Friday, March 18, 2016

Yet more on the Potters' Penguin Project

Finally, the Potters' Penguin Project information you've all been waiting for!

1. Deadlines:

The deadline for our initial penguin push (>1500 penguins) is June 21, 2016. While the Potters' Penguin Project is likely to continue collecting penguins after that date, we have set this initial deadline so we can gauge, relatively soon, both the number of penguins likely to join our colony and the amount of space they will occupy; having a date will also help us as we contact exhibit locations. (Plus, it's winter solstice in the southern hemisphere, the darkest time of year for penguins.)

UPDATE 6/22/16: We have 804 penguins in the colony! We have two more deadlines: October 15, when we hope to pass 1,500, and December 15, when we'll do our final colony census. Thanks to all who have contributed so far!

2. What charity should this project support?

There are many organizations doing excellent work advocating to combat global warming. We've consulted with friends who are active in environmental law, green building, and biology, and among their recommendations, the following organizations stand out:

* Natural Resources Defense Council,
* Earthjustice,, "because the Earth needs a good lawyer"
* The Union of Concerned Scientists,
* and Saving Species, (not penguin-specific, but we recognize that biodiversity is important and that we all share the same planet)

If you have strong feelings about any of these organizations, please let us know!

3. Rules of the colony:

* Penguins should be handmade out of clay. Mixed-media penguins are welcome if clay is the main ingredient.
* All species of penguin, real or imagined, are welcome in the colony. Design, firing method, etc., is up to individual makers.
* Penguins should be less than 10 cm (3.9 inches) tall.
* Penguins must stand on their own, i.e. without needing to hang from or lean against a wall.
* We have no official standards of penguinness: if makers think their creations look like penguins, we'll consider their creations penguins (although we reserve the right to clothe penguins engaged in X-rated behavior).
* We're aiming for "green" (consider single-firing, low-temp firing, etc.), but not greenware: please fire your penguins to reduce the risk of damage during transportation.
* If I've overlooked something obviously important, please let me know!

4. The fine print:

We're trying to find a lawyer who can tell us (preferably for free) whether we need to put any of this into legalese (anyone know anyone?). In the meantime, you should know that...

* All donated penguins to become part of the Potters' Penguin Project, as described on this page and The Potters' Penguin Project is a community art project to create and exhibit >1500 clay penguins, in order to make the impacts of global warming on distant places more immediately tangible to both makers and viewers.

* After the colony has been exhibited (we're aiming for at least three locations), we will either donate the penguins directly to, or sell them on behalf of, one of the above charities, or one that does similar environmental advocacy. All proceeds will go to said charity.

* If, after reasonable effort, any penguins don't sell or are declined as donations, remaining colony members may be donated to a charity doing environmental advocacy in Durham, NC (where the Potters' Penguin Project originated).

* We are unable to return donated penguins to their makers.

* Participants are responsible for the costs of their materials, firing, shipping, etc.

5. Fame and glory:

We would like to include makers' names in the text that will accompany the Potters' Penguin Project. Please send us your name with your penguins. If you'd prefer to remain anonymous, let us know. We will do our best with record-keeping, and apologize in advance if we inadvertently leave anyone's name out.

6. Getting your penguins to the project:

Please contact me via g e e k p o t s a t g m a i l d o t c o m to arrange delivery/pick-up/shipping.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

More on the Potters' Penguin Project

The Potters' Penguin Project now has a formal purpose:
The Potters' Penguin Project is a community art project to create and exhibit >1,500 clay penguins, in order to make the impacts of global warming on distant places more immediately tangible to both makers and viewers. 
The project also has its own Facebook page: Please "like" the page and/or contact me if you'd like to participate.

The general vision:
  • Participants will collectively create clay penguins in multiples of 1,500. The initial goal of 1,500 is one hundredth of the lost Adélie penguin population at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay.*
  • We find at least three venues willing to exhibit 1,500 clay penguins. During exhibits, donations may be requested, with proceeds going to an agreed-upon non-profit working against, or raising awareness about, global warming. 
  • At the end of the exhibits, penguins may be sold for additional fundraising.
Penguin specs:
  • Maximum clay penguin height = 10 cm (~one seventh of the height of an adult Adélie). Penguins should be displayable on a horizontal surface (i.e. not require hanging/leaning on a wall)
  • I will happily offer demos for making wheel-thrown-and-altered penguins; other makers are encouraged to do the same for their penguin-making method of choice.
A note about global warming and ceramic art: yes, I realize the irony of memorializing penguins by making more stuff using materials that have to be dug out of the earth and firings that leave a carbon footprint. I expect we'll explore single-firings and earthenware options; other suggestions are welcome.

*The initial goal of 1,500 penguins should be challenging enough, but might not look as impressive as I was first imagining. Assuming average penguin footprint of ~25 cm2, 1,500 would easily fit on my dining-room table. So I'm already contemplating larger numbers; not 100 dining-room tables' worth (150K penguins), but more than 1,500...

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.)