She Knows the Ropes

Artist Gin Stone turns marine debris into eye-catching, meaningful art

By Lisa Leigh Connors

Multicolored rope, netting, floats and other marine debris, with hooks and all, are tangled together and piled high in the middle of Gin Stone’s driveway. Local fishermen drop off the items twice a month for the Harwich artist.

It might look like junk to many of us. But Stone sees endless possibilities of creating unusual pieces—and she is helping to save the environment, one rope at a time.

Gin Stone, who describes herself as “a painter at heart” and “a big environmentalist” started her marine debris art journey last summer when she visited South Beach, in Chatham, with her mom. She was experiencing painter’s block and sought inspiration. Stone soon started discovering little pieces of rope on the beach. “They were pretty. They had nice colors and were interesting,” she says of the teals, oranges and reds.

Stone, whose original name is Jennifer Morgan, renamed herself because she “never thought Jennifer Morgan sounded like an artist’s name.” Her Harwich studio is located on the lower level of her unusual house, which is covered with Galvalume sheet steel. She worked as her own general contractor during its construction and completed many details herself, including tile work, and some light plumbing and electrical. She lives by the mantra, “How hard can it be?”

The artist’s natural instinct is to pick up junk that washes ashore after a big storm and throw it away. But the rope intrigued her. “I just kept picking it up and saving it. What can I do with that?” Stone remembers thinking. Later, at Jackknife Beach in Chatham, she filled up two large buckets with rope. She brought it all home, but wasn’t sure what to do with it at first.

“It was a learning curve with new material,” says Stone. “When I first started, I would just cut enormous sections and piles of different colors and piece them together. Then I started to realize how the rope behaved and how I could manipulate it in different ways. If I was unhappy with one piece, I would deconstruct it.”

Before cutting the rope, Stone thoroughly washes it with a hose or leaves it outside in the rain; she then sets it inside to dry. When she begins her piece, she sketches directly onto the background—a wooden lid of a wine box to recycled denim—and places the rope right on top. For “Abstract Circles,” she envisioned overlapping concentric bubbles in water. “I took a compass and started making circles all over and intersecting them,” Stone says, adding this piece was labor intensive because of the variety of colors and the constant bending of the ropes.

Stone started on a small scale with her marine debris artwork, but then discovered the rope pieces would translate better larger in scale, such as the telephone poles at Nauset Beach in the winter and the ice cream shop Holiday Hill on Route 28, in Dennis.

As for tools, the artist originally worked with regular kitchen knives and sharpened them every two minutes to cut the rope. Then a fisherman told her about a hot knife he uses to cut and seal the line so the ends don’t fray. “But I use fraying to my advantage,” says Stone, as she shows off a throwaway $7 knife, which you can’t sharpen. A cutting board and a high-temperature glue gun are also must-haves. “I have already gone through 15 pounds of glue,” says Stone. “I buy them in five-pound packages online.”

Stone says she’s never burned herself on the glue, but she did get a tetanus shot recently because one of the rusty hooks went through her finger as she was unloading it from her truck. “The hooks have been used multiple times in my artwork,” says Stone. “People need to handle the art the same way you would any fishing hook because they are really, really sharp.” Besides the hooks, she will leave natural knots in her artwork because it just makes it more interesting and meaningful.

Stone, whose marine debris artwork and paintings were on display earlier this year at OldCape Sotheby’s in Orleans, says she has a tendency to get bored, but she will continue with her marine debris artwork if people enjoy it. “It’s art people can feel good about, removing debris off the beaches and having it all recycled. There’s too much stuff in the world. Anything I can do to re-use, I will do it.”

A portion of all sales from the marine debris collection will be donated to the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown and the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance in Chatham. Stone is planning on installing pieces at the alliance this summer and will donate a piece to the group’s Hookers Ball auction this summer.

Gin Stone is represented by William Scott Gallery in Provincetown. For more information on Stone, go to www.greentwig.com/stone/

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