Bowdoin College graduate brings new meaning to ‘leave no trace’ through an eco-art project

A piece by Mariah Reading from Mount Desert Island entitled “Lend a Hand.” Lent by Mariah Reading

From an abandoned glove in the woods to the canvas to a striking landscape painting, 2016 Bowdoin College graduate Mariah Reading brings a new meaning to “leaving no trace.”

“I really enjoy painting on shoes,” Reading said. “When I was in Zion National Park as the artist, I found tons of shoes, like single shoes, and I think that really reflects our human print.”

Reading is an artist from Bangor and also works as a seasonal park ranger. She describes her current project as multimedia, eco-art designed to tackle the topics of consumerism, climate change and our own environmental footprint.

The idea for the project first came to mind, Reading said as he completed a class in mold making at Bowdoin and saw the worrying amount of waste being created as a by-product.

Artist and 2016 Bowdoin College graduate Mariah Reading with one of her paintings. Lent by Mariah Reading

“I’m a landscape painter, it’s a bit there, my schooling is, but I’m a big outdoor woman, and I love kayaking and hiking and backpacking,” she said. “So what I do is find debris during my travels and then paint the landscape where the debris was found on the object itself and then hold it up against the physical landscape and then photograph it. So that way it’s a painting, a photograph and a kind of sculptural object. ”

Reading sets few limits on what she wants to paint on. Water bottles, wheel caps, pants and coffee cups are just a few examples of the things that have worked as canvas. In total, Reading estimated that she has made about 250 of the eco-artworks.

Through her travels across the United States, Reading said she has noticed how various discarded items can be representative of unique environments, such as a buoy on the coast of Maine. When the piece is finished, Reading said she typically shows, sells or donates it.

Each piece is unique, and the creative process often varies, Reading said, helping keep the project exciting. Sometimes she will paint the object at the place where it was found, and other times she will bring it back to the studio.

“Sometimes I also paint on my own waste, I really do not want my work to be preachy, and I want to acknowledge the fact that I am also a consumer,” Reading said. “I am an imperfect environmentalist who strives to be more sustainable.”

Ultimately, Reading hopes her project helps express the weight of climate change in a more digestible way and inspires people to see themselves through art and make small, environmentally conscious changes in their lives.

After graduating from Bowdoin with a degree in visual arts, Reading worked as a teacher for two years. Since then, she has served as an artist in residence in the Denali, Zion and Acadia National Parks. Her work has also been shown throughout the United States, in areas of Texas, California, Colorado, Alaska as well as in Brunswick, Maine.

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