Love in Time of Corona

… between Amsterdam, New York and Milford, PA


Make Beautiful

“You can make beautiful with garbage?”

The little girl asks.

Her eyes, barely reaching over the edge of my desk, flash white with excitement. She seems transfixed by the colored beach plastic, silver rings and wire, nylon rope, ribbon, tools, earrings, pins and bracelets that are spread in front of her.

“yes,” I say,  “I can.”

“You make beautiful with garbage?”, she asks again, like she doesn’t quite believe me.

“Would you like to make a bracelet?” I ask.

She looks at me and nods. Barely. Still not convinced.

I point at the bench with my tees and jewelry and the wall behind it where a long stretch of orange rope, found two days ago on the local beach, is stapled against the studio wall. Hooked on it are earrings, bracelets, necklaces long and short, from simple white crosses to clusters of multicolored pieces of beach plastic. Twenty-three in all.

I get up and take her by the hand.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

I think she whispers Latitia.

“See all these pieces, Latitia?”

She nods.

“They were  made by girls just like you. How old are you?”


“OK, so yesterday two schools came here, to this studio, girls and boys, some were seven and a few were older, like  ten and one was eleven. And together we went to the beach and we all picked up the prettiest beach plastic, as much we could carry, and brought it back. Then I helped  them make the jewelry, all these things here.”

She tiptoes and cranes her neck to see each piece. I pick her up, and carry her slowly along the wall.

“These earrings were made by a boy for his mother,” I explain, ” and this bracelet was done by a girl just like you.”

She squirms out of my arms and runs back to the work bench.

“I want to make a bracelet, now!” she calls back at me.

We pick the stretchy string, she wants pink, and I pass her the box of  beach plastic with pre-drilled holes. I show her how to string them and I cut a heart from a piece of Barbie-pink beach plastic. When she is finished stringing I knot the ends, add the heart and slip it over her wrist. She holds her arm away and admires her work like she’s Holly Golightly at Tiffany’s, then she smiles up at me and says,

” I want to make earrings for my mother.”

I arrived in Abaco (North Eastern Bahamas) Thursday morning aboard (the most delicious shade of pale blue) twin-engine plane, courtesy of Schooner Baya new, green and self-sustainable village of which I will tell more later.

Schooner Bay private plane - love !

I had been flown in by Clint (of community development) who jokes that he met me on the internet. Clint, an avid beach plastic collector with a special attraction to the beach bobbles from girl’s elastic hair ties (“They find me, I don’t find them”) introduced me to  well-known Bahamian artist  Antonius Roberts (his gallery/workshop is in Nassau) who graciously invited me to use his Schooner Bay studio and teach local children where/how to collect beach plastic and turn it into art or jewelry. My wampum fee, with which Clint (a fly fisherman) lured me in, was a wealth of weathered beach plastic bobbles.

Antonius explained that his vision for the Schooner Bay studio is to build a far-reaching community through workshops by visiting artists and designers, and I’d be the debutant-artist-in-residence….

Saturday was the first ever Schooner Bay Spring Festival, with music, a bike rally, an arts and crafts market, a barbeque, open houses, and an exhibition of the work created the day before by the students from the All Age School at Sandy Point and the Cross Rocks School alongside my jewelry, tees and scarves (as the original inspiration pieces) and the powerful work, sculpture/furniture by Antonius that is made from trees, which he reclaims after they’ve been cut down to make way for land development.

I spent Thursday afternoon collecting Abaco beach plastic and setting up the studio for the kids.


At 9 am the next day about twenty boys and girls, two teachers  and a principal filed into the studio and crowded around Antonius and I as we explained the project before we all piled into three cars and drove along the sandy coastal road till we reached the part where  beach plastic collects in shameful mounds just over the dune.

my new beachcombing buddy

We talked about all the things that belong on the beach, like sand and shells and seaweed and dune grass, but not plastic.

I had no idea how I was going to coral the eager, lively mob into a focussed jewelry making class.

I was scared that I’d fail. That I wouldn’t be able to reach them and capture the ideas I wanted to pass on….

So I told them to sit on the floor and spread out their beach plastic. To find a favorite piece. Something that had color or shape, which was special.

I sat down on the floor.

Then I just started.

