It was windy at Cedar Beach in Southold. The kind of wind that pushes you backwards and lives in your cheeks even after finding warmth. The sun glittered off the bay, but offered no heat. Shells sparkled in the rays like jewels lining the shore.
But Kathy Geiger of Southold was much more focused on the disfigured green and brown blobs that floated in the water. A plastic container she had in her hand was filling up with the seaweed as she searched for different colors, shapes and sizes.
“There’s three kinds of seaweed: red, brown and green. And you can see it in the water all feathered out,” she said, pointing to a dark green blob. “That’s the kind of seaweed I look for.”
After retiring to the North Fork from a career as a deputy communications director at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Geiger spent a lot of time combing the beaches.
“I suddenly realized that there’s a lot of different beautiful delicate seaweed species here that’s really not found in many places,” she said. And so, she brought back an old hobby of hers, one she started decades ago when a teacher friend of hers showed her how to display these plants on paper. To Geiger, it was art.
“I never know what I’m going to get. And that’s the beauty of this,” she said. “You can use a technique, but you just never know what is going to happen to it.”
The remnants of where the tide had been left behind relics — stones, shells, sea flora — Geiger sifted through too. “This is a nice specimen,” she said picking up a piece. “And what I’m really looking for is anything with a different color to have a contrast.”
I never know what I’m going to get. And that’s the beauty of thisKathy Geiger
Back at her home not far from the beach, Geiger got out her supplies — a 9×13 glass pan and watercolor paper. She filled the pan with a few inches of water and set it on the counter. Reaching into the plastic container with her finds from the morning, she pulled out a long, gangly string of green that dripped back into the murky water.
Geiger transferred it over to the clean water. As it touched the liquid, its shape changed completely, going from slimy and congealed to feathered out and light. The outer branches reached out and spread like ink to form a miniature tree. She then took a small square of watercolor paper, and dipping it into the water, tucked it underneath the seaweed. She lifted both out of the water carefully as to keep the shape and let the water run off the paper.
“I’m so used to how the seaweed reacts that I can just kind of hold it and then play with it,” she said, placing the art on a towel and softly arranging the branches.
Then they sit to dry until Geiger can mount them to a sturdier backing — no glue or adhesive needed. Once dry, the seaweed becomes flush with the paper.
Since renewing this hobby, Geiger approached the Weathered Barn in Greenport, who help her sell them.
“[Owner Rena Wilhelm] started framing them, and we started putting them on mats,” she said. “She really showed me some different ways in which I could present my designs in a different dimension.”
Her daughter also helped her start an Instagram account called North Fork Found Objects.
Where Geiger does her craft depends on the weather. With a bitter wind, she takes her seaweed home. In the summer months, she will bring her studio to the beach and create designs straight from the source. Other times, she will stick to her studio in her spare bedroom.
“If I feel like getting up in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I’ll just go and do my seaweed pictures,” she said, laughing.