Local Artist Crochets Coral Reef, Calls for Others to Join

Corvallis artist Christina Harkness wants to tell you about the effects of marine pollution, but not in the way you’d expect. Using recycled plastic and yarn, Harkness crochets coral reefs as a way to inspire people to create change – and she’s inviting you to do it with her by joining the Community Coral Reef Project. 

“The majority of us will never be able to dive on a coral reef and actually see the effects of human activity in the marine world,” said Harkness. “The creating of the PNW Community Coral Reef will allow people to physically walk through an ocean environment where they can see portions of healthy reef, bleached reef, and corals created from recycled and repurposed plastics.” 

As a former marine biology student who sailed around the world in the Merchant Marines, ocean conservation is something Harkness cares deeply about. In the past several years, she’s combined her passion of fiber arts and ocean conservation to make a variety of small-scale coral reefs and conservation-related art. To make the reefs, Harkness uses yarn, plarn – plastic yarn made from grocery bags – and plastic beading string sourced from thrift stores.  

Working with fiber artist Shanna Smith Suttner, Harkness says that the goal of the Community Coral Reef Project is to “create a walk through an underwater fiber art exhibition.”  

How It Came About 

The Community Coral Reef Project was born when Harkness and Suttner had the idea of taking the topic of marine pollution and making something big – both literally and figuratively. Now, she’s inviting community members of all ages and skill levels to crochet or knit coral for the project. 

Harkness encourages people to use their imagination when making coral or sea creatures, but also provides patterns on her website. Although she said it’s emotionally taxing to do so, she asks people to consider creating bleached coral out of white yarn or plastic to send a powerful message about our dying reefs.

Currently, Harkness is scheduled to exhibit the Community Coral Reef in September of 2023 at the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s Fiber Arts Gallery, and would later like to take it on the road to exhibit elsewhere. 

“What’s unique about fiber art coral reef projects such as this is that, like a coral reef which builds up through time by the addition of millions of microscopic creatures, the individual pieces will accumulate and create something both beautiful and powerful,” said Harkness. “My hope for this project is to demonstrate in a visceral way, the power of many people coming together to create not only the message, but also real world change.” 

By Momoko Baker