UW Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus

Aylward Gallery | Visual Arts Series

Still

   Judith Baker Waller | Joanna Dane |  Teresa Weglarz    

Still

Hurricanes. Tsunami. Floods. Earthquakes. Volcanic Eruptions. Rising Sea Level.

For several years, my work has had a fair share of drama and action as topic and subject. I am deeply concerned about the physical problems facing our Earth and my interest in these things has not abated. In the last several years, I have collaborated with scientists, musicians, and writers on these topics in Layers: Places in Peril; small problems: BIG TROUBLE, and River Bookends: Headwaters, Delta, and the Volume of Stories in Between.

In 2018,  I began a new project that is focused on the quiet, the still. I felt a longing to visit, paint, and draw still waters in ponds, lakes, and lagoons. I needed the quietude and solitude in my paintings and drawings, and to place emphasis on the internal sensations these quiet pools and places elicit from me.

Originally imagined as a solo experience, the last year has seen Still evolve to include more voices, namely the inspired words of Joanna Dane and Teresa Weglarz. Joanna’s personal, creative ‘words and lines’ and Teresa’s naturalist reflections and environmental science lessons were exactly what was needed to complete Still as the offering of solace and mindfulness originally intended. 

Imagery and subject organically evolved given the restrictions of the pandemic. Stillness was experienced much closer to home by all three of the creators of this show, and subject matter expanded to include other elements found in Nature and through personal contemplation. —Judith Baker Waller, March, 2021

Biographies of Still Exhibitors

Judith Waller née Baker has a history of ​working collaboratively with individuals from other disciplines in teaching, art projects, exhibitions and presentations that include gallery and planetaria shows. Show titles include: Layers: Places in Peril; small problems, BIG TROUBLE; Emergence: Out of the Blue and into the Black; Keeping Time, and River Bookends: Headwaters, Delta, and the Volume of Stories in Between. As she made art of quiet waters and natural forms for this exhibition, she realized that nothing is ever really “still”.  As of 2020, she is Professor Emerita of Art, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus.

Joanna Dane is a cross-disciplinary artist who enjoys playing with words, lines, movement, and sounds. She is grateful for the opportunity to create illustrated chapbooks for two of Judith Waller’s exhibits, River Bookends and Still. Joanna’s 1000-post blog of daily creative expressions can be found at A Terminal Case of Whimsy.

Teresa Weglarz earned her Ph.D. in Molecular and Environmental Toxicology.  She is now an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh – Fox Cities and teaches Environmental Studies, Ecosphere in Crisis, and Introductory Biology.  Many of her days were spent swimming and fishing in Belleville Lake and Lake Huron in Michigan, but other times were more ‘still’ while observing the character and beauty of those waters.  

Paintings and Drawings by Judith Waller

Essays by Teresa Weglarz

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, released a picture of Earth from space titled, ‘Blue Marble.’  Approximately, 71% of this blue marble we live on is covered with water.  Water can be in liquid, gaseous or solid form.  The liquid water in our oceans alone comprise more than 96% of all the water on Earth, while a mere 0.1% is found in our lakes and rivers.  In addition, there is water underneath the ground.  This groundwater accounts for almost one-third of the freshwater on the planet.  Ice caps and glaciers hold water in the solid form and the atmosphere contains water in the gaseous state.

The amount of water on Earth remains the same over time but water on our big beautiful blue planet is not still.  Water moves through the hydrologic cycle in an endless loop.  For example, water can evaporate from land or over lakes, condense in the atmosphere then fall back to land via precipitation.  Plant transpiration is another process that contributes water to the atmosphere in which water is released from plants through tiny pores in leaves.   Animals, including humans, breathe out water vapor via respiration. On average, water stays in the atmosphere about 10 days before falling out as precipitation.  Precipitation can run-off and replenish oceans, lakes, and streams.  Not all water runs off land, some slowly percolates through the soil where it can be taken up by plant roots and released back to the atmosphere again via transpiration, or recharge underground aquifers.   How quickly does water move through this loop?  It is estimated that retention time of water in Lake Michigan, or the time it takes to recycle all the water, is about 62 years.  That retention time dwindles to about 3 years for Lake Erie. This endless loop of water moving through the environment is critical to every aspect of society, from our health and the production of our food to the climate and weather we experience.

