Lobster rope becomes huge New York City sculture

First published in Landings, June, 2013.

This is a story about how Orly Genger, an artist in Brooklyn, New York, found her medium of choice – rope – in the Maine lobster fishery.

4LdYekFg-qRPAxRRMwsCvhaMsmCjthWTQLdpihpmQ1Y,mY9PgbxFDTYJ0UZYrsYjAOWR01jKypFwa8HHnbYZMHQIn 2009, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation (GOMLF) was in the midst of conducting its second year of groundline exchanges known as the Bottom Line Project, through which lobstermen brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds of used groundline which they exchanged for vouchers to purchase new sinking rope. It was a very busy program, with more than 1,100 Maine lobstermen participating in the program by that point. Several companies had been taking most of the rope to weave rope doormats, which are now a common sight on porches across New England.

It was the doormat companies who steered Orly Genger to the GOMLF. In 2009, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMOCA) commissioned Orly to create one of her rope sculptures for a year-long installation as part of their exhibition “Material World: Sculpture to Environment.” A MassMOCA board member operated Cedarworks in Rockport, Maine, and he asked company staff if they knew of any place to get rope for a discount. The Rockport folks had heard about a company in Waldoboro which had been making doormats from used lobster rope. From there the board member was directed to GOMLF as the source of all the material.

MassMOCA staff arranged with GOMLF to use 20,000 pounds of the larger diameter polysteel groundline, and voila: “Big Boss” was born! Orly had found a source of material that, while a bit challenging to work with due to bio-fouling and aged condition, was abundant, cheap, and actually helped the environment by keeping it out of the waste stream longer.

Artist Orly Genger used around 80,000 pounds of used lobster rope for her sculpture "Red, Yellow and Blue." All photos by Laura Ludwig.

Artist Orly Genger used around 80,000 pounds of used lobster rope for her sculpture “Red, Yellow and Blue.” All photos by Laura Ludwig.

The rest of the story is simple: when Orly got her next commission from the Madison Square Park Conservancy, the Conservancy’s staff came directly to GOMLF and entered into an agreement to source approximately 80,000 pounds of rope for what would become her largest sculpture yet, “Red, Yellow and Blue.” The sculpture was installed in May in the New York City park located right next to the iconic Flatiron building in Manhattan.

The difference for this newest project was that the GOMLF’s Bottom Line Project had finished its work. There was no longer a constant flow of thousands of pounds of rope being traded in for vouchers. There was, however, a huge waste stream being generated by lobstermen whose sinking groundlines had worn out, forcing them to replace the old line with new sinking groundline. It is often not easy to dispose of all that used rope, so many fishermen held onto it, hoping there would be another rope buyback.

So Orly came to the rescue. Her commission from the Conservancy provided the funds to pay each fisherman a small amount (50 cents per pound), barely enough to cover the cost of retiring the rope, but certainly better than paying to dispose of the rope. She was somewhat choosy about the rope she wanted to work with, and why wouldn’t she be? She had to weave it all by hand, and she is about as tiny as a MinPin. She needed rope that was polysteel or polyester in base form, the softer the better, and of a diameter large enough to give her project the heft she envisioned.cjjvzzKPC7rMNG56wiD_IQLOoUNcT0UK9-XJJJo-GGA,PpEHQMVt6px_5qYbT-EGbQo5ZzTUh9uRDZ1VLcMXSusIMCb9ZVH9nOxxUdhT9gv460sSCU38gXaL4eczzYP6fg

Seven rope deliveries and 160,000 dollars later, she had her rope. It came from the harbors where lobster trawls are fished with bigger line: Cutler, Trescott, Jonesport, Birch Harbor, Winter Harbor, Milbridge, Stonington, Spruce Head, Rockland and Harpswell. It also came from the Area 3 lobster fishery and the red crab fishery out of New Bedford. The smallest line was 7/16” (15-thread), the largest was 5/8”. It was, for the most part, exactly what Orly wanted, and she even made do with the rope that was somewhat less desirable, picking out the sticks and moss and dead animals as she and her team crocheted the rope.

The results are spectacular. “Red, Yellow and Blue” will be on display in Manhattan through September, 2013. After that, it will be re-installed by Orly and her team at the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Garden in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Do yourselves a favor, and don’t miss this testament to the versatility of pot warp.