OWU Campus Sustainability: Water Bottle Project
Catie Beach & Jordana McCallen
Summary & Results
As senior BFA’s, we set out to combine our interests of environmental sustainability and art-making, by creating ceramic water bottles that were sold in accordance with Green Week Events. We created unique vessels to combat excessive waste issues on OWU’s campus. The distribution of these products served to both decrease OWU’s paper waste by providing water bottle alternatives, and simultaneously increase the use of the hydration stations. In creating our own alternative, we sought to highlight the preciousness of the objects rendered, as a means to convey the equal preciousness of the water they contain. The bottles were created by utilizing techniques learned within ceramics, as well as other studios. In employing various techniques, we sought to evoke their handmade quality, experienced in the exposed terra cotta. The materials act as a reminder of the origins of the medium, as well as the way we treated the surfaces, evoking the human touch that went into rendering them.
We created fifty bottles in total, which we sold during Green Week, during events that overlapped with our project’s overall aim. Such initiatives included “Ban the Bottle”, and “Carry Your Waste”, both of which sought to educate students on the extent, and impact of the waste they generate. Our efforts proved fruitful, as we received positive reception by many members of the student body. We sought to make the bottles affordable, charging $7 and $10 based on the size and complexity of the technique, which was similarly well received. In the first two days of tabling, we sold over thirty bottles! The money generated will be donated to Water.org, and Stratford Ecological Center. We chose to donate to both charities as the former directly relates directly to our project goals, while the latter is located locally, emphasizing the idea of the buying local, but also affecting change at various levels.
Methods & Results
We employed various methods of construction, including cylindrical and geometric slab forming, as well as wheel thrown bottles. As the name implies, slab forming involved cutting wedges of clay and rolling them through a press to our desired thickness. From there we were able to cut out patterns for geometric slabs, and larger squares which were draped around various cylindrical objects to form their shape. Many of the bottles evidence our process, including parts where we squeezed the forms to create a grip, emphasizing the idea that they’re meant to be held and used. The variation among them is striking, and speaks to our initial concept of really showcasing the preciousness of the craft and the purpose it serves. Wheel thrown bottles require more skill, so Kristina and upper level ceramics students helped us utilize the leftover clay from our slab constructions to create equally unique and varied vessels.
From the outset, we knew we wanted to leave the clay unglazed and exposed to emphasize the medium and evoke the vessel’s organic nature, experienced in both the form and tactility. Both aspects would be continually confronted by the user, and our aim was for these stylistic choices to better convey the meaning behind them.
Our initial concept for bottle decoration was to use image transfers depicting scenes of local urban flora and fauna. The photolithography technique, developed by Kristina Bogdanov, uses xerox copies of images as an alternative to a lithostone, in which the image is traditionally etched into the stone, filled with ink, and transferred onto paper. This interpretation allowed us to transfer original photographs onto the bottles. The photos taken included imagery of plants, fungi, and deer from Columbus, OH. Calling to Cronon’s concepts in “The Problem With Wilderness,” the use of this imagery asks viewers to reconsider what defines beauty in nature. The preciousness and individuality of the bottles enhances the viewer’s interpretation of the imagery on the bottle. While the imagery does not directly align with the greater intent of water resource awareness, its pairing with the bottles’ conceptual function aids the viewer in returning to a personal and local perspective when considering these themes.
Unfortunately, the bottles were not in the proper state of hydration for the transfers to take at the time of decoration. Only four of the bottles held successful transfers, including imagery of deer, crocuses, and erosion patterns. Others held slight impressions of the image. On these bottles we utilized the grey wash as a third tone and used sgraffito, or “scratching” methods to make designs. We painted white slip on the outside of the bottles and scratched beneath to reveal red terra cotta. Through this alternative plan we maintained themes of natural imagery by created organic patterns and washes, but shifted focus onto the aesthetic design of the bottle as a whole.
We chose to donate to water.org early on, as the organization seeks to implement clean water sources around the world. In our initial goal of making students think about the preciousness of water, we thought supporting an organization that seeks to affect change by providing clean water sources to places where that preciousness is acknowledged was appropriate. Additionally, the organization seeks to spread awareness of the ways that people’s lives are affected by limited access to clean water sources. Their website makes it easy for the individual to make an active difference, both monetarily and through service work, directly and indirectly related to the organization. This transnational presence is a source of agency, and in part inspired our decision to donate half of the money generated to Stratford Ecological Center. Being a local entity, we wanted to acknowledge the importance of supporting local and the agency that holds for the individual. Having a more personal understanding of the organization and its mission relates to the topics discussed in our environmental geography class at large.
