Skip to: Main Content Search Navigation Secondary Navigation

From stream to museum: Civil engineering-fine arts paint pigment project lands in new Cincinnati Holocaust center

Marissa McDaid and Colleen Carow | Feb 11, 2019
Toxic Art Banner

From stream to museum: Civil engineering-fine arts paint pigment project lands in new Cincinnati Holocaust center

Marissa McDaid and Colleen Carow | Feb 11, 2019

A partnership between two Ohio University professors that’s transforming polluted stream water into artist-grade pigments and paints is inspiring others to create for good at the new David & Nancy Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center (HHC) at Cincinnati’s Union Station.

For the last decade, Department of Civil Engineering Chair Guy Riefler in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, and School of Art and Design Chair of Painting and Drawing John Sabraw in the College of Fine Arts’ School of Art and Design, have collaborated to rehabilitate streams affected by acid mine drainage (AMD) in southern Ohio. Featured in the museum’s new Humanity Gallery, their project is one of three stories in the “Sharing our World” digital exhibit, which asks visitors to consider their impact on our surroundings.

“We hope that visitors will learn someone’s story and be inspired to go forth to make their impact on the community in a positive way,” said HHC Programs and Outreach Manager Trinity Johnson. “Much of what both our Holocaust and Humanity galleries focus on is the individual and one’s potential to affect change.”

As rain washes heavy metals out of old coal mines, the discharge collects in waterways, making them too acidic for wildlife to thrive. Environmental scientists have worked for years on clean-up. Riefler and Sabraw devised a way to create artist-grade acrylic and oil paint from the iron runoff. They’ve also collaborated with Rural Action to build an AMD remediation pilot-scale plant at John Altier Park in Corning, Ohio, to treat the water there for about a year.

“Our collaboration aims to create a sustainable method for cleaning streams that have been neglected because they pollute impoverished, rural areas,” said Riefler. “The innovative approach can potentially generate profits and jobs while remediating the mining wastes. We’re grateful that the HHC found our work supportive of their mission.”

Using a touch screen in the “Creative Cleanup” part of the interactive display, museum guests can explore photos of Riefler and Sabraw’s work, displayed on brightly lit panels. The exhibit will be displayed in the Humanity Gallery for the next 10 years.

Sabraw attended the HHC’s grand opening in January to celebrate the museum’s move from its previous home inside Rockwern Academy, a Cincinnati area Jewish school. He said the center is an engaging collage of historical and contemporary information and art forms.

“Visitors are drawn through the space by interconnected vignettes that utilize physical movement, instilling tangible memories and ideas,” Sabraw said. “The center leaves one with a sense of empowerment and a desire to act for the greater good."