Eileen Wold, ’00, inspires as activist artist

Eileen Wold, '00, raises environmental awareness through artwork

By Kim Hall  |  Photos courtesy of Eileen Wold

Baltimore artist Eileen Wold, ’00, began her career painting landscapes, depicting what she called “nature unspoiled.” Soon, though, those landscapes became harder to find. She found herself traveling hours to find something, anything, that inspired her, and still had to edit the scenes she depicted. The lack of authenticity limited her satisfaction with the work—a response she attributes to her Loyola education.

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“I truly feel that in every class I took at Loyola, your integrity mattered,” said Wold, who majored in fine arts and minored in art history and later earned an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. “It matters if you care about what you’re doing. It matters if you’re honest with yourself.”

While at Loyola, Wold studied abroad at the Art Academy of Leuven, Belgium, and the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. She was also a work-study employee in the Julio Art Gallery, participated in several student exhibits, and was active in what is now the Center for Community Service and Justice.

“Having a center on campus focused on serving the community helped shaped me and make me think about giving back,” explained Wold, who—after working at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C., for a few years—became the artist-in-residence at the Creative Center: Arts in Healthcare in New York. The Creative Center places artists in local hospitals to work with patients. Wold worked with people in the final stages of AIDS. “There is no way I could have been prepared to work with people in that position if I didn’t have that community service experience.”

When Wold was preparing to move to Manhattan, she sat down with two of her role models, Mary Beth Akre, ’80, MFA, and Janet Headley, Ph.D., both faculty members at Loyola, to discuss venturing out as an independent artist. “They had very high standards,” said Wold. “They’re very passionate about what they do.”

What Wold found in Manhattan, however, was an industrial landscape—refineries and smokestacks. As she started researching and learning more about the environment she was painting, her work became more political in its intent. While she was living in New York, her work began to focus on how ecological systems are in conflict with human systems of power generation.

Wold returned to Baltimore in 2007, after marrying Paul Barry, ’00, an information systems and operations management major who now works in Washington, D.C., as a lead technical engineer for daily-Web-deal provider LivingSocial.

Wold continued her environmental work in Baltimore. One of her recent exhibits, “Empty Waters,” focused on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Years of severe pollution created by industrial waste, runoff, and reckless trash disposal has gradually destroyed parts of the Chesapeake Bay area, including the Inner Harbor, where swimming is discouraged because of the risk of bacterial infection. Wold’s exhibit featured stark videos, photographs, and drawings of the waterfront and landmarks, each with empty inner tubes as a reminder that environmental degradation is destroying the region—and the planet’s natural water supply. Wold hopes her work helps inspire people to discover new ways of improving the harbor and the rest of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Ecosystems that are developed over thousands of years can be wiped out very quickly,” said Wold. “We designed our way into this mess and I am hopeful that we can design our way out. With creative thinking, we can get some of the life back in this city’s water.” Wold cites the successful Boston Harbor cleanup project as an example of what’s possible.

“I approach [the topic] in more of a poetic sense,” said Wold. “How did it get this way? What are the needs of humans that caused us to destroy the ecosystem? What is our relationship with this body of water, not just ‘How do we clean it?’ How can we get the wheels spinning in the other direction culturally? It’s these bigger, philosophical questions that drive the artwork.”

Wold says her experiences at Loyola have influenced every aspect of her life. “Loyola gave me this great cement base,” said Wold. “The variety of classes required for the liberal arts degree is well-rounded and gives insight into the political, philosophical, and physical workings of the world. That in turn makes it easier for me to get involved in my community, in my daughter’s schooling, and in political and socially engaging art projects.”

Her work and her research has taken on new meaning in recent years. Expecting her second child this year—daughter Brighid is 3—Wold questions how her children’s generation will manage the repercussions of the world’s current energy production.

“We can find ways to power our modern society without destroying it at the same time,” said Wold, whose current project focuses on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region of eastern North America.

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