Responding to Climate Change at Middlebury College: “Hot and Cold” and “Hope Wheels” for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the oldest Environmental Studies Program in the United States

October 15th, 2015

It was an honor to be invited to assist in the celebration of Middlebury College’s 50th anniversary of its Environmental Studies Program by doing the following two projects on October 1st and 2nd. It is the oldest Environmental Studies Program of any college in this country.

Hot and Cold


“Hot and Cold” is the latest iteration of a body of work that is responding to climate change. How is our civilization dealing with climate change? Perhaps “Hot and Cold” is a good way of thinking about it. Making climate change a political issue and then denying that it is currently being caused by our actions is one way some people are choosing to live with this question. Conversely many others are starting to reconsider everything, from the way we grow food, to where we live, to national security and indeed all systems that sustain life as we know it. It is with this latter train of thought that I am aligned and out of which this project grows.

Here are some of the questions this piece is meditating on: Do we adapt to the changes? Will we mitigate by taking radical actions and succeed in averting a total disaster? How attached are we to the status quo? Can we live without wildness? What are we leaving for others? How do we address the suffering of most of the world’s people and living things? Will technology save us? Can we make sustainability fun?

I chose the complements orange (hot) and blue (cold) because they are opposites on the color wheel. The tension of a hot orb surrounding a cold and defined, but diffuse core is intended to be alarming and – like a target – catches our attention. I am using saplings, plywood, and dimensional lumber because I am attracted to the accessibility of these materials. The organic lines of the saplings are a feature I find particularly interesting. I like how each sapling is unique yet as a whole the ensemble reads as a precise circle. I have been using saplings in my pieces because they are a renewable material. These saplings are striped or moose maple. They came from a friend’s land that appreciated the thinning I did in selecting them.

Hope Wheels


The “Hope Wheels” are a simple way for folks to express what they love about what exists here and now. Perhaps by taking time to think about what one holds most dear, there is a chance that someone may be called to fight for the survival of that thing. Passersby – including many Middlebury students, faculty, staff and community members – were invited to write or draw on these strips of cloth the names of animals, plants, habitats, cultures, ecosystems, bodies of water, land forms, seasonal features, loved ones, shelter, food, heath, or anything else they valued about the community of life. In the same way that Buddhist Prayer Wheels spin prayers and good thoughts over the land, these Hope Wheels can be used in a similar way. They also can be used as processional elements in demonstrations or celebrations.

Participant Testimonials

“Having Jay on campus for two days was tremendous for Middlebury. The participatory art – Hope Wheels – created a coming together of students, faculty, staff and townspeople in a social and celebratory way. Those who created banners of gratitude for the Wheels were clearly having fun and being thoughtful and thankful at the same time.

Jay’s brightly colored sapling sculpture, Hot and Cold, which now hangs on the wall of our Franklin Environmental Studies building is strikingly beautiful and is loved by everyone I have spoken with. It fits the space perfectly, complements the wall and the surroundings, and adds color, texture and shapes that draw in the viewer. I see many people stop to enjoy and consider the artwork as they are passing by.

From the feedback I’ve received, our entire community is thankful for both Jay’s lasting creation and for the participatory, community art he developed for us. His artistic contributions to our Environmental Studies 50th Anniversary Celebration will long be remembered by those of us who took part in the creating, and Hot and Cold will be the most lasting part of the week-long event. Bringing in Jay and his art added to the community aspect of the anniversary and went well beyond what we had imagined!”

– Marc Lapin, Middlebury Environmental Studies Professor

“I love Hot and Cold because I feel like it adds light and color to an otherwise pretty banal wall. I’ve had a lot of people come tell me that they hope it is a permanent installation because it looks so beautiful – especially when the light hits it in the evening and the orange looks more brilliant than ever. I also notice that it complements the other art installation on that wall (the one of hills of recycled tires) and to me they come together to be like the mountains and the setting sun.

What I like about the Hope Wheels is that they’re a compilation of so many different peoples’ positive sentiments; each one is different, and from drawings of tree branches or sun and mountains to hundreds of scrawled words, the content of the strips really comes together nicely. It recently rained and some of the marker on the strips ran a little bit. Instead of detracting from the installation, it added more color to make the Hope Wheels even more striking.”

- Matia Whiting, Middlebury first year student

“I have actually heard from a lot of students that they love Hot and Cold and think that its color brings a lot of energy to the campus in a spot that so many students pass by each day. Personally, it brought me a lot of grounding energy the other day when I walked by it on a grey, dreary day. I think that the ephemerality of the piece, being made of saplings, is so fitting to the environmental studies program.

I also walked by the Hope Wheels yesterday and stood under them for a second reading what people had written. It was a great reminder on a campus that hardly takes time to think about what we’re grateful for or passionate about, that each person has a place or thing they love. It’s a reminder in a place that seems only focused on work that we’re all working towards something, and that those ideas are harmonious. I loved having the community contribute together to the piece. I saw students who weren’t artists contributing to something creative and people stepping out of their routines and looking up from their phones (sometimes) to take the time to write out a “hope.” The installation process was such a bright spot of creativity and hope on campus. I really hope that the administration leaves the disc piece there for as long as it survives in the weather. Overall, thanks for bringing all of that energy to campus.”

