Is That a Turtle Up Ahead?

I found Josie Floerchinger’s artwork this year by moonlight. It was not quite full moon, warm, soft breezes off the Gulf of Mexico, a very drippy orange shared with my husband, a brief walk along the beach before calling it a night. Just a bit above the high tide mark, just a bit above the flat surface of the sand, a sea turtle shape, darker than the white sand and the exact size of a mature sea turtle,  a slight moonshadow ahead of us. I knew immediately that the wonderful artist I had met two years ago along this same stretch of beach was back.

turtle made from cockle shells and Atlantic slipper shells
turtle made from cockle shells and Atlantic slipper shells

Sanibel Island is known for its shelling and most people at dawn are on the hunt for the rare, once-in-a-lifetime find, but Josie gathers the abundant and beautiful shells others seem to not value for her art. She composes her creations near the high tide mark, so that water and wind will return them to their natural place in due time, but also places them just above the usual path beachcombers, joggers and their dogs, and midnight moonlight strollers use so that they can enjoy what she has made.

Josie's palate-calico scallops, gray scallops, lucines, jingles, arks, and cockles and slipper shells
Josie’s palate-calico scallops, gray scallops, lucines, jingles, arks, cockles and slipper shells
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callico scallops with wind erosion
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Arks and cockle shells
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larger beach view of Josie’s art and palate
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Josie at the end of the day

Josie’s art is delicate, precise, elegant, and intentionally ephemeral. It brings to mind other earthworks/conceptual artists, such as Marc Pouyet and Andy Goldsworthy, and is just as compelling, but feels more approachable. And it is now becoming part of the larger community of Sanibel. The Children’s Educational Fund of the Islands is producing a calendar of photographs of Josie’s art as a fund raiser for scholarships for local kids. As she and I chatted about this wonderful project, it occurred to me that the concept at the heart of her art is applicable in any setting, not just a world-renowned beach. Any of us with the time and inclination can gather naturally occurring bits and pieces from our surrounding environment and make images on the land without doing any harm to the land. Josie’s art is far more skillfully made and more beautiful than what most of the rest of us could create, but the spirit of it is very much like what drives us to garden: to create something from what is natural, common, and beautiful and do it for the joy of it; to leave something lovely, however fleeting, for others to encounter; and to benefit those in need.

Cindy Briggs

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