By Joel Hall
Until July 18, the entrance of the Clayton County Library System headquarters will be decorated with images of mud-splattered galoshes, river insects, toads, and dried-up riverbeds, as well as poetry. The objective, according to library staff, is to get people to think more deeply about water resources.
The images and poems are part of the "River of Words," an international environmental poetry and art project for students in grades kindergarten through 12. Sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), and the Georgia Center for the Book, the Georgia River of Words Traveling Exhibit at the library features paintings, sketches, photography, and poetry by Georgia students who participated in the international competition.
Joe Davich, assistant director of the Georgia Center for the Book and coordinator of the Georgia River of Words Traveling Exhibit, said the contest was originally started in the mid-1990s by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass to encourage artistic development and environmental awareness among children. Since the program came to Georgia in 1997, the state has produced more than 100,000 entries, according to the Georgia Center for the Book's web site.
"This competition is a springboard to help students look at the natural environment and their effect on the natural environment," Davich said. "With the expanded coverage we have gotten, the number of entries [from the state of Georgia] has grown. To say that 25 percent of the entries in this international competition come from the state of Georgia is just a wonderful thing.
"Sometimes it is very surprising the amount of thought and depth that these students use to illustrate their environment and natural world," he continued. "A lot of students take pictures of rivers with tin cans in it. There is a lot of art that illustrates a dry and sad world because of the misuse of water. We hope that they [visitors] see the talent of the students here in Georgia, both in visual arts and poetry."
Paintings in the exhibit include titles such as, "A Ship on Dry Sea," in which a boy is shown trying to sail a toy boat on a dry river. Poetry titles include, "Conserve and Preserve," "The Water Tells a Story," and "The Sight of the Okefenokee."
Carol Stewart, Clayton County director of library services, said the headquarters library in Jonesboro has hosted the Georgia River of Words Traveling Exhibit for the past five years, and that it is always one of the library's most popular exhibits.
"Not everybody stops to look at our exhibits, but this one seems to attract a lot of attention and people are amazed when they see it is the work of students," she said. "It's the work of young people from all over Georgia with a common theme of the environment. It kind of makes people think a little bit."
Stewart said the recent drought in Georgia contributed to many thoughtful state entries this year. Of the 28 visual pieces and 24 poems on display, some come from Clayton County and the Southern Crescent, she said.
"I think the drought made everyone more aware that it [water] is a resource that is limited and that we have to be careful with it," Stewart said. "The beginning of awareness is the first step of making a change."
For more information about the Georgia River of Words Traveling Exhibit, visit www.georgiacenterforthebook.org or www.gaprojectwet.org.