaning up the beach for so long that she understands what kind of garbage people carelessly throw into the lake. She could be a lake garbage psychologist.

“Lots of straws, of course, and bottle caps, water bottles…plastic bags.”

All of the garbage on the shore Deborah cleans up is from the water, not people leaving trash on the beach. She said it’s a secluded area that not many people come to, so much of the garbage could be getting tossed directly into the water and washing ashore. Particularly strange garbage included a near toothless baby blue Barbie comb, a piece from a blender and silver metallic headbands.

The most tedious part of the process for creating the Beach Trash Art collection was cementing the trash pieces on.

“Arranging the trash is the fun part, that’s the creative part. Getting them to stay on, the cementing, the gluing…that’s the nightmare of it.”

Deborah knew that she was an artist from a young age. “I made an official announcement when I was six,” she said.

Deborah’s mother was artist as well, but couldn’t teach, so Deborah took art classes as a child. She continued her arts education into college at Wayne State and has a fine arts degree. She also attended the New York Studio School and Brooklyn College for post degree courses.

Deborah and her husband live in Huntington Woods, Michigan and her studio is in Oak Park. Deborah sells all kinds of things in her Oak Park shop, not just artwork of her own but also things that she collects. In the summer, Deborah closes up the shop and comes up to her Northport cottage.

“I close it in the summer. But I can’t close it for three months so I come up for July and August, until Labor Day.”

Deborah has worked in all sorts of various art forms and she showed me pictures of old pieces she’s done through the years. Her skill stretches beyond mosaics, a picture of a lily pad painted tile is beautiful, along with a splashy pink, lavender and marigold watercolor of a Park Slope apartment. She also has worked on hand painted tile commissions for many years in Michigan as well as handmade tiles, and has even had a mixed media mosaic commission for a kitchen design in a New York City apartment.

Deborah seems to have a particular affection for creating mosaics, however. She did a marvelous job combining her talent for mixed media art and her passion for cleaning items off the beach into a visually appealing and thought provoking art collection that she hopes will encourage people to be mindful of our beautiful lakes.