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New Haven artist chosen for 2021 CTSG Arts Support Award

Joseph Smolinski works on a sea coal mosaic in his New Haven studio. Photo: Jessica Smolinski
Joseph Smolinski works on a sea coal mosaic in his New Haven studio. Photo: Jessica Smolinski

Beachcombing with his wife and two children led New Haven artist Joseph Smolinski to the source of inspiration and raw materials for works he will create for Connecticut Sea Grant’s 2021 Arts Support Award Program that reflect on the human impacts of climate change.

His project, titled “Carbon Adrift: Sea Coal in the Long Island Sound” was chosen for the annual arts award program now in its 12th year. It awards $1,000 annually to artists to create works relevant to coastal and marine environments and Connecticut Sea Grant themes and who are expected to display their works widely.

“The older I get, the more I realize that creativity comes from things like leisure time, when you’re not trying to make art,” said Smolinski, chairman of the Department of Art and Design at the University of New Haven. “My family spends a lot of time on the shore exploring, and we started finding these dark rocks and I started wondering, ‘Are they natural or anthropogenic?’”

Those dark rocks turned out to be sea coal, both dislodged from coal deposits by natural forces and mined pieces that probably fell off barges and cargo ships.

“At every beach I’ve been to on Long Island Sound I’ve found them, from pieces as small as grains of sand to some as big as a hand, four to five inches across,” said Smolinski.

Joseph Smolinski holds one of the pieces of sea coal found on a Long Island Sound beach.
Joseph Smolinski holds one of the pieces of sea coal found on a Long Island Sound beach. Photo: Jessica Smolinski

He began reflecting on the processes that transformed plant matter into sea coal over millennium, and the use of coal as a fuel source by modern humans that contributes to climate change now threatening the planet. That evolved into the idea of using sea coal to make art that speaks both to its history in geological time scales, and to the impacts of the rapid consumption of fossil fuels by humans. The result will be mosaics of intricately patterned pieces of sea coal fixed to wood panels that Smolinski described as “images of the setting sun over Long Island Sound” that are intended to depict the sun as “the energy source that gives coal its anthropogenic value.”

In a complementary project that will be created for the project titled “Open Water,” Smolinski will use images of sunsets over the open waters of the Sound and the Atlantic Ocean onto which water is sprayed, then various pigments applied. By pairing the monochromatic mosaics with the “highly colorful and energetic nautical renderings” of the seascapes, Smolinski hopes to call attention to the future of the world ocean and its central role in human survival. He also hopes to develop a website for schools and environmental groups with information from his research about sea coal and the works created for his project. The various works will be created over the next year.

The independent review panel for the arts award said Smolinski’s project stood out for its “strong conceptual relationship between humans’ effect on the environment and artwork.” The panel also noted that the work addressed issues of materiality associated with environmental issues, eloquently evoking the transformation of materials such as coal through time.

“The submissions that we receive in response to the Connecticut Sea Grant Arts Support Awards program continue to amaze me with their varied aesthetic interpretations of Sea Grant’s mission,” said Syma Ebbin, CT Sea Grant research coordinator. “In addition to the creation of several art pieces, Joseph’s proposal will generate significant research and potentially will yield an educational website, gallery exhibitions, and a series of lectures to provide access to the art and science behind the art to local schools and the diverse communities within Connecticut.”

More information: Judy Benson, CT Sea Grant communications coordinator: judy.benson@uconn.edu; (860) 287-6426

One of the seascapes created for the "Open Water" series by Joseph Smolinski.
One of the seascapes created for the “Open Water” series by Joseph Smolinski. Photo: Jessica Smolinski

CT Sea Grant Post

3 Helpful Tips for Encountering a Horse on a Trail

It’s that time of the year again! With the weather warming up it’s the perfect time to get out and enjoy hiking trails both locally and globally.

Just like drivers share the roads with runners and bikers, trails are enjoyed by pedestrians, dogs, and people on horseback. Keeping this in mind, here are a few helpful tips for encountering a horse on a trail!

picture of people riding horses with text

picture of people riding horses with text

This message is brought to you by the UConn Extension PATHS team – People Active on Trails for Health and Sustainability. We are an interdisciplinary team of University of Connecticut extension educators, faculty, and staff committed to understanding and promoting the benefits of trails and natural resources for health, community & economic development and implementing a social ecological approach to health education.

Earth Day to feature audiovisual exhibit, puppet show

Image of"Reading the Wrack Lines" digital video projection on the UConn Avery Point Lighthouse
Example of a “Reading the Wrack Lines” digital audio/video projection on the UConn Avery Point Lighthouse. Photo: Anna Terry

Several special events are planned for Earth Day (April 22) at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, including audiovisual artwork projected on campus buildings and an original puppet show.

Events will begin at 6:30 p.m. with music recorded by the five-person Connecticut-based group Hitch and Giddyup sponsored by the Avery Point EcoHusky club. At 7 p.m., UConn Puppet Arts graduate student Felicia Cooper will perform ISH, an original one-woman puppet show for all ages inspired by Moby-Dick. UConn Dairy Bar Coastal Crunch ice cream will be served after the show.

