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A fish out of water (bottles) - Aquapocalyse recycled art featured at ArtWalk

Photos courtesy of Lee Ann Grogg
“Flotsam Fish” was created by students at Horace Mann Middle School for the “Flotsam, Charleston WV” art exhibit at the City Services Center, 915 Quarrier St.
The City of Charleston’s Stormwater Program has prepared an exhibit showcasing the recycled art of local schoolchildren. Trees, poppies, and pet rocks were made by students.
Courtesy of JoEllen Zacks.
Students at Mountaineer Montessori School created colorful fish using recycled materials.
Courtesy of JoEllen Zachs.
Students at Mountaineer Montessori School created colorful fish using recycled materials.
“Poppy flowers” — made from recycled water bottles — were created by fifth grade students at Kanawha City Elementary.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade but when life gives you an aquapocalypse, make art.

That’s the message art teachers and the City of Charleston’s storm water program have sent to area school children, and the result is a one-of-a-kind exhibit entitled “Flotsam, Charleston WV.”

The exhibit, at the City Services Center, 915 Quarrier St., Dickinson Street entrance, is the brainchild of the city’s storm water program, part of the engineering department, and showcases student art and the latest batch of artistically painted rain barrels.

It will be open to the public for ArtWalk from 5 to 8 p.m. on May 15.

“Flotsam” was inspired by the colorful “Aquapocalypse Art” created by Mountaineer Montessori School students from plastic water bottles and jugs that piled up during the water crisis.

Since the Elk River chemical leak, students across the valley have made art — including high flying mobiles, beautiful flowers and soaring fish — from the abundant supply of plastic bottles and other recyclables.

“When we heard about the artwork Mountaineer Montessori School created from plastic bottles, their upcycling had us intrigued. We paid a visit to the school and were amazed by the creative and fun water creatures that greeted us,” Lee Ann Grogg said.

She is the city employee who has spearheaded the art exhibit.

Flotsam, Grogg explained, is a word for the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating or washed up by the sea.

“Basically, it’s trash, ship wreckage, floatables,” she said.

Dana Gilliand, head of Mountaineer Montessori School, said the art projects “sort of evolved organically. We found we were using so many bottles of water. We decided to recycle them into art.”

Art teacher Nancy Johnston started experimenting with the idea, and got the students involved, using their imaginations.

“We have found that if you give children the space, they will create,” Gilliand said.

With all the imaginative recycling, Grogg said the exhibit was virtually free of cost.

“Everything is totally upcycled and repurposed in this exhibit. We purchased very little. Some hot glue sticks, some signage and paint. The children were very clever. The idea of this exhibit is that one side is beautiful with trees and flowers and the other side is polluted,” Grogg said.

The exhibit is part of an effort to raise awareness about the environment and connect people to nature through art.

“We have 23 painted rain barrels this year. We hope the students — and the parents of the students — who made the rain barrels and other art will visit the exhibit,” she said.

“Including the painted rain barrels, we have eight schools and one youth group participating in the exhibit — First Presbyterian Preschool, Watts Elementary, J.E. Robins Elementary, Kanawha City Elementary, Stonewall Jackson Middle School, Horace Mann Middle School, Mountaineer Montessori School, a group of area home schoolers and Bream Presbyterian Youth Group,” Grogg said.

If visitors can’t make it to the ArtWalk, Grogg said they can still see the exhibit because the lobby of the City Center is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

The storm water program promotes rain barrels as one way to cut water pollution by reducing the amount of rain runoff that enters the rivers.

Rainwater that falls on city streets, parking lots, rooftops, industrial properties and lawns often becomes polluted by automotive fluids, industrial chemicals, and fertilizers before it enters the storm sewer system through catch basins and other drainage structures. Polluted storm water runoff is then carried through the city storm sewer systems and eventually discharged into our local rivers and streams without receiving any treatment.

These pollutants can adversely affect water quality in local waterways, thereby creating a potential health hazard and degrading aquatic life habitat.

For additional information, visit Charleston’s storm water program’s Facebook page at or their website at

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at or 304-348-1230.

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