By Phyllis Hasbrouck
Have you ever made a fish hat? What is a fish hat anyway? It’s a prop, an attention-getter, a delight for children. But it’s also a way into an organization and a movement that is changing the way our society does everything. If you feel like you have no way to help the Earth heal, listen up! You may not be a public speaker, an elected official, or a climate scientist, but luckily there are many other ways that you can help.
Here, I’ll talk about art, and specifically, the All Critters Art Build that I attended on January 28 and 29 in Ashland, Wisconsin, just blocks from the southern shore of Lake Superior. We were a mix of people from Ashland, Madison, and points in between who gathered in Bohemian Hall to create a menagerie of cardboard animals, many of them designed to be worn on the head! The famous “artivist” Susan Simensky Bietila was on hand with boxes of supplies and a wealth of knowledge about how to turn cardboard, wire, tape, paint, and other bits and bobs into wearable pieces of art.
Susan and I had some preconceived notions of what a “critter hat” should look like, but the 26 people who attended on Saturday (and 17 on Sunday) really expanded the definition. I recall a bear, a mother loon with her baby on her back, a pine marten, a beaver, a cow, a dog, a honey bee, a sturgeon, a butterfly, a ladybug, a turtle, a rainbow trout, a catfish, two wolves, a hare, a rabbit, an owl, a porcupine, and one more difficult-to-identify mammal. Only two of the participants were bona fide artists, but everybody had a great time creating!
What will these critters be used for, you ask? Well, first I have to tell you that 350 Wisconsin already had a big collection of critters, which were made at a three-day art build in September 2016. The people in the Ashland area — who have been working for years to stop the proposed expansion of Enbridge’s Line 5 tar sands pipeline — saw part of that collection at the Bayfield Apple Festival last October. They not only saw the critters, they wore them on their heads in the Apple Festival parade, where we won second prize and got an incredibly warm reception from the people who saw our “All Critters Need Clean Water” banner and read our flyers.
So, we, along with our northern friends, organized the January art build. It was a very fun, nonjudgmental scene. People who wanted advice got lots of it, but nobody criticized anyone’s creation. There were many conversations between people who had just met, and after a ceremony led by an Anishinaabe elder, we had a delicious potluck lunch. And now they have 20 new critters to use at future #StopLine5 events, critters that can convey just how important clean water is — and how threatened it is by Enbridge’s Line 5 — while also making people laugh.
If all this sounds like a fun way to participate in saving our climate, contact Nikki Darga, 350 Wisconsin’s volunteer coordinator, at nikki.darga@350Wisconsin.org, and she’ll be glad to help you find a way to get involved! Meanwhile, check out our art build slideshow and a video of our April 2021 critter parade below!
Phyllis Hasbrouck has been an activist for 50 years, including 7 years as a staff person for 350 Madison and 350 Wisconsin. Now retired, she still participates in the all fun events that 350 Wisconsin organizes. She believes in the power of love, beauty, and laughter to build a movement that can change the world.
All Critters Art Build, Ashland, WI, January 28–29, 2024