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Jackie Ranney: Painter and environmentalist

There are a lot of words that could be used to describe Hull’s Jackie Ranney.

She’s an interior designer, a sculptor, a painter, a forager, an environmentalist, a wife and a mother, but one adjective seems to stand above all the rest: Jackie Ranney is mindful.

She considers each sentence before she speaks, she answers questions with  thoughtfulness and her world seems clear of extraneous words, thoughts or possessions.

Her contemporary Hull home has post-consumer waste flooring and recycled installation, she spends a part of every day picking up trash from the beach and her art is made of all recycled materials down to the “canvases” she paints on.

She’s purposeful about her home, her life and her art, and steadfast in her passion for the land she stands on and the ocean she lives near.

“It doesn’t look like it’s in trouble when you just look out and see how beautiful it is,” Ranney says of the beach she can see from her kitchen window. “But when you educate people and put it right on their front door, maybe they will step up, see the problem and realize that it takes everyone to really change the tide.” 

For the last two years, the Massachusetts native has dedicated her art and creative process to advocating for the Earth’s oceans. The art she’s made since she moved to Hull in 2019 – large, sometimes abstract pieces – are made completely of materials she finds littering the state’s beaches. 

From bottle caps to plastic bags, beach balls, lobster tags, fishing nets, rubber gloves and more, she takes the waste discarded carelessly in the water and on the shore and transforms it into works of art that highlight the pollution disaster going on just below the surface. 

“It can get really depressing the more you hear about what’s going on out there and you get to a point where you think, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person,’ ” Ranney said. “But there are these amazing movements and plans out there, and if we remember that, we can keep from getting so discouraged that we give up.”

While she wouldn’t say she ever gave up on art, Ranney’s move to Hull coincided with what she called a “what’s the point? moment” in her artistic journey. She was moving halfway across the country, raising a son, designing a home and stuck in a creative rut that left her searching for a purpose.

But then she found the beach trash.

“Creating art that was dual purpose and hopefully making an impact in the world became my purpose,” she said. 

These days, Ranney, 41, uses an array of unpredictable materials to make her unique paintings. Her studio is filled with things she and her family have found on beaches including bubble wrap, fishing knots, reusable grocery bags, toiletries, shoes, rope and “ghost gear” – giant knots that wash ashore made from wire, tubing, cloth and more.

“They’re like giant floating death traps,” she said.

Her supply of materials is, for better or for worse, endless. But she says that doesn’t make the creative process cut and dried. Ranney doesn’t start most paintings with a particular vision in mind, she said, and when she does she still often ends up with something that is a complete departure.

“I go through a process whenever I’m painting of fighting with myself when it isn’t going the way I want it to,” she said. “You can’t always plan with trash like you can with paint or other materials, and I just keep telling myself, ‘Go with the flow, go with the flow.'”

There can be up to five layers of paint and materials in her tactile pieces, and she does all of her painting on recycled rigid-foam insulation that would otherwise be thrown away from construction sites.

“I never have a lack of trash, so I just create,” Ranney said. “I always have enough, so I don’t wait until I have a specific bounty to begin. There is beauty in some of these trash items when they are no longer trash. … When it’s not polluting the beach, it becomes something really beautiful.” 

The ocean is not Ranney’s first artistic cause. When she lived in Ireland – where she mostly painted landscapes – she fought against peat bogging in the wetlands and to keep oil rigs from setting up off the coast. When she lived in San Antonio, she focused on conservation of what inspired her works in Texas: wildlife and their habitats.

Currently, Ranney’s pieces are for sale privately and she is looking for a space to display a gallery of her work. She is also coordinating with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to set up the organization as a partial benefactor of her sales. 

Ranney said she hopes art collectors are starting to find value in ethical art and creators, and that she hopes more artists will become motivated to create sustainably. 

“I take so much from the ocean. I sail, I row, I see it every day from my house, my dogs love it,” she said. “I needed to give something back.”

Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.

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