Celeste Roberge was born in Biddeford, Maine. She lives and works in South Portland. She is Professor Emerita, College of the Arts, University of Florida where she was Head of Sculpture in the School of Art + Art History for twenty-two years. She received her MFA degree from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, BFA from the Maine College of Art, and BA in Sociology from the University of Maine. In 2008, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Maine. An extensive portfolio of her work can be viewed at www.celesteroberge.com
My fascination with seaweed began in 2008 while walking along Hirtle’s Beach on the south shore of Nova Scotia where I found a type of seaweed perforated with numerous small holes of different sizes. It came in various shades of amber and brown. At first I thought it was kelp in a state of decay, worm-eaten perhaps, however the holes were too numerous, too consistent, and too beautiful. I later learned that the seaweed went by various names: Agarum clathratum, Agarum cribosum, sea colander, sea lace, shotgun kelp, and devil’s apron. Those names alone were enough to set my imagination in motion.
Agarum clathratum is not plentiful on southern Maine beaches because it grows at a depth of 150 feet and only washes ashore as beachcast after storms. Traveling to Nova Scotia to collect beached seaweeds became an annual ritual assisted by residencies at MECA sponsored artist residencies on the French Acadian shore. https://www.meca.edu/info-for/alumni/alumni-opportunities/grants-residencies/
Though the sea lace is fascinating in form and material, at first I could not think how to transform it into a sculpture. After observing gatherers of seaweed along the shores of Nova Scotia in their flat-bottomed boats laden with rockweed, I thought why not a boat, a seaweed boat; better yet, a seaweed boat that cannot float because it is riddled with holes, a boat that resembles a seaweed, a seaweed that resembles a boat. I began making sculptures of seaweed boats in wax, bronze, cast iron and brass, and in the seaweed itself.
In July 2016 I enrolled in the course “Introduction to Maine Seaweeds” at Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine https://www.eaglehill.us/ taught by the marine biologists, Jessica Muhlin and Nic Blouin. I was taught how to identify seaweeds using a scientific key and microscope. On the fourth day of the week-long seminar, impatient with the strict discipline required for accurate identification and acknowledging that I was not going to become a marine biologist in my third career, I cast aside the scientific method and began pushing wet seaweed around on wet paper. Then I never stopped. From July to January, the drawings took over my entire house: the dining table, coffee table, kitchen countertops, chairs, washer and dryer, floors, radiators, as well as the studio work benches. I confronted frustrating issues of material science relating to glues and drying, curling and dessication, disintegration and mold, fading and rotting, and not least the pungent smells. The more I manipulated the seaweed, the more I saw relationships with similar concerns in earlier art works and analogies to design and technology in fabrics and metals. I was smitten.
Seaweed is plentiful in coastal Maine. It is sustainable, organic, nutritious, generative. If you decide to try drawing with seaweed, please work responsibly. Do not harvest live seaweeds. There is plenty of beachcast for your drawing needs.