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Ciel Bergman: Sea Full of Clouds What Can I Do?


Summary Note

Concerned about the tons of discarded plastic and its consequences on marine mammals, artist Ciel Bergman used plastic waste to create an installation exhibition in 1987. Later, she conceived the idea to create sustainable road paving material called "Plasphalt" from recycled waste plastic.

Biographical Note

Ciel Bergman, formerly Cheryl Bowers, trained as a psychiatric nurse in the late 1950's, and then lived in Europe before returning to California to complete her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1973. She then lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she continued to paint, having resigned her tenure as a full professor of art at UCSB Santa Barbara in 1994. Her work is included in the collections of the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Oakland Museum; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Orange County Museum of Art; the San Diego Museum of Fine Art; and the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.

Scope and Content

While teaching art at the University of California, Santa Barbara during the 1980s, artist Ciel Bergman discovered increasing amounts of plastic trash washing up on the local beaches. She began to pick up the detritus with her friend, Nancy Merrill. Together they created an installation titled Sea Full of Clouds What Can I Do? that was exhibited in 1987 at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum.

During the artmaking process and prompted by “witnessing the suffering of many beached, garroted and dying sea mammals, strangling in plastic,” Bergman conceived the idea of recycling waste plastic to create a sustainable road paving material to reduce our dependence on oil. As a result, she helped launch the product known as Plasphalt™, which combines recycled plastic and asphalt. Plasphalt™ provides superior performance and reduced costs compared to traditional asphalt paving, but to date has yet to be adopted widely by roadbuilders.

Materials donated include notes, journals, exhibition records, slides and other photographic documentation, press materials, samples of Plasphalt and source plastics, Plasphalt patent paperwork, field testing kit, correspondence, and grant applications.


This archive is arranged into two series. The first series contains materials from Berman’s 1987 exhibition which prompted her response, or solution, to the issue of excess plastic in the oceans. Her response is the basis for the second series.
  • Series 1: Sea Full of Clouds Exhibition
  • Series 2: Plasphalt

Inclusive Dates


Bulk Dates


Quantity / Extent

1.5 cubic feet



Related Publications

Gablik, Suzi. The Re-Enchantment of Art. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Lippard, Lucy. Undermining: A Wild Ride through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West. New York, NY: The New Press, 2014.

Selz, Dr. Peter. Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; San Jose: San Jose Museum of Art, 2005.

Container Listing by Series:

CAE1208/1 Series 1: Sea Full of Clouds Exhibition, 1959-2017

Series 1 contains items related to the exhibition titled "Sea Full of Clouds What Can I Do?" an installation by Cheryl Bowers (currently Ciel Bergman) in collaboration with Nancy Merrill in 1987. Materials include research, grant applications, installation images, and press materials.
  • CAE Box 60

    • 1-1 Artist Information, 1979-2017
    • 1-2 Exhibition Research, 1986-1987
    • 1-3 Exhibition Concept Development & Planning, 1986-1987
    • 1-4 Exhibition Grants, 1986-1987
    • 1-5 Exhibition Images, 1987-1990
    • 1-6 Exhibition Response, 1959-1988
    • 1-7 Education and Outreach, 1986-1990
    • 1-8 Press, 1987-1992

Additional Materials

  • CAE Box 25 Objects

    • 1-6#1 “Suggestions Please” Exhibition Comment Book, 1987
  • CAE Flat File F4 Oversized Items

    • 1-5#130 Fish ensnared by garbage, not dated
    • 1-5#131 California Sea Lion ensnared by garbage, not dated
    • 1-5#132 California Sea Lion ensnared by garbage, not dated
    • 1-5#133 Litter on the beach, not dated
  • CAE S-Box 61 Oversized Items

    • 1-3#6 To-Do List, 1987

CAE1208/2 Series 2: Plasphalt, 1959-2013

Series 2 contains items related to the production of Plasphalt.
  • CAE Box 60

    • 2-1 Plasphalt Technical Information, 1959-2003
    • 2-2 Material Safety Data Sheets, (A-N), not dated
    • 2-3 Material Safety Data Sheets, (P), not dated
    • 2-4 Plasphalt Patent, 1997-2009
    • 2-5 Tower Road/Navarro Ridge Road Test Strips, 1996-2001
    • 2-6 Plasphalt Project, TEWA Technology Corporation, and Plasphalt International, 1999-2013
    • 2-7 Advocacy, 1995-2011
    • 2-8 Press, 1993-2013

Additional Materials

  • CAE Box 14 Tray 1 Small Objects

    • 2-6#11 Building Keys, not dated
  • CAE Box 25 Objects

    • 2-1#6 Plexiglas Shavings, not dated
    • 2-1#7 Plastic Aggregate (Black), not dated
    • 2-1#8 Plastic Aggregate (Appliance), not dated
    • 2-1#9 Plastic Aggregate (Appliance fine stream), not dated
    • 2-1#10 Plastic Aggregate (Computer), not dated
    • 2-1#11 Plastic Aggregate (Multicolored), not dated
    • 2-1#12 Plastic Aggregate (Extremely fine), not dated
    • 2-1#13 Plastic Aggregate (Fine with Larger Particles), not dated
    • 2-1#14 Plastic Aggregate (Fine Gray Dust), not dated
    • 2-1#15 Plastic Aggregate (Brightly colored), not dated
    • 2-1#16 Plastic Aggregate (Clumps), not dated
    • 2-1#17 Plastic Aggregate (Allied Color Industries, Beige #56), not dated
    • 2-6#7 (TRPA) Treated Recycled Plastic Aggregate (Sample), 2001
    • 2-6#8 (TRPA) Treated Recycled Plastic Aggregate (Sample), 2001
    • 2-6#10 Power Supply, not dated
  • CAE Box 26 Objects

    • 2-1#18 Deionized Water Container
  • CAE Box 264 Large Objects

    • 2-1#5 Plasphalt Test Biscuit
  • CAE S-Box 60 Oversized Items

    • 2-8#5 Superhighway to a Green Planet, Eldorado Sun, 2002