Vessels | 2022-2023

Vessels was a public engagement art project from Studio Seiche that explored a reciprocal relationship with Lake Michigan through design that ran at the Urban Ecology Center in Riverside Park from June-October 2023.

Thank you to the land and the lake. We will do our best to honor you by taking action to protect you. 

Vessels Manifest

We are in a climate catastrophe caused by the severance between humans and the land around us–built on a fallacy of constant, limitless growth that benefits relatively few of us while harming the global majority of people and our ecosystems. Shifting out of this pattern will involve large-scale collective retooling of our energy, transportation, and food systems and the ways we meet our everyday needs. If we are successful in limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees–our planet’s current best case scenario– we will be faced with a long term, slow disaster. This project aims to bring us together to process the grief of this destruction and turn it, through heat and focus, into collective action to protect our watershed.

Our connections to Lake Michigan thread the local with the global on a heating planet increasingly confronting drought and clean water shortages. The Great Lakes comprise 21% of the world’s surface fresh water, and 85% of North America’s surface fresh water, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Given that non-indigenous people in the Global North are responsible for the majority of planet warming emissions, we believe that shifting away from extractivist ways of dominating the environment and towards a reciprocal, respectful, and loving relationship with land and water is our responsibility. 

We feel both the weight and the urgency of the work ahead and are grateful for indigenous writers and leaders who offer frameworks for the Honorable Harvest and reciprocal relationship with land: Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who are leading the fight to Stop Line 5 in Wisconsin and hundreds of Indigenous leaders who gathered at Standing Rock and the Stop Line 3 encampments to show us another way of being. 

The following content is part record of our creative process, part encouragement and support for you to connect to the land around you and strengthen your relationship with natural materials. It is not a technical guide, but a trail of bread crumbs to follow in order that you will find your own way to listen to the place we live and create.

Honorable Harvest

We underwent a careful process of selecting sites for clay harvest, asking the land if we can take a little and making an offering to respect what we took. We followed Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Guidelines for the Honorable Harvest. She describes them this way:

[They] are not written down, or even consistently spoken of as a whole – they are reinforced in small acts of daily life but if you were to list them, they might look something like this:

Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last.

Harvest in a way that minimizes harm. 

Take only what you need and leave some for others.

Use everything that you take. 

Take only that which is given to you. 

Share it, as the Earth has shared with you. 

Be grateful. 

Reciprocate the gift.

Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.

Source: Kimmerer, R. W. (2015). Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions.

Finding Clay

Clay is formed by erosion.

Look at where water flows: creek banks, overpasses, sea cliffs. Clay is the smallest particle that makes up soil, so it stays suspended for the longest in water. Look for bends in rivers, eddies and alluvial plains where clay would have a chance to lazily settle. 

Clay is abundant in Milwaukee soils. Eli discovered clay six inches under the surface of their backyard.

Testing Clay

Pick up earth in your hand and mix some water in to make it workable. Can you roll it into a ball? Into a snake? This is called plasticity. 

If you can wrap that snake around your finger, there is a pretty good chance you can make a pot out of that clay.

Make Something from the Earth. How does it feel to hold a piece of the earth?  What is the earth asking in return? What form does your heart tell you to make? Listen carefully.

Processing Clay

In Nora’s backyard, we soaked the wild clay in buckets, mixed it into a slurry, poured it through screens, let it stand, poured the water off the top, then poured the liquid clay into pillowcases to dry.

Concept and exploration

Using local wild clay, we wanted to craft vessels to prompt reflection on one’s relationship to the lake and invite gratitude and stewardship for its fresh water. For inspiration on the form the vessels could take, we explored the shoreline and found shapes that felt good in our hands and that we could imagine sipping out of.

Making Vessels

We made plaster press molds to recreate the shape of the shoreline rocks in clay.

Pit firing

We made an updraft firepit in Eli’s backyard, and temperatures reached 1200+F, allowing the molecules in the clay to vitrify (become glass) and harden. Once vitrified, clay is solid and can hold water without falling apart.


To make our vessels water tight, we sealed them with local beeswax and vegetable oil.


In workshops with our exhibition and community engagement partner, The Urban Ecology Center, we invited community to hold local wild clay in their hands and create with us.

Reciprocate: What does reciprocity look like to you? Where do you draw great benefit in the world around you? What feels like an appropriate offering in return?

The artists left a small offering at the site where they harvested clay, but the larger offering is for each of us to join social movements and make shifts in the way we live that protect the water and land around us. There is a pressing fight to Stop the Expansion of the Line 5 oil Pipeline across the Mackinac Straight, and we have an opportunity to join it.

Stop Line 5

At the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, lie 70 year old pipelines that push 23 million gallons of oil through the heart of the Great Lakes every day. Owned by the Canadian company Enbridge, these pipelines were built in 1953 during the Eisenhower administration and are called Line 5. Long past their lifespan, Line 5 pumps tar sands oil under expired permits and threatens Tribal land, Treaty Rights in the ceded territory, the Great Lakes, treasured ecosystems, clean water and food sources for tribes living in the Bad River watershed, and the climate.

Take Action

There are many ways we can collectively work together to remove the threat of the Line 5 oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.  

President Biden has the ability to take swift action to decommission the Line 5 pipeline. To add your name to a petition calling on him to do so, visit



The wild clay that is abundant in the Milwaukee Area is, not surprisingly, very similar in makeup to Cream City Brick. Throughout the process of creation, the industrial past and present of this area lived right alongside the undisturbed wetlands and shore lines they worked. Cream City Brick transformed the Menominee Valley that once was flush with wild rice and a gathering place for indigenous nations into a site of production that used land, earth, trees and water as inputs. Working with this material has been a potent investigation into repairing a relationship as non-indigenous people to the land where we live. We are grateful to the caretakers of this land that preceded us, and from whom this land was stolen, including the Ho-Chunk, Menomenee, and Potowatami tribes.

Follow Studio Seiche on Instagram for Vessels process photos and updates