So many streams seemed to be flowing together, into one river.
“I think it started around 2015,” Carole Groenke recalls. “I’d been going to exhibition committee meetings and discussing themes and where we could have shows.” Groenke, a mixed media artist from Gilford, NH, is an active member of the exhibitions committee for the New Hampshire chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art [full disclosure: that’s where we got to know each other]. She happened to check her calendar and saw that March 22 was designated as World Water Day
Carole Groenke with her piece "Phoenix at the Beach" (right): Mixed-Media found object wall assemblage collaged with newspaper articles, Citra-Solve altered magazine pages, painted glass and mussel shells, hand-made Italian paper, and acrylic and ink on paper. Foam art block print on plexiglass and sculptured, painted, Hydrocal over wood. Left: Halfway to Heaven, mixed media, by Cilla Sheehan.
Groenke was intrigued. “I’d never heard of World Water Day. I looked it up and came upon The Water Project, a nonprofit organization right there in Concord [New Hampshire] that brings wells and water to South Saharan Africa. I thought I’d check them out and see if they had a place to have an exhibit.” The building, as it turned out, wasn’t really workable for an art exhibition, “but the staff was really excited to talk about what they’re doing and there’s a lot of energy there.”
Clean, safe drinking water is scarce. In the developing world, it is the job of women to walk for miles to the nearest river or pond, and bring water back home for their families. But that water is rarely clean enough to drink. According to The Water Project website, “In developing countries, about 80% of illnesses are linked to poor water and sanitation conditions. 1 out of every 5 deaths under the age of 5 worldwide is due to a water-related disease.” The need for clean, safe water affects everything from health, to education, to economic well-being.
Groenke and her husband were doing a lot of travelling in 2015, so the exhibition was on the back burner, but every few months, something would bring water issues to her attention.
“There was Flint, Michigan, and a couple of other water-related issues that I noticed. I read a lot and I kept discovering more about these water issues. I discovered that World Water Day has been celebrated for years in many countries, but not in the English-speaking countries, for some reason. Just reading about that, I came upon the fact that women in many cultures are trying to get clean water to their families and communities. The theme kept nudging me.”
... it takes very little time for a child to go from slightly dehydrated to a state of shock. If you can’t get safe fluids, you can’t bounce back.”
The next October, she read The Water Princess, a children’s book by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. "It’s the story of a model named Georgie Badiel, a former Miss Africa and activist from Burkina Faso, and her childhood dreams of bringing fresh water to her village. The Water Project was working to put in a well in Burkina Faso. It kept coming up.”
All these streams were carrying her toward this exhibition, and when she followed them back to their source, Groenke recalled her past as a neonatal intensive care nurse in the 1970s in Cleveland and Tennessee. “I know that if a child is ill, things go south really fast. These water-borne illnesses causing diarrhea and vomiting are very serious. The mortality statistics are very high, because it takes very little time for a child to go from slightly dehydrated to a state of shock. If you can’t get safe fluids, you can’t bounce back.”
Groenke began to think more about putting together an art exhibition on the theme of women and water. She was nervous, because she had never organized an exhibition on her own, although she had helped put together many other WCA/NH shows. But the water kept flowing over her consciousness, and it seemed like the right fit for WCA. As Groenke points out, “The national Women’s Caucus for Art is an NGO of the United Nations, and water rights are part of the UN’s Millennium Goals. I liked the idea of using art to make people aware of social concerns. I just feel like this whole thing kept nudging me and I thought I’d better make it come to fruition.”
Groenki donated The Water Princess to the New Hampshire Technical Institute library (also in Concord) for their children’s section, and found her venue. She met with Tim Fisher, circulation supervisor, and Stephen Ambra, director, at the NHTI Library. “They were very helpful, let me take pictures and measure everything. They were very accommodating and very excited about it. Whenever I’d come to Concord, I’d go over to NHTI and check in with them to get new questions answered.”
The show was scheduled for March 4-29, 2018, to coincide with Women’s History Month and World Water Day. Twenty-five members of WCA/NH are participating [including me]. Groenke says, “We’ve had a wonderful response. It takes a village when you’re putting on a show like this. So many people are helping with everything from tags to fixing website problems. Everyone just worked together so well and it all came together with their help. I couldn’t have done this myself.”
In conjunction with the exhibition, Groenke also arranged for a celebration of World Water Day right here in English-speaking New Hampshire with an event at the NHTI Library gallery and speakers Lisa McAllister of The Water Project and Christine Destrempes, an artist who paints about water, at 6 p.m. on March 22, 2018.
Her own work has responded to the force of the water concept, as well. “The piece that I did for the show was conceived back in 2015 when I read about the oil spill in Santa Barbara.” That spill reminded her of the 1969 spill in Santa Barbara when Union Oil Platform A blew out. More than 3 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. [More full disclosure: my family was living in Santa Barbara at the time, and I remember people taking seabirds home to wash them.] Activists mobilized to create environmental regulation and education, and established Earth Day (first celebrated in 1970, and now an annual event on April 22) in response to this event.
Groenke started a mixed media piece. “I was experimenting with hydrocal at that time. It’s like plaster of Paris but faster. In 20 minutes it can go from a drippy consistency to like sour cream to like cement that you can spread around with a night. I’d get together with my friend Cilla Sheehan to play with it. One time, I was experimenting by using it on chunks of pine. Four of the five pieces I did that day went into the piece that’s in this show.”