I started with the girl closest to me.

The next girl watched us and started cutting her own beach plastic. Then the following girl copied her. Three boys stood behind me. They watched and went to find pliers. At some point our creative resonance morphed and suddenly every kid was busy making a piece. They were calling back and forth for scissors, cutters, wire and string. Some stood around the table, others were splayed on the floor yet others sat on Antonius’ benches.

“Miss – Miss -MISS!!!”

Wire strung with clusters of beach plastic were dangled impatiently in front of my face, almost poking my eye.

“Help Miss. What next? What do I do now?”

The girls made things for themselves. Boys made things for their mothers, but the girls teased them asking whether it was really for their girlfriends…

Some copied my pieces exactly, some did their own thing, but no one sat around waiting for someone to tell her/him what to do.

The principal sat off to the side, she’d already finished one set of white earrings for herself and would make three more and a choker.

Coco, Clint’s assistant, was the allocated Dremel drill operator and kids lined up to have holes made in their beach plastic pieces.

Three o’clock came as a surprise, we’d all been swept into a timeless, creative vortex, and they all needed to finish “one more thing.”

“Please Miss. A pin, a bracelet, just this one earring.”

It took more effort to stop them and tidy up than anything else, but finally everyone stood in a neat row and one by one I made them hang their work on the orange rope. Reluctantly most of them gave up one piece for the art show the next day, but I’m sure quite a few pieces were tucked away to go straight home and be proudly shown-off.

Antonius  whispered in my ear, “I think you’re changing some lives here.”


But what I do know is that together we Made Beautiful – a common thread that connects our lives and, like the beach plastic, will be forever…

Students’ work:




1 Comment

Is a 100 carat diamond really worth $6,000,000?

The Human Agreement:

Paper size 4” by 10” printed w. human face & the number $100 – value: $100
Painting on canvas, three squares yellow, pink and white – value: $73,000,000
100 stocks in company named Google, non tangible matter – value: $50,000
100 “carat” clear rock – value: $6,000,000
Printed yellow not green by mistake, weight 0.03 grams – value: $5,000,000

100 tons of beach plastic – value: worthless
1,000,000 tons of beach plastic – value: worthless
1,000,000,000,000 of beach plastic – value: worthless

Survival of our planet – value: ….?

I was compelled to write this after one comment on the Barneys blog about my tees said: “Puleeze! So much blah, blah, blah above. It’s garbage sewn on a t-shirt for $135.00! Only idiots will buy these!”

Are you thinking – Barbi is just too sensitive ?

I am. Its hard not to react to these negative comments. They are easy to dissect, but tough to take. It’s the knee jerk ignorance that bothers me and I want to explain.

I want to educate.

Like this comment on the Barneys FB site from Aaron Johnson in NYC:

“FYI, plastic is not eco-friendly!”


Another knee JERK!

Like READ already!

Against my own advice I entered into a conversation with Aaron. I wanted to educate him, but he  wanted to educate me. Like did I know about that garbage patch in the Pacific?

Aaron, I wrote, you and I should join forces and educate the world together…

I was glad to find out that even Chris Jordan gets defensive. Apparently some people accused him of faking his photographs of Albatross chicks who die from  ocean plastic ingestion. He’s now making a movie to show the full process in REAL time from egg to death by plastic.

Get real people. Stop attacking each other over style, taste, envy of success/recognition and use  information to bring about change because only when we stand together will we make the difference it takes to survive.

On Thursday I am going to Abaco, Bahamas. Courtesy of the Lindroth Corporation. They are building a new village called Schooner Bay in southern Abaco. Planned to be all green, using solar, wind and thermal energy, the houses will not be bigger than 900 sq. feet and affordable. There will be stores, a school and a 100 acres is dedicated  farm land which will supply organic produce to the town. It’s someone’s dream project: To create an example, learn along the way so the findings can be used by others to help make our (homo sapiens) world sustainable.

This weekend they are gathering artists from all over for a seminar, art show and workshops with local school kids.

I will be teaching them how to make jewelry from beach plastic. Sell it locally to tourists, instead of the (plastic) crap that has BAHAMAS printed on it and is always Made in China.

I will blog it and take pictures so stay tuned….

