By Meg Lemieur and Bri Barton
Water Ways is a collaboratively-drawn series of highly detailed pen and ink illustrations telling the story of impacts that the natural gas industry has on what is commonly known as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the surrounding area*. The illustration consists of dozens of interconnected vignettes that highlight people’s struggle with gas companies and government to protect the water and land we all need to survive. Water Ways is drawn by Bri Barton and Meg Lemieur.
The final illustration has been printed into a 13’ wide fabric banner for presentations and is available online as 27” x 39” paper posters, which are accompanied by a 12-page narrative booklet that tells the story of the illustration.
Meg and Bri teamed up at the end of 2016 to begin planning this huge undertaking, but they didn’t know each other very well at the time. Their friends had been telling each one of them for years that they should meet, but they only first met when a large protest banner needed to be painted to support Standing Rock. Realizing their similar love of collaboration, illustration, and environmental advocacy, they decided to jump into creating Water Ways, which ended up being one of the largest illustrations either of them had attempted before.
In the months to come, Meg and Bri interviewed many environmental advocates across what is commonly called Pennsylvania in order to gain first-hand knowledge of how fracking has affected the land, the water, and the people who live near the fracking infrastructure. Their findings were saddening. They learned from articles and individuals that people were getting sick and even dying from the poisons leaking from these sites. The government consistently dismissed and ignored theses claims, a move that is by all means illegal.
The publicity that the gas companies get tends to be positive or neutral, while those who are negatively impacted by the companies’ actions get brushed off or their claims are diminished.
The urgency to tell the true story of those on the frontlines is more urgent than ever. Meg and Bri have developed an hour-long presentation that uses their 13’ wide banner to explore what fracking is, how the politics have been built to support the industry, who is resisting and how, what systems in our culture support extractive and damaging industries like fracking, and an overview of what we are fighting for and why.
Since they completed the Water Ways illustration in September of 2017, Meg and Bri have presented at Temple University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kimberton CSA, and a handful of craft fairs. They are taking Water Ways on tour in the spring and summer of 2018 to share the rights, struggles, and victories of the region’s water and all who depend upon it. They will also be gathering stories for future illustrations. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic region and would like to request a presentation, please contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*State borders are a relatively new construct, when you look at the grand scheme of the land’s history. State names were given by the colonizers, not by the people who have lived and have been living here from much before. There are many names for the land. So although we commonly refer to it as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other colonialistic state names, we feel it is important to acknowledge that these areas have held and still do hold more identities. One small way we can attempt to highlight the wrongs of the history is by decolonizing certain terms in our speech.