Friday, March 4, 2016

The Potters' Penguin Project

In February 2016, the journal Antarctic Science published an article on the decimation of a colony of Adélie penguins in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica. Several news outlets spread the story. As the Sydney Morning Herald reported,
Up to 150,000 Adélie penguins seem to have disappeared from a single colony in Antarctica after the grounding of a giant iceberg. The penguins used to thrive at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, where strong winds blowing off the ice sheet kept a large area of water open near the shore. But in December 2010 an iceberg bigger than the ACT [Australian Capital Territory] grounded in the bay, trapping floating sea ice near the coast. The penguins now have to make a round trip of more than 120km to feed in the sea and since 2011 the population has plummeted from 160,000 to just 10,000.
(The journal article states that the iceberg has an area of approximately 100km2, while the newspaper claims the area is 2,900km2. Perhaps the latter meant the area of sea ice rather than of the iceberg? There is a lesson to be learned here about how errors propagate.)

I read the story on (where they convert the incorrect Sydney Morning Herald's iceberg area from km2 into mi2) around the same time that I started making clay penguins. This made me wonder how many penguins "150,000 penguins" is. (I know 150,000 = 150,000, of course--but how does that number translate to terms that are easy to grasp?)

Assuming I could consistently make 25 penguins per day, every day without fail, it would take roughly 16 and a half years to make 150,000 of them. Drop an order of magnitude: 20 months to make 15,000. Two months to make 1,500. I've been making chickens on and off for years, as the mood hits, and I'm probably only now approaching 1,500. I've only made 29 penguins so far; only 18 of them are finished.

As my first-draft clay penguins sat patiently waiting to be glazed or fired, assorted people commented that they'd like a few (cuz who doesn't like penguins, right?). Thus was hatched--or is hatching, as I haven't thought through the details yet--the Potters' Penguin Project. The plan, in rough form: I invite other clay artists to help make penguins; I happily provide a tutorial to anyone who wants one on how to make wheel-thrown penguins. We strive initially toward a goal of 1,500. How long will that take us? ("If seven potters with fourteen hands / penguined for half a year, / do you suppose," the Walrus said, / "they'd get anywhere near [1,500]?" / "Go for it," said the Carpenter, / And whooped a hopeful cheer.) We find a place to exhibit 1,500 penguins; we sell them, or take them on tour and request donations; and we send the proceeds to a non-profit working against global warming.

That's the idea. Want to help?

18 penguins on my kitchen window sill; 1,482 to go. (Some Emperors are mixed in with the Adélies, but all penguins are welcome here.) 


Bernadette said...

Love the idea. I have a young artist who wants in on the project. Might you consider a children's workshop?

Liz Paley said...

That can be arranged! We'll have to wait for the weather to warm up a bit to use the porch studio. I'll be in touch.