Arts & Culture

Sherman Elementary kids work with artist Carrie Ziegler to create an ocean-inspired artwork

Five hundred pieces of fishing line. Eight hundred tiny fish cut out of juice packs. A 15-foot lift. And three days to put it all together.

That’s the math this week at Sherman Elementary in Tacoma, where Olympia artist Carrie Ziegler is teaming up with parents, students and volunteers to create a cafeteria art installation that teaches about both sculpture and the environment.

“Are you OK taping that off, Marcus?” calls down Ziegler. She’s up on the lift with her mom and another volunteer, tying endless lengths of fishing line onto a gridded wire rack hanging some 15 feet off the cafeteria floor. Marcus Peterson, a Sherman fifth-grader, calls back cheerily from where he’s unspooling yet more line.

It’s the latest installation from an artist who’s making her name in community-based, environmentally inspired work. Her “Rise Above Plastics: the Butterfly Effect,” created last year for the Thurston County Family and Juvenile Court, threaded hundreds of tiny butterflies cut out of recycled plastic trash onto similar fishing line, precisely placed so that they combined to create the shimmering 3-D image of a human being inside a chrysalis — an allusion to the environmental chain-reaction caused by small events.

Her “Plastic Whale” project, a Thurston County community sculpture of a whale with a “skin” made of thousands of woven plastic shopping bags, debuted in Olympia’s 2013 Procession of the Species and is coming to the Foss Waterway Seaport in late April. Ziegler also has completed many community murals in Olympia, and has worked as a waste reduction specialist, environmental educator, and naturalist.

This winter, Ziegler is the artist in residence at Sherman Elementary in North Tacoma, an annual position funded by the school’s PTA and local grants. Over the past few months, students have been creating pink-and-white ceramic starfish and shells and diligently cutting out hundreds of fish from Capri Sun juice packs (unused, thanks to a manufacturing mistake that would otherwise have landed them in the trash).

Now, during spring break, Ziegler and any volunteers that offer to help are stringing up the installation, one fish and one line at a time.

On Monday afternoon, Ziegler was showing her two helpers how to tie the line onto each grid corner of the rack; the 500-odd lines are then tied off in groups to avoid tangles. Next, the artist will knot on the shells at the bottom of the lines to weight them. Then she’ll be gluing the shiny plastic fish on, tying the lines together to limit movement. All together, they’ll form the shape of two porpoises floating high above the kids eating their lunches.

“They’ve been learning all about recycling and about pollution problems in Puget Sound,” Ziegler said. “This installation is a way of talking about these things to families and to the public.”

Sherman will hold a public art open house this May featuring the installation, as well as other art projects.

For more information on Carrie Ziegler’s art, see