Water preservation at the center of Borgeson's solo show

"The focus of my artwork is about water, how humans use water and how humans react and are responding to the water crisis on Earth. I create artwork to express our human existence -- water is essential to life."...

"The focus of my artwork is about water, how humans use water and how humans react and are responding to the water crisis on Earth. I create artwork to express our human existence -- water is essential to life."

Thus reads ceramicist Tonya Borgeson's artist statement for "Waters What About the Waters II," her new solo show at Washington Gallery.

But don't let those words scare you away: The exhibition isn't nearly as heavy-handed as they make it seem.

"It's just really fun," Borgeson said of the new imagery she played with for the show.

Still, the show's underlying theme of water resource management is very serious, and a subject the ceramicist holds close to her heart.


"It's not about that we don't have a lot of water, it's that we misuse it and mismanage it," said Borgeson, who runs Snoodle Ceramic Studio & Gallery and is an art instructor at Lake Superior College when she's not concentrating on creating. "There are people that don't have any water, that are dying, and then there are people that have so much water; they waste just because they don't [understand] natural resources. Like any natural resource, we need to be conscious of how we are using it."

While the idea stems from her expanding understanding of the water crisis -- Borgeson mentioned Duluth's Living Green Conference as one major source of knowledge -- the show is actually an extension of a project she did for Earth Day.

Borgeson was getting some T-shirts made at Starfire Screen Printing Co. when shop proprietor Scott Lunt mentioned an exhibit vacancy there for the month of April. Despite only having a few weeks to put something together, she accepted, and "Waters What About the Waters" was born.

It consisted of a four-block Earthworks exhibition, featuring ceramic liter bottles, pint glasses, "little grenades" and, at the heart of it all, feet.

"I put them on Fourth Street [from Lunt's shop] all the way down to Lake Superior," Borgeson said of her spontaneous creations, "and then I wrote little statements that I had researched about what individuals can do to conserve their water."

But, being Earth Day, some of the ceramic feet never got to fulfill their intended destinies.

"As soon as I laid them out, I looked down [the avenue] and saw people with garbage bags picking them up and throwing them away," Borgeson beamed. "For me, that was the ultimate satisfaction. I was so happy. Here I am taking my artwork and I'm putting it right in the dump ... like, I'm going to change this; this problem's going to be changed because I'm going to have a voice on it.

"So I really viewed it in a mystical, romantic way, which I do about art -- that's why I love it so much."


As is the case with many of those Earth Day creations, Borgeson's ceramic feet will be making a comeback with "Waters What About the Waters II." During the exhibit's free public reception, a series of more than 800 of them will start inside Washington Gallery, lead out of the building and head to a nearby water drain.

"It's too much to go down to the lake again, so I'm just interpreting it in a different way," Borgeson said. "But that idea of getting outside the gallery and using the earth as a canvas is really important."

In fact, the ceramicist hopes to take this "earth as a canvas" approach to a whole new level. One idea was to host an art show out in the woods, wherein visitors would have to hike to the exhibition's location.

"I feel like I'm not quite done with this issue yet," Borgeson said. "... We use water so often, it's just a really nice, warm, welcoming big hug for me to deal with this issue."

Tonya Borgeson's "Waters What About the Waters II" exhibition, funded by an Arrowhead Regional Arts Council/McKnight Foundation grant, will be on display through the end of the month at Washington Gallery, 315 N. Lake Ave. Gallery hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, though the free public reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19. For details, call 310-8903 or visit

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