From 8 to 9 p.m., there will be a performance of the audiovisual work, “Reading the Wrack Lines,” created by Connecticut College Professor Andrea Wollensak. This will feature creative writing responses to climate change by UConn Avery Point and Connecticut College students used as audiovisual source material within a generative multimedia artwork projected onto both the Branford House the Avery Point Lighthouse. Collaborators for “Reading the Wrack Lines” include software developer Bridget Baird and sound artist Brett Terry. The exhibit is being presented in cooperation with The Alexey von Schlippe Gallery of Art.

The events are free and open to up to 200 attendees to comply with Gov. Lamont’s Executive Orders for outdoor gatherings during the pandemic. Attendees should bring their own chair or blanket, wear face masks and maintain 6-foot social distancing. Rain date will be Friday April 23 at the same times. No pre-registration is required to attend.

Both “Reading the Wrack Lines” and ISH are supported by funding from Connecticut Sea Grant. UConn Reads and the Avery Point Global Café are co-sponsors.

“As a professor and CT Sea Grant research coordinator, I’m excited to be involved in this project,” said Syma Ebbin, who teaches courses in environmental and marine science and policy. “It seeks to integrate the personal creative reflections of students focused on coastal environments and the

Image of a "Reading the Wrack Lines" digital audio/video projection on the Branford House at UConn Avery Point.
Example of a “Reading the Wrack Lines” digital audio/video projection on the Branford House at UConn Avery Point. Photo: Anna Terry

human footprint—encompassing climate change, marine debris and plastics, among other topics they’ve explored this semester—within a generative and interactive video.

“I think the project themes resonate with and amplify the meaning of Earth Day and will generate deeper understandings in both students and the larger audience,” Ebbin said.

About the artists and their work:

Andrea Wollensak is a professor of art at Connecticut College whose work spans media from traditional to digital fabrication, to generative-interactive systems. She has collaborated with computer scientists, musicians, poets and scientists on works that explore themes of place-based narratives on environment and community. To learn more about her work, visit: https://www.andreawollensak.com/.

Felicia Cooper created ISH as part of her Master of Fine Arts in the UConn Puppet Arts program and performed it for audiences in downtown Storrs three times in March. Based loosely on Moby-Dick, it retells the story as if Ishmael were an 11-year-old girl and the whale were friendlier. She uses shadow puppets, object performance in a suitcase and original music composed by Juliana Carr in the show.

Image of Felicia Cooper using object performance in a suitcase during portions of her puppet show ISH.
Felicia Cooper uses object performance in a suitcase during portions of ISH. Photo courtesy of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry.
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A Guide to Planting Along the Connecticut Coast

monarch butterfly on joe pye weed
A monarch pollinates on blooming Joe Pye weed, as marsh mallow blooms in the background. Juliana Barrett / Connecticut Sea Grant.

Juliana Barrett, Ph.D. and Kiernan Sellars, 2021

This 35-page guide lists native trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials and vines that are appropriate for planting in Connecticut’s coastal zone. It includes a map of that ecoregion and characteristics of each species, such as tolerance to salt water and salt spray, light and soil requirements as well as wildlife and pollinator value. 

Download here in PDF.

Publication Number CTSG-21-02

Halloween’s Mascot

Common Garden Spider (Argiope urantica) Note the zig-zag web Photo by Susan Gannon

It lives in dark places. It is creepy. It causes some people to scream and run away. It has bulging eyes and eight legs. It’s a spider!

Spiders have long been associated with all the scary images of Halloween, including white filmy webs that can trap insects and even people who wander through them. How spiders came to be associated with Halloween is based in medieval folklore when festivals noted the change of seasons from summer to autumn and winter. The colors of orange and black also represent this change with orange reflecting the color change in the leaves and black forecasting the increased darkness with winter’s arrival and foliage death of the harvested plants.

Folklore also suggested that the power of witches was at its height during this time of year. Black bats and rats, as well as spiders, were considered companions of witches since they were all generally found in caves, dungeons and other dark, scary places. Spiders were especially associated with witches because of their magical powers to spin webs that could trap victims.  It didn’t help the arachnid’s reputation when movies including Tarantula (1955), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) starring William Shatner, and Walt Disney Studios Arachnophobia (1990) cemented spiders in the world of the creepy and dangerous. Despite EB White’s attempt to demystify spiders in his award-winning children’s book Charlotte’s Web, spiders continue to instill fear in some people.

But spiders don’t deserve a bad reputation since they are as varied in their habits and characteristics as other living groups. Spiders are not insects but belong to a class known as arachnids that also includes scorpions, mites, ticks and others. Features common to most spiders include two body parts connected at a thin waist, eight legs, fangs, two to eight eyes, and no wings or antennae. All spiders are predators but they don’t eat other living animals, and some eat plants. In the US, only three groups of spiders are poisonous and only two are found in Connecticut. The northern black widow, a native, and the brown recluse, a non-native that arrives in produce and containers from other regions, both avoid interaction with people and will bite only if threatened. If bitten, victims should seek immediate medical help.

As temperatures drop and seasons change many spiders, but not all, will seek out new places to call home. Often this is inside houses where warm temperatures provide sources of water, shelter and food, such as other insects and pests. Spiders are found everywhere except in the ocean and on Antarctica.

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