COURTESY LAVOIE FAMILY
Seven-year-old Charles Lavoie, pictured with his surf instructor Alex "Serge" Alixopulos, found a ceramic vessel with writing on it while taking surf lessons. The vessel started its journey in the Missouri River outside Sioux City, Iowa, in 2003. A couple from Kansas passed it on to their daughter to be released in Hawaii on their honeymoon.
Going with the flow
A ceramic piece found floating off Waikiki began as an artistic experiment in Iowa
Charles Lavoie, 7, was enjoying his second day of hard-won surf lessons - his reward for keeping his grades up - when he spotted something bobbing on the water that appeared to be a coconut, or a leaf.
"A leaf with writing on it," said Charles.
When he pulled it out of the water, nobody knew what to make of the object.
Instructors at the Hans Hedemann Surf School are accustomed to finding all manner of debris, but nothing like this oddly shaped ceramic float.
Luckily, it was marked with about a half-dozen names, places and phone numbers, as well as the name of its creator, Terry Couch, whom Charles' dad, Christopher, called right away.
The float is one of a couple hundred that Couch released into the Missouri River outside Sioux City, Iowa, between 2001 and 2004. The vessel Charles found had been set adrift in August 2003.
No, it didn't float here on its own. It arrived by plane after it was discovered by a couple in Kansas, who gave it to their daughter to release in Hawaii on her honeymoon.
Couch, a ceramist who now lives in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., said the project started with his curiosity as to whether he could make a ceramic object that floats.
"One thing led to another and I started releasing them into the river," he said by phone of his "Anastomosis" project.
To keep track of their travels, he sent his hollow orbs out with his name and phone number pressed into the clay with lead type. Finders have called from as far as Europe, not necessarily because the floats traveled there on their own, but because finders often re-released them, with their own information scrawled in Magic Marker and coated with a layer of varnish, during trips abroad.
"It was an art experience as much as going to a museum or gallery," said Couch, who enjoyed being able to create an interactive experience. "It's like going hiking and finding things that are interesting, like arrowheads."
For him, the floating vessels represented conception, birth and the start of relationships, some better than others. "People respond quite differently," he said. "Some people respond quite favorably. Others are deadpan and neutral about it. One woman left me a nasty voice mail letting me know she didn't appreciate me leaving my 'litter' in the river.
"Some are angry enough that I ended up going to court, charged with littering. That went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I lost."
That hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for the project, and although he hasn't released any floats for four years, the Hawaii find has made him more ambitious about releasing his vessels into more powerful ocean currents to see where Mother Nature will take them.
"It's really about determining where to go," he said, dreaming of catching the Gulf Stream Current and North Atlantic Drift en route to Europe and Africa, or perhaps heading our way and hoping the vessels catch the North Pacific Drift.
The Lavoies may do their part as well.
"We don't know what we're going to do with it yet," said Christopher. "We may keep it for a while and release it in a few years. Right now, we're just really excited about it."