From April through October, 2022, Mann Library Gallery presents a selection of Mud Paintings by Jenifer Wightman. When microbes living in the mud are exposed to light, they synthesize pigment. Each painting presents a site-specific transforming colorfield, reflecting the diverse species and the unique soil and water conditions of the mud sample. This show displays diverse compositions derived from the most pristine to the most toxic landscapes, illustrating the incredible capacity for microbes to make Earth their home.

18 years of Mud Paintings

The first mud painting entitled Winogradsky Rothko (2004) was made with mud from Beebe Lake --the beloved swimming hole on Cornell's campus-- in the Mann Library courtyard.

Others sites include:

  • 5 Portraits of NYC including 3 superfund sites (Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, Hudson River), 1 exposed landfill (Dead Horse Bay), 1 site of combined sewage overflow (East River)
  • View, a public bench featuring the mud from the salt marsh on Randall's Island, NYC
  • Triptych running from a fresh water beaver damn down to tidal flux along the Chester River, MD (2015)
  • Siuslaw model forest, intended to protect our watershed, Transect (2012) in Acra, NY
  • A collaboration in Moorestown, NJ, specifically installed in the basement of a microbiologist (2017)
  • Around Belle Isle, in Detroit Michigan, collected during the Grand Prix (2018)
  • Five Experiments using mud from Peeble's Island, the nexus of the Mohawk and the Hudson, near Troy NY (2019)
  • 10 diverse water bodies around Bengaluru, India (2019)
  • Winogradsky Rothko - the first - inspired by a scientist (Winogradsky) and an artist (Rothko), (2004)
  • Observation Maze - in process summer 2022 - a piece installed at Djerassi with clay occlusions!

Cornell Biennial, 2022

For the Cornell Biennial, 2022, a diptych, Sensing Change, was commissioned, referencing two 19th century Japanese landscape scrolls. Both contain mud from Beebe Lake with the left frame amended with 5% biochar - a greenhouse gas mitigating strategy studied in Johannes Lehmann's laboratory. These frames are outfitted with pH, eH and temperature sensors that live stream biochemical changes in these living landscapes.

It's in process - so go to the first floor of Mann Library and check out its growth!

Image of a Chestertown, Maryland "mud painting" under a diagram of the biosphere from a thermodynamic perspective ( A.J.B. Zehnder & W Stumm 1988, "Geochemistry and biogeochemistry of anaerobic habitats")