A piece by Mariah Reading from Mount Desert Island titled “Lend a Hand.” Courtesy of Mariah Reading

From an abandoned glove in the woods to the canvas for a striking landscape painting, 2016 Bowdoin College graduate Mariah Reading brings a new meaning to “leave no trace.”

“I really enjoy painting on shoes,” said Reading. “When I was in Zion National Park as the artist in residence, I found tons of shoes, just like single shoes and I think that really relays our human print.”

Reading is an artist from Bangor and also works as a seasonal park ranger. She describes her current project as multimedia, eco-art designed to tackle the topics of consumerism, climate change and our own environmental footprint.

The idea for the project first came to mind, Reading said, while finishing up a mold-making class at Bowdoin and seeing the troubling amount of waste that was created as a byproduct.

Artist and 2016 Bowdoin College graduate Mariah Reading holding one of her paintings. Courtesy of Mariah Reading

“I am a landscape painter, that’s kind of where my schooling lies, but I’m a big outdoorswoman and I love kayaking and hiking and backpacking,” she said. “So, what I do is find trash throughout my travels and then paint the landscape where the trash was found onto the item itself and then hold it up against the physical landscape and then photograph it. So, in that way, it is a painting, a photograph and kind of a sculptural object.”

Reading places few limits for what she will paint on. Water bottles, hubcaps, pants and coffee cups are just a few examples of the items that have served as a canvas. In total, Reading estimated she has done roughly 250 of the eco-art pieces.


Through her travels across United States, Reading said she has noticed how different discarded objects can be representative of unique environments, such as a buoy on the coast of Maine. Once the piece is done, Reading said she typically displays, sells or donates it.

Each piece is unique, and the creative process frequently varies, Reading said, which help keeps the project exciting. Sometimes she will paint the object on the site where it was found, and other times she will bring it back to the studio.

“Sometimes I also paint on my own trash, I really don’t want my work to be preachy and I want to acknowledge the fact that I’m a consumer as well,” said Reading. “I’m an imperfect environmentalist, striving to be more sustainable.”

Ultimately, Reading hopes her project helps to express the weight of climate change in a more digestible way and inspires people to see themselves through the art and make small, environmentally conscious changes to their life.

After graduating from Bowdoin with a degree in visual arts, Reading worked as a teacher for two years. Since then, she has served as an artist in residence at Denali, Zion and Acadia National Parks. Her work has also been shown throughout the United States, in areas of Texas, California, Colorado, Alaska as well as in Brunswick, Maine.

To learn more, visit MariahReadingArt.com

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