CLEVELAND: Back in 2011, local artist and Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Linda Zolten Wood received a free rain barrel from the Mayor’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited program to store rainwater for use.
She soon became disappointed, however, when patches of algae started popping through and it became an eyesore.
So she used her artistic skills to sand, prime and paint the barrel, finishing it off with multiple coats of an outdoor acrylic boat sealant. Neighbors, who saw the transformation, asked for her help in painting their own rain barrels.
Soon a plan formed in her mind.
By the following year, Zolten Wood had applied for a Community Partnership for Arts and Culture Artist in Residence Grant for funding to create a painted rain barrel auction inspired by her pilot barrel. Local artists were hired to paint 10 barrels, and all were auctioned successfully at the Waterloo Center for the Arts in April 2013.
Zolten Wood explained that Cleveland’s surface stormwater runoff can carry lawn chemicals, animal waste and other health hazards into sewers and eventually to Lake Erie, one of the largest freshwater sources in the world.
“This slurry, along with excess industrial farm fertilizer, are causing toxic algae blooms, dead zones and endangering the health of our lake,” she said.
Rain barrels can help keep surface water on-site at home — where it can be repurposed — and out of the sewer system.
On Saturday, Northeast Ohioans began a celebration of World Water Day at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, featuring these painted rain barrels. The exhibition, the Painted Rain Barrel Project, will remain on display through Sunday.
“I wrote a proposal to create a traveling exhibit for area museums and Metroparks visitors’ centers and have received partial funding to make it happen,” Zolten Wood said. “Our exhibit will expose many thousands of visitors to the value of using beautiful rain barrels.”
Zolten Wood’s unique background prepared her for conceiving this program.
“As a 1987 graduate of Cleveland Institute of Art, I was fortunate to travel to India the following year, where I was inspired by the colorful culture and practical ethic of repairing everyday objects,” she said. “They also couldn’t rely on daily regularly running water and had to capture municipal and rain water in a motley assortment of containers for a variety of uses.”
The exhibit, which includes 12 hand-painted 55-gallon rain barrels designed by Northeast Ohio artists, will be on display in the Museum Lobby and the Ralph Perkins II Wildlife Center & Woods Garden.
The Painted Rain Barrel Project was produced to increase awareness of residential rain barrel ownership and use, organizers said. Rain barrels directly reduce chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers and other waste that might otherwise enter Lake Erie and other waterways.
The exhibit is free with admission to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The museum, at 1 Wade Oval Drive, and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District are sponsors.
For more information, go to www.CMNH.org.
Daryl Rowland can be emailed at email@example.com.