Hager Ceramics Barbara

When I was 27 I began working with clay thinking it would sustain me mentally, physically and economically for the rest of my life; and it has. For 42 years I have been a full-time professional artist, sculpting clay, making pots and applying polychromatic glazes to surfaces. After exhibiting and selling pots for 25 years, I recreated myself and earned an MFA in Ceramics at age 50.

Two years ago I retired from Minneapolis College a day before I had my kidney and a football- sized malignant tumor removed. For a year I underwent chemotherapy while drawing and painting the surfaces of my sculptures and pots. The past two years I have approached my work with a desire to create an awareness of our impending water crisis: kidneys being the underground rivers and lakes of our bodies.

Hager Ceramics Barbara

I returned to my first love, drawing, and drew large-scale images of Lake Superior. I made sculptural vases depicting waves hitting the shoreline and painted the Lake on small pots. Needing to dig deeper, I painted images of fish and plants found in Lake Superior and the St. Louis River Watershed that are affected by the contaminants found in and around that Great Lake.

I have been actively engaged with water use and misuse for the past 14 years making a series of bowls, plates, teapots and teacups depicting my garden plants. Boiling tea water kills bacteria but it does nothing to eliminate the mercury, micro plastics and sulfates that effect the St. Louis Watershed water quality, aquatic life and habitats. Sulfate levels in the water cause mercury to become methylmercury, which is consumed by progressively larger aquatic life and finally humans causing health problems especially for Ojibwe tribes who are guaranteed the right to fish and to harvest wile rice. The health problems are impacting Duluth, the Fond du Lac Reservation and surrounding towns. One in ten babies born in the Lake Superior region has unsafe levels of mercury.

Hager Barbara Ceramics

The St. Louis River Watershed’s high sulfate levels come from mining that uncover sulfur compounds. The mercury found in the St. Louis River Watershed and Lake Superior is primarily from burning fossil fuels. As the Lake warms with climate change, there are greater levels of methylmercury in the Northern lakes. The depictions of Lake Superior White Fish, Lake Trout, Shiners, Wild Rice and Lilly Pads on my cups, bowls, urns and plates speak to these contaminants.

This body of work is evolving to depict the effects of climate change on women’s’ bodies as I consider the diseases older women carry in their bodies and the scars outlining impacts not only of age, but of living in toxic environments. I am beginning this work by reflecting on work by Ruby Neri and Alice Neel.