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Message bottles hit the waves

Two hundred hand blown glass bottles will soon be bobbing in the waters off Barkley Sound catching the Pacific currents to Alaska or even Japan.

Two hundred hand blown glass bottles will soon be bobbing in the waters off Barkley Sound catching the Pacific currents to Alaska or even Japan. Sealed within are 500 messages - mostly of peace and good will - written by visitors to the Gibsons Public Art Gallery (GPAG) last July and August who were moved by the glass and painting installation show of Langdale artist Miyuki Shinkai.

The artist herself was surprised by the positive response.

The 500 people participating in the project were asked to write a message on heavy paper to place in bottles blown by Shinkai in her Mellon Glass Studio that she shares with partner Wayne Harjula. Most of the messages were about living together peacefully, she explains, and some of the kids also wrote their phone numbers and email addresses, hoping to hear from the bottle's finder.

"People on the Coast have good imagination," Shinkai says. "I've done shows like this in Vancouver where people don't make the time or space for dreaming. Here, they do."

She also applauds the efforts of the GPAG in reaching out to the public and holding her exhibition during the busy summer months. Many tourists visited the gallery: Americans and a group of Mexican students who wrote their messages in different languages. Among the visitors were Japanese exchange students and Miyuki, who is of Japanese heritage, was able to meet with them and discuss her work. She has studied under the world-renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly, and absorbed his vision for blown glass art. He and his school (Pilchuck) have influenced her approach to glass making and showing over the last decade. She started making floats for use in her installations in 1999, inspired by the joy of those beachcombers who found a Japanese floating glass ball in the waves.After the Gibsons show was over and the bottles had been sealed with beeswax, a gallery director, Dick Williams, sought a boat to move the messages out to the west coast of Vancouver Island. That's when he found Captain Orie MacKenzie. The skipper grew up here in Langdale and has been fishing since his early teens. His boat, the Hungry One, a 1958 wooden hull, double end, salmon troller, was scheduled to go out with a scientist and crew on a salmon tracking mission. The Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking project (POST) uses tiny transmitters in young salmon to tell conservationists about their fate. It's one of the 13 field projects under the Census of Marine Life - a decade-long program involving scientists from more than 70 countries. Something about the international nature of the project appealed to Shinkai.

Williams and Shinkai met with MacKenzie on the dock one day recently with their precious cargo. He promised to release the 200 bottles only when he reached "big currents, fast waters and fast tides." Shinkai will miss the 200 bottles from her studio, she says. They were costly to make, and each one was an original.