© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Art exhibit opening on Earth Day explores the beauty and meaning of water

A new collection of artwork debuting Friday — Earth Day — uses different mediums to remind us not to take St. Louis’ abundant water supply for granted.

Libby Reuter and photographer Josh Rowan are partners in a sculpture and photography series around "watershed cairns," or glass creations marking a water source. Reuter installed her sculptures at locations ranging from creeks to sewers. Rowan then photographed the sites.

"[I hope people will] look at these photographs of the glass in nature and they’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s fragile, it could get broken,’ and extend that level of empathy and concern for the water that’s flowing, seen or unseen,” Reuter said.

Reuter also helped conceive the second work in the show, at the Artists' Guild in Clayton. The "Riverwork Project" is a massive textile piece that pays tribute to the Mississippi River, the largest of three rivers defining the St. Louis region and the third-largest watershed in the world.

This portion of the "Riverwork Project" shows art by Jean Brantley and Leandra Spangler
Credit Sun Smith-Foret | Provided
This portion of the Riverwork Project shows art by Jean Brantley and Leandra Spangler

The 300-foot-long work snaking along the walls and floors of the gallery includes the contributions of 60 local artists. The first artists created 2 feet-by-6-feet panels. Those who came later to the project worked on 12-inch squares. The work features painting, photography and text, including musical and literary references to water such as “Proud Mary” and “African Queen.” 

The challenge was incorporating all of the different styles, said artist Sun Smith-Foret, who developed the idea with Reuter.

Sun Smith-Foret works on a panel of the still-expanding "Riverwork Project."
Credit Sun Smith-Foret
Sun Smith-Foret works on a panel of the still-expanding "Riverwork Project. Smith-Foret worked on her portion of the project five hours a day, seven days a week for a year."

"And to have it come together the way the people in the riverbend area need to come together,” Smith-Foret said.

But the work’s serious message about unity comes in a vibrant package that tempers it with sense of joy.

“There’s every possible color in the river, and there’s every possible color in these pieces,” Smith-Foret said. “It’s really a celebration.”

The two-part exhibition, called “See Water: Watershed Cairns and Riverwork,"will be on display through May 12.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.