Weather patterns across the globe are influenced by the water cycle.  For example, evaporation over ocean water near the equator is greatest at the end of the summer season when water temperatures are warmest.  This warm moist air rises but cools as it rises since temperature decreases at higher altitudes and as the warm moist air cools, clouds form, and a storm is born.  The cycle of warm moist air rising and cooling continues, increasing the intensity of the storm until winds steer the gathering storm clouds to other points.  When winds exceed 74 mph this storm is classified as a hurricane which can unleash huge amounts of water.  In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped 48 inches of rain on Texas, or the equivalent of more than 14 trillion gallons of water.  These weather patterns also determine type of ecosystem.  The rainforests which are primarily located about 10° north and south of the equator contain more biodiversity than any other type of biodiversity.  In regions that lack significant precipitation, we have deserts.  This big blue marble is unique in our solar system because of the diversity of life and that life is intricately linked to the cycle of water flowing through the different water compartments on our planet.

Mars is the fourth planet from the sun.  It’s often called the “Red Planet,” but scientists have concluded that Mars had enough water to cover its’ entire surface at one time.  Where all that water went remains a mystery, but it has provided the basis for theories on whether there might be life on the red planet.  Back on Earth, wherever there is water, there is life.

Water is essential to life.  Humans can live for weeks without food but only days without water.  Consider that about 60% of the body is water, and plants can be up to 90% water.  Water in the body is used to break down food and extract energy, to flush toxins from the body, dissolve molecules for transport throughout the body and much more.  Numerous chemical reactions require water, but perhaps none are as important as cellular respiration and photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is the process in plants of using the energy in sunlight to generate the chemical energy in glucose (a sugar).  Water is absorbed by plant roots and transported to the leaves. The first step in this process is the splitting of water by sunlight, or photolysis.  How cool is that?   Sunlight strikes the leaf, which splits water into atomic particles and ultimately generates chemical energy.  The chemical energy generated by plants forms the base of food webs; all animals rely on the chemical energy that is generated by plants, a process that requires water. Without water, photosynthesis will slow or even stop, and the plant will not be able to produce chemical energy and may die.

In animals, energy for organ systems are generated by cellular respiration by the breakdown of sugars.  Water is produced at the end of the process which is exhaled as a waste product.  The water we lose through respiration and urination must continually be replaced.  One estimate suggests we lose about 1 cup of water every day just through breathing, and another 6 cups through urination. Research suggests that staying hydrated can help you fight fatigue and maintain cognitive function. This may not be surprising considering that water carries oxygen to the brain.  That mythical ‘Fountain of Youth’ that instills youthful vigor may be as simple as drinking clean fresh water.

Every biology textbook describes the complementary relationship between plants and animals, in which water is used during the process of photosynthesis while animals expel water via respiration, to illustrate the interconnectedness of life.  So, as you enjoy the quiet and calm of nearby waters, consider all the places that water has been before – in a plant, an animal, underground, in the atmosphere, or maybe even in a glacier.

A drop of water may seem insignificant, but a drop of water can hold an entire community of living organisms.  Plankton are microscopic organisms that usually float and bob on water currents and are found in most lakes and ponds. Phytoplankton are tiny plants that live in water, while zooplankton are tiny aquatic animals that feed on phytoplankton.  Diatoms are one example of phytoplankton and form the base of many aquatic food webs.  These tiny unicellular plants take up residence in oceans, rivers, lakes and streams, and may contribute more than 25% of the oxygen in the atmosphere.  Diatoms have the green pigment chlorophyll which is used to capture sunlight for photosynthesis, but they also have the yellowish‐brown pigment xanthophyll which can contribute to the brownish color of water.  Blooms of diatoms give lagoons their characteristic brown color and can coat rocks in river and lakes.  A unique feature of diatoms is their outer covering which is made of glass, or silica, with more than 20,000 species (and perhaps as many as 2 million) in rod-shaped, triangular, circular and oval shapes.  Until recently, it was thought the diatoms floated passively on currents, however research now suggests that they can change their buoyancy and swim to gather nutrients.  Research and exploration into this tiny world is ongoing with the newest diatom discovery in March of 2021.

Smaller than diatoms are bacteria.  Bacteria in water were first described as ‘microbial ooze’ in the 1940’s.  Bacteria are critical in water bodies in cycling nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus.  Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic bacteria and are considered the first known photosynthetic organisms on Earth that helped make our atmosphere breathable.   Nowadays, these bacteria often cause problems with water quality.  In warm conditions, and with the right mix of nutrients, cyanobacteria populations can explode.  These blooms can paint the water bright green.  Unfortunately, these bacteria also can produce a toxin that can make you sick if you drink it or come into contact with it while swimming.

Microscopic aquatic life provides the foundation for the aquatic food web and provides oxygen for many different organisms, aquatic and terrestrial.   The water may appear quiet and tranquil, but just underneath the surface is a bountiful community of busy microorganisms with solar antennae to capture sunlight and generate chemical energy while producing oxygen for all.

Poems and Drawings by Joanna Dane

University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Fox Cities Campus
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Menasha, WI 54952
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