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Swimming in color: mosaic fish make a splash at Etna EcoPark

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Newly-installed, glass mosaic fish at Etna EcoPark

After a year of collaboration between the Etna community, Shaler Area High School students, and artist Sarah Cohen, the glass mosaic fish sculptures have made it to their home at Etna EcoPark. The glass sculptures, inspired by local walleye fish found in nearby natural waterways, are a symbol of Etna's commitment to a healthy community and a healthy environment.

To celebrate the completion of this project, we spoke with Sarah to hear her reflections on the process. We asked her about the meaning behind the sculptures and she shared:

"Everything affects everything. Rain affects overflows from our sewers which affects our rivers which impacts fish, fauna, and all forms of life connected to the rivers. This being our environment, it affects us as well. Sometimes, there is a perception that these small things do not matter, but everything is connected. The glass fish express the idea that the environment matters, our actions matter, and that we all have a purpose together."

The new fish mosaics are a wonderful addition to this colorful and whimsical park. Not only do they beautify the space, but they serve as a symbol of our commitment to protect the Pine Creek Watershed - a job that EcoPark plays a big role in.

Etna EcoPark sits at one of the lowest point in Etna's floodplain, and the water collected in the rain garden limits overflows from our sewars during large rain events. The more we manage our rainfalls and stormwater through green infrastructure, the more we protect our property, Pine Creek, and the Allegheny River.

Artist Sarah Cohen and ECO'S Executive Director, Megan Tuñón, deliver sheets of glass from Wissmach

Sarah chose a variety of glass colors that can be seen in the scales of a walleye fish. She worked with Paul Wissmach Glass Company to provide colorful glass sheets which were later cut by community members into smaller, scale-shaped pieces. The vibrant tones really come to life when sunlight shines on them.

We asked Sarah to reflect on why she's passionate about collaborating with communities in her art, and why community art projects are important. She commented:

"It is really important to involve the community in art projects because truthfully, art is for everybody. When you come together to make something, you have the opportunity to meet new people, you can learn new skills, and you see that we can create something beautiful together."

Concept sketch of three walleye sculptures by artist Sarah Cohen

During the visioning stages, Sarah sketched the fish to look as though they are in motion. You can imagine three fish swimming downstream with their scales reflecting light as they move through the water. Workshop participants used these sketches as guides for placing the colored tiles on the fish.

Four community workshops took place: one at the Shaler Area High School with the Sustainability class and art class students (which took place in the SAHS Library), three additional happened at the Etna Pop-Up Library and Workshop. We asked Sarah to talk about the experience of holding the teaching / working sessions within library spaces. She voiced:

"There's a lot of power in art and images, and it is one of the ways we communicate with one another. Learning how to speak, write, and communicate through images and art, that's how we communicate our ideas. That's just as important as learning how to read. Libraries are not just for books; they are places for programs and for community. Libraries are inclusive of things like maker activities and public art projects. The library is not only a place to learn about ideas, but also to share and communicate ideas with one another."

Sarah and Megan's visit to Shaler Area High School sustainability and art classes for a mosaic workshop

Etna's Pop-Up Library and Workshop hosted three public workshops for community members to assist with the mosaics

Community members of all ages got in on the fun at three workshops held in at Pop-Up Library and Workshop. Sarah helped kids and adults find the perfect pieces to contribute to the sculptures. Everyone commented on how relaxing and soothing the process was.

Throughout the spring, summer, and fall, the Nature Nights program brings families together at Etna EcoPark

Etna EcoPark is a space filled with art - from the Kinetic Sculptures designed by artist Lindsay Huff, to the crafts created at Nature Nights by local kids, to the brightly painted little library box.

Sunrise at Etna EcoPark

Artist Sarah Cohen at Etna EcoPark

We asked Sarah a final question about the joys and challenges of a project that involves so many hands. She voiced:

"Coming together as a group to make something has its challenges, but it also has its rewards. For me as an artist, I have learned to let go - which is a very important skill to learn in life. Others learn that as well through the workshops when many hands are working on the same piece. The project that we create together won't be 'perfect' so it teaches you to have patience and understanding. The finished product isn't exactly what I would have done or how someone else thinks it should be, but that's what makes it special. It could only be this exact way because we made it together, and that's a statement about people and about community."

We mostly agree, except that we do think the fish are perfect! Special thanks to artist Sarah Cohen and all of the participants who participated in bringing these fish to life.

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