3-D Chalk Art of Colorado River Debuts in Chicago

A young woman poses with Kurt Wenner's 3-D chalk art composition of the Colorado River today, at Chicago's Union Station
A young woman poses with Kurt Wenner’s 3-D chalk art composition of the Colorado River today, at Chicago’s Union Station. Photo courtesy of Silk and ReunitetheRiver.com

Visual artist Kurt Wenner is best known for his whimsical 3-D chalk drawings, which he has made on city streets and in museums around the world. Often imitated, the perspective-bending style was invented by Wenner in the early 2000s.

In 2010, Wenner made a massive chalk drawing to support Greenpeace’s efforts to protest genetically engineered foods in the European Union. The elaborate depiction of a farm scene helped punctuate the one million signatures Greenpeace had gathered.

Today, Wenner unveiled an original 3-D chalk composition of the Colorado River in Chicago, in Union Station. The project, supported by soy, almond, and coconut milk maker Silk, aimed to raise awareness about saving water, and it was timed with the launch of Silk’s new website ReunitetheRiver.com. (Silk is also a charter sponsor of Change the Course, the partnership between National Geographic, Participant Media, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation–learn more about Change the Course.)

Silk has completed a lifecycle analysis of its products, and found that it takes 77 percent less water to produce soymilk than it does dairy milk. The company is also offsetting its water use by supporting projects that put water back into the Colorado River.

To get the public thinking about ways they could help save water, Silk and Wenner created this unique art experience.

Water Currents spoke with Wenner today on the phone about his work.

Artist Kurt Wenner with his work, which inspires people to think about water use
Artist Kurt Wenner with his work, which inspires people to think about water use. Photo courtesy of Silk and ReunitetheRiver.com

How has the day gone?

The piece is up and looking good, and people are having some fun with it. 

It looks really nice in Union Station, it looks great with the classical architecture.

Can you tell me more about the work?

The idea was to tell the whole story of the Colorado River [see map], from where it starts in the snow, to where it dries up before it hits the ocean, and to show that all in one piece.

Have you ever been to the Colorado River?

I’ve been many times. A few years ago I had a wonderful trip on a houseboat on Lake Powell, so I got to see part of the manmade part of the river. More recently I visited the Grand Canyon, because last year I did a piece for a visitor center there.

How do you hope to inspire people about the Colorado?

I think the nice thing is the work shows all the different environments that the Colorado River goes through. It’s a really special river, it is like no place else on Earth. It has all these vertical moments where rock faces drop down, which is great for the perspective effect. It gives a nice composition and gives people good chances to pose on the art.

Pavement art is becoming increasingly popular around the world, and especially online. How has it excited people?

It always has been a very special artform. The public enjoys participating with it; people can stand on it, pose on it, and become part of it in a photo, which then gets sent to their friends. It has become vital and contemporary. The compositions get modified, because chalk fades. My dream for the artform is something that becomes more permanent as a public installation.

It would still be made of chalk, but reproduced on durable materials that can hold up to foot traffic in public environments. The work would be replaced every year or so. It’s a different idea about art.

Kurt Wenner talks with media about the project.
Wenner talks with media about the project. Photo courtesy Silk and ReunitetheRiver.com

Why Chicago?

The idea is that what is happening is global, many places are getting water shortages. Today we had so much rain here you couldn’t believe it, people are flooded out, so it would be easy to say, “Look at all this water, what shortage?”

But at the same time, other places are drying out, regardless if wherever you are standing right now has enough water or not. It’s a global issue. If you eat salad with your lunch it could have easily come from California, grown with water from the Colorado River, which is a major reason why the river no longer reaches the ocean. That could be true in New York, Washington, or really anywhere else.

Help restore water to the Colorado River by checking out ReunitetheRiver.com, and by joining Change the Course. Sign up online or text ‘River’ to 77177.

Special thanks to Silk and Coca-Cola, Charter Sponsors for Change the Course. Additional funding generously provided by the Walton Family Foundation.


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for TheDailyGreen.com and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science, TheAtlantic.com, FastCompany.com, PopularMechanics.com, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.


, , , , , , ,