Quinnipiac River recreated on Beinecke Plaza

Artist Fritz Horstman works on his collaborative Earth Day project, a model of the Quinnipiac River constructed with recyclable water bottles on Beinecke Plaza.
Artist Fritz Horstman works on his collaborative Earth Day project, a model of the Quinnipiac River constructed with recyclable water bottles on Beinecke Plaza. Photo by Blair Seideman.

As part of Monday’s Earth Day celebrations, New Haven artist Fritz Horstman recruited Yale students to recreate the Quinnipiac River in Beinecke Plaza out of water bottles.

Horstman created a 100-foot-long outline of the river on the plaza with logistical support from the Yale Peabody Museum and the Yale Office of Sustainability. Passersby were invited to fill water bottles — either their own or ones provided at the exhibit — from a cistern filled with water from the river, and to place them along the outline. The exhibit, named “The Quinnipiac River Bottled,” was intended to raise awareness about water sustainability and discourage bottled water consumption.

“People are drinking bottled water imported from Fiji when most bottled water is actually just tap water,” Horstman said. “This exhibit is a call to attention. We’re focusing on raising awareness and changing habits.”

Several months ago, the Yale Peabody Museum Sustainability Committee invited Horstman, an art instructor at Albertus Magnus College, to create an interactive piece on Yale’s campus to celebrate Earth Day. Volunteers from the Yale Sustainability Service Corps and high school students in the Peabody’s EVOLUTIONS after-school program helped to inform participants about issues relating to bottled water consumption, such as the fact that 1500 water bottles are purchased every second in the United States, Horstman said.

Committee member James Sichs said the responses from participants were overwhelmingly positive, adding that many participants seemed surprised to learn about the extent of the bottled water consumption problem.

“It was news to some people that a lot of bottled water comes from tap water,” Sichs said. “We helped them rethink the idea of buying bottled water.”

Committee member Susan Butts said she was pleased to note that relatively few participants were carrying their own plastic water bottles, which she said indicates that many students at Yale already have had effective education about the waste associated with disposable water bottle use.

Horstman, who explores the intersection of nature and culture in many of his works, said he also wanted his piece to present a “poetry of natural light and water.” He described the work’s “visual hook” as the sunlight reflecting off the bottles and the water as it rippled in the wind. His work also juxtaposes water in its natural form — the river — with water in its manufactured bottled form.

Horstman said the activity serves as a reminder of their proximity to the often forgotten 45-mile-long Quinnipiac River, which runs from west central Connecticut to New Haven Harbor, east of downtown New Haven.

After the last water bottles were placed at the mouth of the river at roughly 5 p.m., they all were emptied into the surrounding vegetation and recycled.

The exhibit received financial support from the Regional Water Authority, The Garden Club of New Haven, an anonymous donor and the Yale Peabody Museum.

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