Along the banks of rivers

What will we do when we no longer have a supply of fresh water?  For many in the world obtaining the minimum amount of water for daily usage is a constant struggle.  Soon many more of us will find that this will become our communities' most critical challenge.

Since the 1960's artists from all corners of the earth have been engaged in activist, collaborative and ecological aesthetics. A brief list includes: Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Mary Miss, Betsy Damon, Basia Irland, Navjot Altaf, Patricia Johanson, Susan Jennings, Jaanika Peerna, Maya Lin and Simon Starling.  Museums such as the Hudson River Museum and the Indianapolis Museum of Art's FLOW White River Festival celebrate and point to the need to protect waterways.  Was it last year that the city of Boulder, CO celebrated their Ditches throughout the community including works by 40 local artists? (Note that you can click on names to learn more).

Reading a recent blog by book artist Mia Leijonstedt I learned about Lee Tracy and her World Rivers Project.  Participants around the world have taken lengths of white cloth and dipped them into rivers.  These are dried and sent back to the artist who embroiders the names of the rivers on them then sews them into a continuous curtain.  Having developed a taste for working with fibers since attending two workshops with India Flint my studio contains a lot of textiles.
I walked down to the Northwest Branch during our recent "thaw".  I selected this small stream because it is so much a part of our lives.  It issues forth at the Quaker community of Sandy Spring where our son went to school and now teaches outdoor education.  This meandering stream is in our community's backyard and is a tributary of the Anacostia River which flows into the Potomac River and eventually feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.  This area is officially called the Rachel Carson Greenway and Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park.

This is the house that Rachel Carson built near this watershed, and where she wrote Silent Spring. I took the picture at one of their annual open houses. Her work in calling attention to the deleterious effects of DDT was an act of incredible courage and perseverance during an era when industries prevailed over the rights of individuals and communities. The Rachel Carson Council continues her mission at the house today disseminating information about toxins and sustainable alternatives for a healthy world. 
A piece of linen was placed in the stream and allowed to float and soak.

If you look closely you can see ice melting under the roots of some trees.
Here is a book that I made sometime ago inspired by another river, the Mino or Minho of Spain and Portugal.

The name of the river is derived from minius or red lead.  The pages are monoprints and collage.

Because this blog is about art and education I included this sample work.  I was teaching a high school class about content and this was the exemplar that I created.  Students selected a painting and then reproduced the composition using recycled papers.  Here we see the birth of a very different sort of Venus rising out of a polluted ocean.  

Developing art curriculum that allows students to go out of doors and develop a sense of stewardship is critical if we hope to have a world where not just the privileged will have the basic necessities of clean water and air.


  1. What amazing work! That's inspirng me all the more to work on the book I'm creating and writing.

    Because I rely on the rain for my water supply I've certainly learned to appreciate it far more than I ever did when I was living on a section with a house and getting water on the Town Supply. It's precious and needs as much as possible to be preserved. Without water we have no life.

  2. Hi Liz, I do hope that you will finish that book and put it out there for all of us to purchase.

    I know that you who farm know better that we in suburbia just how dire the situation can be.

  3. Oh so brilliant. I immediately thought of Christo's next project (though his silk won't be dipped in the Arkansas River). This is so moving to me! The significance of the river there for you, its presence in your lives, and then to connect it this way. I look forward to seeing what you will do with it. My daughter was a fibers minor in art school, and we have her pieces hanging around the house; they make our lives so rich.

    At one time I wanted to collect music about River; think I need to do it.

  4. we too actively harvest rainwater for our needs as well as those of our stock
    and so are independent of the reticulated supply - which in AUstralia is becoming increasingly expensive and ever less palatable!

  5. Ruth, music about first sound to reach my mind's ear were strains Smetana's The Muldau.

    India, Australia has been the leader in establishing methods for utilizing water and protecting this important resource.

  6. The idea of melting together fiber with raw nature is appealing. I look forward to seeing your final creation.

    I love the rebirth of your Venus. Amazing how you somehow managed to make those aqua shreds of paper look so fluid. I'm curious to see the students' take on this assignment.

  7. I loved this post Patricia, it struck a chord with my heart. Environmental Activism in ARt is not easy to get across. Too overt and the viewer is turned away, too vague and the message is not understood. I read carson's book while at uni in 1992, 20 years ago and it has stuck with me ever since. I love that you have actively referenced many others, and I will actively look at all of them. THANK YOU.


  8. T,
    I am glad that this post resonated. This is such an interesting project.


Post a Comment