When most groups clean up trash from Lake Michigan beaches, they throw it away in garbage receptacles.

But two South Haven cultural organizations got together this week to not only clean up a local beach, but show off their creativity at the same time.

The Michigan Maritime Museum and South Haven Center for the Arts banded together on Friday, Aug. 27, to host Make a Splash with Trash, which acted as beach cleanup and found-art event.

Youngsters and adults met at North Beach at 10 a.m. Armed with buckets, they picked up trash for an hour. The group then met outdoors at the Maritime Museum campus to use their imagination in repurposing pieces of discarded junk into decorative art pieces.

“This is a really good collaboration,” said Ashley Deming, director of education and administration for the Maritime Museum. “The beach cleanup is great, but this is so much better. It really engages the kids.”

The museum and art center have partnered together for the past two years to stage the Make a Splash with Trash event, but this year they upped the program’s impact by hiring two Southwest Michigan artists to create two large, outdoor sculptures made from objects they discovered on local beaches, and to inspire children and adults to make recycled art objects of their own.

“I thought we needed to step up our game,” said Kerry Hagy, executive director of the art center, who obtained a grant from the South Haven Community Foundation to hire Jeff and Theresa Heaton of Lawrence. The duo helped lead this year’s event.

The Heatons’ sculptures can now be seen at the South Haven Center for the Arts and the Michigan Maritime Museum.

The “Call for Help” sculpture at the art museum depicts “S.O.S” in large letters made from wiring, plastic beach toys, sunglasses, a wide assortment of bottle tops and lots of plastic water bottles.

The other sculpture, “Fish Over Troubled Water,” shows a tall blue- and green-colored fish sculpture made from aluminum cans, discarded clothing, a beach umbrella pole, pieces of plastic from inflatable rafts, and an assortment of flip flops.

“My wife Theresa and I have been working with recycled art for several years,” Jeff said. “Our work is totally material-driven. What has driven us is the idea of creating something beautiful out of otherwise cast-off products.”

At their Cheeky Chic-y Studio in Lawrence, the Heatons are known for their unique baskets – called Urban Vessels – which are made from pet food bags. They also make wall pieces that consist of a variety of materials otherwise destined for the waste basket.

“Playing cards, X-rays, photos ... anything that can be cut, folded and sewn is fair game,” said Jeff, who specializes in weaving. Theresa’s favorite craft is sewing.

A recycled effort

When the Heatons were asked by Hagy if they could create a couple of outdoor sculptures for the Make a Splash with Trash event, the couple was intrigued.

“Every design for our art is influenced by the different materials we’re using,” Jeff said. “It’s an evolution.”

Even though the Heatons had been creating mixed media fiber art from recycled products for the past several years, creating sculptures from discarded beach trash was a new venture for them – and one that proved enjoyable.

What discarded beach trash the Heatons didn’t use for their sculptures was donated to youngsters and adults, who spent part of Friday morning creating eco-art pieces of their own.

Andrea Hall of South Haven helped her children, Remington and Milla, sort out pieces of trash they collected to make a sea creature and a fish.

South Haven resident John Mellein brought his grandchildren, Satya and Valentina Mocaccini of Ojai, Calif., to the event.

“I thought this could be a neat project to get them involved in,” Mellein said.

While Hall and Mellein watched their young family members decide which pieces of trash to use, Bobbie Schrader of St. Joseph sat next to the kids and proceeded to make her own craft.

“I follow the Maritime Museum on Facebook,” Schrader said. “This sounded like fun, so I decided to do it.”