June 18, 2015
Zolten Wood's rain barrels conserve water, beautifully
By Alyssa Brown
Not only was Linda Zolten Wood ‘87 interested in environmental sustainability before it was cool: now she’s making it cooler.
Zolten Wood, founder of Zolten Wood Design, started a project called The Collinwood Painted Rain Barrel Project. What starts as a solid-colored, 55-gallon rain barrel is transformed into a work of art, thanks to Zolten Wood and the participants in her workshops.
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, Zolten Wood was painting large scale murals for corporations, but later her business plan changed due to the economic crash. “I didn’t expect to be where I am, and I’m having fun doing it,” she said.
Zolten Wood was awarded Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s Sustainable Hero – Champion Award at the 2014 Sustainability Summit, and she credits her interest in sustainability, in part, to her years as a student at CIA during a time when she saved every penny. “CIA influenced my interest in recycling found objects into new art and using old materials and re-using them,” she said.
After graduating, Zolten Wood traveled to India in 1988 where she grew to understand their economy of repair and re-use, as well as India’s scarcity of resources like running water at the time of her visit . “When I returned, I was culture shocked into reforming our habits of waste and self-absorbed consumerism,” she said.
Zolten Wood was given a free rain barrel provided by the City of Cleveland in 2011. She painted it as a way to beautify the appearance of the barrel as it sat outside her home attached to the gutter system. During a heavy rain, water pours from the gutters into the barrel, and the water – though not potable - can be used for watering the garden and other needs.
When deciding whether to get a rain barrel, the numbers make sense. Just a half inch of rain yields about 300 gallons of water from the average sized roof. “In a summer you can save 1,300 gallons of tap water during the peak months,” Zolten Wood said, during a time many find themselves cutting back on water usage.
Zolten Wood noted that having a rain barrel has noticeably cut her water and sewer bills.
Her neighbors began to notice the painted rain barrels and asked to purchase them, and slowly the rest of her Collinwood neighborhood began to catch on. Zolten Wood began writing grant proposals to fund rain barrels and supplies, and in August 2012 started hosting rain barrel painting workshops.
Today, Zolten Wood estimates that over 50 of her own custom-painted barrels have been installed, and hundreds painted by her workshop participants have been put in place in yards across Northeast Ohio.
Best of all, not only do the rain barrels save thousands of gallons of water, but also help keep Lake Erie cleaner. “It’s horrifying when you look at the beach and these plastic cigarette tips are all over the place,” Zolten Wood said. “If you keep the rain water from your gutters from going into the street, litter won’t make it to the lake. We get to use the lake more.”
As The Collinwood Painted Rain Barrel Project pushes on, so does Zolten Wood. She continues to host workshops, collaborates with other artists and sells custom painted rain barrels.
“I think CIA fostered an adventurous, ‘see how far you can push things’ attitude. We were pushed to explore things until we were ready to drop,” Zolten Wood said. “When things don’t work one way you figure out another way. Always try ingenuity. Always be open to collaboration.”
Alyssa Brown is a marketing intern at CIA.
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