Colorado artist, CU Boulder scientist band together to spotlight Dillon Reservoir and the state’s water issues

Collaborative piece, part of a CU Boulder-sponsored exhibit, is one of several hanging in the Colorado State Capitol building

A 16-by-16-inch piece consisting of frozen India ink, paper and thread. Created by Colorado artist Hannah Taylor in collaboration with CU Boulder scientist Noah Molotch, the frozen ink wash papers represent a community defined by snow.
Hannah Taylor/Courtesy photo

During the winter of 2021, Hannah Taylor would venture to the river banks of Tenmile Creek, observe the flowing water and draw the edges of the stream. 

Taylor, who was living in Frisco at the time, found herself fascinated by the dramatic change between freeze and thaw exacerbated by the warm winter days. She said this practice eventually grew into a larger curiosity about how Tenmile Creek feeds into Lake Dillon and how water plays a major role in Colorado’s High Country. 

“I was concerned about my own — and I think more of a collective — lack of understanding of how this resource connects Summit County as a very recreational area to Denver,” Taylor said, “and how our connection really extends deeper and further beyond what we see along the I-70 corridor.” 

It was during this time that Taylor came across a fortuitous opportunity: a call for artists in the state to work on a project alongside environmental scientists and researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Taylor eventually created a multimodal collection as part of the “Coloradans and Our Shared Environment in Times of Challenge and Change” exhibit, which was unveiled in May. The series, which tells the story of the interrelated environmental issues across Colorado’s various regions, is currently housed in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol building. 

According to CU Boulder Community Outreach Program Manager Lisa Hope Schwartz, the goal of the project was to “bring people together to discuss issues related to climate change,” in a non-divisive way. 

“Climate change issues are of interest to communities statewide,” Schwartz said, adding she hopes the exhibit will help to “really move beyond debate about issues like climate change and recognize the shared impacts we all get from fires, droughts and have a shared understanding of how we’re connected to move forward on solutions.” 

For her piece, Taylor worked with CU Boulder associate professor Noah Molotch, who specializes in mountain hydrology and snowpack mapping. Titled “Snowpack Feeding Dillon Reservoir,” the work features reconstructed maps and a quilt-like patchwork of frozen ink washes held together by red stitching. 

Hannah Taylor/Courtesy photo
A 37-by-25-inch linocut print with thread. The artwork is part of a collection entitled Snowpack Feeding Dillon Reservoir which explores issues of water and its relationship with Summit County and beyond.
Hannah Taylor/Courtesy photo

“I think of the art as, to some extent, a living and breathing entity that the artist creates,”  Molotch said. “I didn’t want to interfere with whatever creative process Hannah was working on but rather to share my perspectives on the science.”

Molotch said he drew on ideas from his own work creating satellite-based maps to show the water equivalency of snowpack. For example, the spatial pattern seen in Molotch’s maps is represented in Taylor’s frozen ink washes, a visual representation of how the state divides watersheds. 

“There’s an element in Hannah’s work … that in my mind evokes an idea of the tenuous connections that exist,” Molotch said. “The stitching is intentionally obvious which brings to my mind a sense of something that’s both connected but is potentially ripping apart.” 

Hannah Taylor/Courtesy photo
When left outside in below-freezing weather, a wet wash of ink on top of a thick paper will freeze and dry, preserving an ice structure specific to the time and environment in which it was made. The quilt-like appearance not only evokes the spatial patterns in Molotch’s snowpack maps but also represents the division, tangible and figurative, around water.
Hannah Taylor/Courtesy photo

Water has long served as a source of tension between communities, intensified as climate change manifests in historic droughts that continue to plague Colorado and the American West. The crisis may only heighten such divisions and threaten an already fragile coalition for water access. 

But Molotch and Taylor are hoping art can avoid that polarization. 

“I think any ways that help reach a broader and broader audience to think about issues related to water and climate change in the West is extremely important,” Molotch said. 

“I think that we’re living in a more and more polarized world,” Taylor said. “And art having a different entrance point is important. Showing the living details of snow and water as an entrance to learning about what Noah is doing and these larger water issues.” 

The Coloradans and Our Shared Environment in Times of Challenge and Change exhibit will be featured at the Capitol through December. The exhibit will then move to Breckenridge, where it will be housed at the Old Masonic Hall, located at 136 S. Main St., during the 2023-24 holiday season.

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