The tees at Barneys NY – Madison Avenue store


A showing of my 750 Barneys/Loomstate/Plastic is Forever Tees

Here you can see them all set to Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin from the Art of Han de Vries (my wayward half-brother in Amsterdam)…


Barbi goes native… – “While vacationing on Eleuthera in the Bahamas, artist Barbara de Vries began collecting colorful bits of plastic she found on the island’s powder-soft beaches. Having been smoothed and contoured by the elements, the synthetic material more resembled small, precious gems. So once she returned home, the Miami native …”

Miami native?

What the fuck?

Barbi? … Miami Native?

Me, a Miami native artist?

I bristled. I bristled good. Like hackles all the way up. As I read the much anticipated Vogue article in postage size on my BB.

While walking through the Lynn University campus where I had just spoken to about 70 lethargic fashion merchandising students (I was told they were designers) but from the show of hands – I speak to the out-of-the-box part of brain – there appeared to be none. And all my “be unique follow your creative genius rara, jokes and digs” fell like dusty hat pins on the well-worn blue and crested gold carpet. Soundless. Echoless.

Oh well.

But out in the parking lot the combination of the dulled crowd and “Miami native” got my goat. Like got my goat by the balls (or teets?)

Was I not Dutch born?  A former Paris model? A fashion designer from London? Former director of design @ Calvin Klein in NYC?

My ego was pretzelling out of control.

Then my sobering alter-ego said: “But weren’t you last seen as mother, wife and housefrau in Milford PA?” Huh? You think you are so hot? You should be so lucky! To be in Vogue! Huh? Who do you think you are?

(Do you have that who-do-you-think-you-are voice? I don’t think everyone has that voice, as in *Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen or Sarah Palin?)

I have a big ego and then this who-do-you-think-you-are-voice which makes me rather schizo, inside my head, and sometimes it comes out, and I lash out and then feel guilty, and confuse the hell out of everyone.

Like who’s that  guilty nice bitch?

So, as I’m driving back to Miami, I’m arguing with myself. And, as usual, my ego loses and I listen to the alter one.

And I’m starting to like the idea of Miami artist. Like could I be an artist from Miami?

Go native…?

I’m used to shape shifting. I’ve had my incarnations from painfully shy school girl to cosmo model to young London designer to Senior Veepee to country mom of three…


Wasn’t I looking for that new life? That new me? Was I not sick of  feeling invisible as a mother?


It took Rickie at Vogue to make me see. To open my eyes to more and endless possibilities of me.

It also took embellishing 750 tees with beach plastic to drive me almost insane.

thank you Vogue

I spent the last four months doing little else, as my husband, daughters, dog, friends and hairdresser will attest, but, while doing my manual labor, I had  time to think.

About beach plastic. About plastic pollution, About its impact, about solutions, about re-purposing some of the plastic that is already out there. How we buy the product within; the laundry detergent, the water, the toothpaste, but do not feel we own its container. Nobody owns the container. Its not our problem. And therein lies the problem. We have come to treat plastic as a cheap, throw-away material. We forget that it was heralded as the substance that would stop us from plundering earth’s natural resources like wood, tortoise, ivory etc.

Remember Mr. Maguire to young Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate?

“I have one word for you young man”

?   (Dustin looking dumb)


That was forty years ago and now we’re sinking in the stuff and don’t know how to get rid of it!

Fuck Mr. Robinson and his plastics!

So now its my problem? I thought. As I slowed down  to a place of understanding.

And this what I would say to young Dustin:

“Slow Down”


Dustin, take ten minutes to really scroll through this (art by native artist?) and you will notice that every piece of beach plastic has a mysterious story. How did the barrette, the crate, the tooth brush, the toy soldier, the bead end up on that faraway Bahamian beach? Who owned it? What did they do with it and why did it get into the ocean? Did it come from a cruise ship? A seaside garbage dump, was it casually tossed away or accidentally lost?

And if you slow down enough to think  then maybe you can stop just long enough to change the effect of disposable plastic and realize that you can reinvent plastic’s destiny  by making it desirable and yes, maybe even beautiful.

black and white, ying and yang, ego and alter ego, there's always the other way

Interviews about the process, (thank you Viv and Christine) courtesy of Loomstate: