Sculpture made from litter unveiled at Tahoe Blue Event Center

STATELINE, Nev. – A new sculpture constructed of trash pulled from Lake Tahoe during Clean up the Lake’s 72-mile clean-up project was unveiled in front of the Tahoe Blue Event Center on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

The sculpture, titled “Surfaced,” was created with more than 450 pounds of items collected by Clean up the Lake Founder and CEO Colin West and his team of staff and volunteers during their effort to scuba dive Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. 

Commissioned by the Tahoe Fund with support from Tahoe Blue Vodka, the sculpture was created to educate visitors about what was found lying beneath Tahoe’s blue waters and encourage environmental stewardship. It was unveiled today at its permanent home at the new Tahoe Blue Event Center in Stateline, Nevada on the south shore of Lake Tahoe.

“This sculpture is the result of the unprecedented effort by Clean Up the Lake to remove 25,000 pounds of litter from Lake Tahoe,” said Amy Berry, Tahoe Fund CEO. “From its prominent new home at the Tahoe Blue Events Center, ‘Surfaced’ will serve as an important and beautiful reminder that it’s up to all of us to take care of Tahoe.”

Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova unveil their sculpture, “Surfaced.”
Laney Griffo / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Using litter found underneath Tahoe’s surface, including lures and bobbers, sunglasses, paddles, traffic cones, chains, anchors, and rubber edging often found on docks and buoys, internationally recognized artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova, represented by public art agency Building 180 created an original sculpture depicting a bald eagle, Lahonton cutthroat trout and Ponderosa pine tree, as voted on by the public. 

Berry joked during the unveiling event that when she brought the idea of the sculpture’s location to Carol Chaplin, President/CEO at Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Tahoe Douglas Visitors Authority, Chaplin told Berry something along the lines of, “we’re building this incredibly beautiful, Amy, I don’t know if we want your pile of garbage.” 

After Berry showed Chaplin the concept, Chaplin was more than happy to provide the location and described the sculpture as “beautiful,” during the unveiling. 

The artists, known for creating art from recycled and reclaimed materials, spent the last year working on the design and parsing through litter that divers from the nonprofit Clean Up The Lake had stored in a 20-foot container. Their goal was to find elements that would capture the distinct features of the animals being depicted in a way that was as close to their actual appearance as possible.

Artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova stand with their sculpture.

Stockdill and Salnikova collected precisely enough white paddles to form the tail feathers of the eagle. They used a mosaic technique to turn brightly colored bits of plastic — from sunglasses, lures and bobbers — into the thousands of tiny, life-size scales on the trout. The fins? Crafted from a traffic cone. And they made the bark of the Ponderosa pine tree stump out of hundreds of feet of chain. The stump, which measures three feet in diameter and is three feet tall, makes up much of the weight of the sculpture, which in total weighs nearly 700 pounds.

Stockdill and Salnikova said that when picking the items to use for the sculpture, they had to pick pieces that could withstand the elements but also told a story. 

“All materials have a story, it’s alive, it has had many hands to make that thing… it’s come thousands of miles to get to you and for you to use it once, we want people to really think about that,” Salnikova said. 

The artists themselves are nearly trash-free in their personal lives and want people to think more consciously about how items can be reused again and again, although they told the Tribune they realize in today’s world, being trash-free is a privilege not afforded to everyone.

The design of the sculpture was chosen by the public from three designs, including a Sierra Nevada Red Fox or a solitary Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. 

“Surfaced” was made with over 450 pounds of litter.

West said his original hope was that the fox would win but during his many dives, he swam with countless trout and saw several bald eagles. So, after seeing the final piece for the first time during the unveiling, he told the Tribune his original choice was wrong. 

Looking at the sculpture, one of the first things that stood out to West was writing on one of the paddles. 

“At the top right wing you can see ‘33.1 A,’ its day 33, dive one, team A,” West said. 

He said there were many days that he and his team have been covered in, “trash juice,” and have seen gross things in the water. 

“That disgusting mess being turned into something so pristine and beautiful is a unique thing to see,” said West. 

“Surfaced” can be found at the new Tahoe Blue Event Center, a 5,000-seat arena with an additional 10,000 square feet of meeting room space, located in Stateline, Nevada on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Blue Event Center will be host to 125+ events throughout the year including concerts, sporting events, family shows, conferences, banquets, meetings, trade shows, consumer shows, and more.

Stockdill and Salnikova are working on a second trash sculpture that will be unveiled in October at Donner Lake. They also added that they are keeping all of the trash to use for art on their personal time. 

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