- Jenny Moffett, Middlebury fourth year student

July Mask Making Workshop Series in White River Junction

June 28th, 2015

Mask Making Image, July 2015

Mask Making Text, July 2015

Opening for ‘Core Values’ and ‘Ground Form’ Installations

June 28th, 2015

On Saturday, June 13 we held an Opening for my ‘Core Values’ and ‘Ground Form’ installations at the Aidron Duckworth Museum in Meriden, New Hampshire. For me, the piece was a meditation on our society’s inaction on climate change, as well as a meditation on color and form. It was gratifying to have some 50 people attend the event. Many thanks to Museum Trustee Grace W. Harde for having made the event possible and to Colleen Bozuwa for having produced the above video of the Opening.

I am equally grateful to Tracy Penfield and Lucia Gagliardone who offered an improvised dance performance among the installations. The dance was conducted in silence to focus our attention on the piece in that moment. So we all heard birds, car alarms and the occasional motorcycle. It was wonderful to see the piece surrounded by people responding to the color and forms through dance, a child climbing, people throwing frisbees and others engaged in quiet contemplation.

Comments I heard from attendees included:

I don’t consider myself artistic. For me art is a new way of thinking about things that are foreign to me. It’s just a cool way of thinking about things. My perception of artists is that they have a need to express themselves. What I get out of it is another perspective that is new and different and appreciated. It leaves me in awe because I don’t do that naturally.


How wonderful, Jay! I loved the colors, the shapes, the way they relate to one another, the grace of the dancers, the green setting… The whole presentation calls up a peaceful, thought-provoking mindset. Thank you for sharing your work with us.

Upcoming Exhibitions

May 25th, 2015

Ground Form and Core Values, 2

Aidron Duckworth Museum Installations

I have an opening at the Aidron Duckworth Museum in Meriden, New Hampshire on Saturday, June 13 from 3-6pm. I have installed the polychromatic “Core Values” which is a meditation on our society’s inaction around climate change, as well as “Ground Form.” Both employ many painted saplings, above, which will be on the grounds of the Museum through 1 November. Learn more here.


I will likely be creating something new for SculptureFest this year, which opens on Labor Day at King Farm, Woodstock, Vermont. I will also probably be showing work in collaboration with an artist collective known as “ECO-visions.” Learn more here.

Looking forward to seeing many of you in Meriden and Woodstock!

The Art of Sustainability at Mount Holyoke College

April 30th, 2015
Spirit of Sustainability Masks

Spirit of Sustainability Masks: ‘Nature’ and ‘Community’

In an effort to expose students to sustainability through art, Mount Holyoke College invited artist Jay Mead to campus on April 9th and 10th to lead a workshop on the “Art of Sustainability,” deliver the Miller Worley Environmental Leadership Lecture and facilitate a community art installation entitled “The Spirits of Sustainability.” 

Art of Sustainability Workshop

Geo Class, Art in Nature Collage, April 2015

On April 9th, Jay led a workshop with Professor Serin Houston’s 15 “Sense of Place, Sense of Planet” Geography students. Using found natural materials such as mud, seeds, grasses, bark, wild scallions, leaves, sticks, rocks, acorns, trees, water, flowers and snow, students created art installations around a lake on campus. During the second half of class, students described their processes and pieces, and Jay offered his own observations into the creative dynamics underpinning the installations. Students’ stories travelled from the past to the present to the future and touched on a range of themes including identity, wonder, success and home. While this workshop was a wonderful exercise in the diversity of expression and interest, additionally, the students were given time to engage in serious play with natural materials. Jay emphasized that such creative exercises allow participants to experience deep right brain thinking. Such thinking can lead to insights into issues of personal and global sustainability.

Miller Worley Environmental Leadership Lecture

That evening Jay presented a public talk on “The Art of Sustainability” to about 50 people. He discussed what it is like to live in the “Cobb Hill” eco-village in rural Vermont and how sustainability inspires the art he creates. “The first thing is love,” Jay told the assembled faculty, staff and students at Mount Holyoke College. “You have to fight for something you love. You have to engage your heart.” He went on to say that “Sustainability needs to flow from the heart and be so integrated into the way humans live that we no longer have to use the word.” Clearly engaged with these ideas, students, faculty, staff and community members asked Jay a multitude of questions about how to translate such expressions of sustainability into urban contexts, how to keep creativity and art alive in the face of ecological crises and how to embody personal ideals to the fullest extent possible.

Spirit of Sustainability Masks

Creation of mask molds

Creation of mask molds

On April 10th at the entrance to the Mount Holyoke Art Museum, Jay facilitated a day-long, community workshop open to all. Despite the cold weather, some 50 dedicated passersby participated. “Sustainability is a lot about community,” said Victoria Dawes an environmental studies major from Corning, New York. “When the entire community is coming together and thinking about environmental things, it’s an interesting way of getting onto the same page.”

Using hundreds of pounds of clay, car tires and recycled styro-foam, participants collectively shaped the clay into two larger-than-life head molds, “The Spirits of Sustainability.” One head was embraced by a series of hands to exemplify Community, while the second head featured a starfish, butterfly, flower and the sun to symbolize Nature. Then, they layered papier-mâché over the molds as a second step toward creating masks. Jay later returned to campus to release the masks from their clay molds.

Painting the 'Community' Mask by Keely Savoie

Painting the ‘Community’ Mask by Keely Savoie

On April 24th, as a part of Mount Holyoke’s Pangy Day (a celebration of spring, the college and the Earth), the masks were collaboratively painted by students. These two “Spirits of Sustainability” will be used for future college events and celebrations.

Jay’s visits were sponsored by the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, with additional support from the departments of geology and geography, environmental studies, architectural studies and art, as well as the Office of Student Programs and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

More Reporting

From Mount Holyoke by Keely Savoie: “Re-imagining sustainability as art”

From Earth Day Network’s MobilizeU campaign, an international movement of concerned and active university students mobilizing their campuses