Friday, July 13, 2007

Walking Your Art... or something like that

Every fall Tom and I head to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine. It's run by the Maine Organic Farmer's and Gardener's Association, and is a fantastic three days - well worth the drive from anywhere in New England. And every year, a small group of artists/activists from the Beehive Design Collective show up to share their work and mission. Here's how they describe just one of their project missions:

"To create a unique, lasting, monumental, and nationally collaborative public work documenting the desires of young people for a sustainable future while illustrating the history which has led us to the grave circumstances of the present worldwide crisis in agriculture and biodiversity"

Something most folks don't know about me is that I used to be a "practicing" environmentalist. I earned a BS in Environmental Studies at SUNY Purchase. In California, I co-founded the Sonoma Ecology Center, which is still going strong. Then I moved to Maine, where I worked for the Audubon Expedition Institute for seven years. So I've tried to walk my talk...

But here's the thing, I've fallen in love with a medium that is everything but environmentally sound. Yeah, my home and studio are "off the grid", and we do our best to minimize our footprint on this fine earth. But everyday I let me muse wallow in a petroleum based product that is loaded with plastic softeners and polyvinyl chloride. It is like loving the wrong man. It feels soooo good, but you know it's not what you should be doing.

So... I am left to wrestle with this problem. I would love to hear from others who have attempted or even obtained a solution to this quandary. Please share your experiences!


Tz'unun said...

I'm still a "practicing" environmentalist, I can relate to your ambivalence. It irks me that my muse isn't into natural materials, recycling, etc., but it loves the vivid and subtle colors that are possible with polymer clay.

One big plus is that working in polymer clay involves very little waste. I'd be surprised if more than 0.1% of the clay I handle ends up in a landfill or wastewater plant. When I think of the millions of weekend artists using solvents and pigments that are hazards to both health and the environment, and ponder how much of that waste goes down the drain or into landfills to leach into ground water, I figure my medium isn't so bad.

It also has a pretty small environmental footprint compared to earth-based clay, which involves mining plus relatively huge amounts of energy in the firing process. Nevertheless, I'm trying to reduce my carbon footprint by going solar. I baked my last batch of projects in a cheap solar cooker, the kind they distribute in Third World countries, and they came out great.

Raven's Clay said...

Oh Sheri! You make me feel much better. I have to agree that there are other mediums that can be much more toxic in the waste stream - think of the words "cadmium yellow" or "cobalt blue", just to name two. But polymer clay's evil side is in the making, mostly.

I love your idea of baking in a solar oven!! That is sharp! I'd love to put a photo of it on my blog and/or website. Would you mind sending me a pic of it in action? I have a photo of my solar studio on my site - so in some ways I'm baking in a "solar oven" too. Hee hee!

I visited your site, btw, and I LOVE your birds!!! They're just terrific! And the list of books your work is in is quite impressive. You go girl!!

Thanks for the pep talk, my dear. But I shall continue to try and find ways to soften my impact - at the very least to offset my Muse's addiction. Lol! Cheers!

Tz'unun said...

My solar experiment was high in the Rockies while I was on vacation, and I didn't take any pics (d'oh!). I know this is hard to believe, but since I've been home in Arizona, I haven't been able to get the cooker up to curing temps! I'm trying to figure out whether it's because of a slightly different setup or being under 5000 feet more atmosphere.

But this got me thinking about other ways to reduce my clay habit's impact. On a small scale, a wind-powered tumbler for polishing might be feasible, but I soooo want to build an Earthship studio/office/guest house, with solar electricity, rainwater harvesting, and a composting toilet.

And I wonder if they'll eventually make PC from the new bio-polymers made from corn oil? Corn's not exactly an environmentally friendly crop, but maybe they can come up with ways to make it from any vegetable oil, like biodeisel. At least they're not talking about growing corn in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ;>

Raven's Clay said...

I think I'd enjoy an Earthship studio too (perhaps it's just the photo and that oh-so-cool architecture, I'm not sure. Lol).

Yeah, I've been thinking about whether there could be other materials that could be used to make pc too. I know that soy is being used for some plastics... but soy isn't much better than corn. Wouldn't it be great if we could make pc and other polymer plastics from human waste? Lol. That would be real justice. ;)