Funding & Advertizing
At the outset of the water bottle project we sought a mentor, venue, and funds for the project. Considering our workloads and timelines for the semester, we determined Green Week, held April 18-22nd, to be the most appropriate time and venue to sell the water bottles. First, we approached Green Week organizers Reilly Reynolds, Cynthia Hastings, and Ellen Hughes to seek permission in joining their programming. All organizers were eager to host the water bottle sales alongside Green Week tabling and began advertising and adjusting Green Week events appropriately. In turn, we agreed to advertise other Green Week events along with our project.
After establishing our venue we approached the Fine Art Department’s ceramics and drawing professor Kristina Bogdanov for assistance, guidance, and studio hosting through the extent of the project. Professor Bogdanov, who was involved in previous water sustainability-related projects, was eager to mentor us through the project. We settled on her services of “demo-ing” construction techniques, firing the bottles, and hosting us in the ceramics studio in exchange for a $250.00 half day workshop fee.
Finally, we researched different methods of obtaining funds for the project, including Fine Arts Department funds, Geology Department funds, Student Led Art Movement Funds, and Environment and Wildlife funds. We settled on the Small Project Grant funding as the most appropriate resource for supply money. We drafted a proposal in request of funds to persuade SIP reviewers of the campus, personal, and departmental benefits that the water bottle project would create. Our budget included the cost of 100lbs of clay, corks, coffee lids, and clay, totaling $85.00 each. Upon approval the grant committee rounded our total up to $100 each. Soon after receiving the grant we decided to focus on only water bottles for the project and left out coffee lids from the budget. The remaining funds were later used to purchase additional corks for misshapen bottles.
After picking up clay and glaze from Buckeye Ceramics, we began advertising for the event through word of mouth and facebook. We chose facebook as the most appropriate venue of advertisement for its ability to communicate visual information and reach out to people beyond our friends within the OWU community. We created a public event titled “OWU Sustainability: Ceramic Water Bottles” and invited all OWU students on our “friends list”. We began posting and explaining the project to our “followers,” to which many responded by “liking,” “sharing,” and commenting on the event postings.
The act of sharing the construction process served both as an advertizing and connective process with our buyers. Many people said they were able to pinpoint the exact bottle they wanted from the postings. The ability to share this process from start to finish also made our buyers feel as if they were involved in the construction. Although we could not host buyers in the studio to make their own bottles, the visualization of the bottles’ transformation created a deeper connection and appreciation for the product. The students who purchased the bottles during tabling recognized the thought and labor put into these works. They were essentially “sold” on buying a piece before seeing or holding the final product in person. The documentation of these works also contributes to the idea of this project as a type of performance. Through the repeated sharing of an art/philanthropy idea on a social media site focused on the mundane, we intended to break through the noise and return to local. While the viewer scrolls through their feed consuming avocado recipes, dog videos, and Donald Trump articles, the prospect of supporting a local philanthropic event stands out. Not only does the support of this event provide a unique incentive, but stimulates a thought not often discussed on facebook: threats to water resources.
Overall the event was extremely successful. Our water bottles sold out within two days of tabling during lunch at HamWil. The cooperation with Green Week events and tabling stimulated a lot of excitement and conversation with students about sustainability on and off campus. We noticed a number of students using their bottles at the hydration stations and overall were proud of their unique works.
The only mishap we ran into was finding money to pay Kristina a stipend for running the kilns, and assisting us in production. We initially tried to incorporate that cost into our SIP, but we weren’t able to go that route because the money delegated for the fund can’t be used to pay existing faculty. We ran into a similar problem with WCSA when we tried to apply for supplemental funding through E&W, in addition to the fact that we were generating money from selling them, even though it was being donated. Ultimately we were able to cover the cost by using some of the money generated as well as money from the non-WCSA funded SLAM account, which we were able to use because it had been fundraised.
In the future, I think it would be fruitful to get in touch with WCSA earlier on, and really make the point that the format of the project is unconventional — the money given to Kristina was for her labor, not simply overseeing the project.
Reilly Reynolds, Green Week Organizer, email@example.com
Kristina Bogdanov, ceramics professor, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Krygier, faculty advisor, email@example.com
Darrell Albon, SIP grant coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org