Two pieces of soil art by Katia Wanish (here and above). Of this piece, Wanish says: “I was helping my sister with her environmental science homework of oven drying soil for an experiment and after it was dry she decided to rehydrate it. That’s where I got my inspiration for my art this week. I painted this rendition of a nature scene with a deer looking at its reflection in a pond using various amounts of soil to get different shades.”

Soil science professor Nick Balster wasn’t enthusiastic about the mid-semester shift to online instruction this past spring semester. He knew he would miss the in-person connection with his students in “Soils 230: Environment and Resource,” which draws around 80-90 students from a wide variety of majors across campus each spring.

“When it was announced we were going virtual, I was bummed because I so love interacting with my students and creating an active classroom,” says Balster. “I feed off trying to reawaken their curiosity for this dynamic, amazing stuff under our feet that most disregard as dirt.”

So, when sitting in front of computer screens became the new mode of connection, he decided to mix things up a bit and offer an optional, extra credit “soil art” exercise to get students outside and active.

“Soil as a medium for art has been around for some time, but I thought it might be an especially fun exercise to have my students interact with the soil around their homes in their own unique ways,” says Balster. “And most important, I hoped it would motivate them to leave the computers behind, go outside, and interact with nature.”

Soil art by Christina Zordani.

The students responded. Each Friday, many students in the course would share their newest soil art creations with Balster and fellow classmates.

Balster says the entries have been wonderfully creative and inspiring. Many students included thoughtful narratives to describe their works.

“Seeing the new pieces of art was definitely a highlight of my week,” says Balster. “The art ranged from the abstract, to festive, to sculptures—to a surprise submission from my Mother.”

A small selection is shared in this post. To view the full collection, check out this PowerPoint file in Box.

“A Soilman” by Tiara Wuethrich.
Soil art by Nate Kornetzke. Says Kornetzke: “This mixed media sculpture, titled “Thirsty?,” invites the viewer to reconsider their relationship to agriculture, soil, and entertainment. Using a beer glass, which symbolizes entertainment, the viewer can see a miniature soil horizon. [It reminds the viewer that] to make great beer you need good quality hops and barley – only possible with healthy soil.”