Just add water: Rain will bring words of wisdom to life at UW-Eau Claire

| Erin Finneman

This year, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has a big birthday to celebrate. It has been 100 years since the school first opened its doors to the thousands of students it has served. The past 100 years have been filled with learning, excellence, pride, experience and the inevitable changes of an evolving public university. There will be numerous celebrations throughout the year to ring in the centennial, and perhaps the most unique form of celebration will be seen when it rains.

Dr. Paul Thomas, a professor in the physics and astronomy department, and Greg Kocken, the university archivist, teamed up with a group of students and faculty and decided to use a special kind of paint , “Rain Works,” to create art across campus. The paint will be sprayed onto stencils that contain different quotes about the centennial from various sources. Once the paint dries, the stencils are removed and the paint is invisible until it comes into contact with water. The stencils have been designed by various individuals, and Kocken said Jodi Baglien Sparkes of the Integrated Marketing and Communications department provided a great deal of design assistance.

“Rain Works is a product that we found after its recent use in Boston,” Thomas said. “It is an invisible paint that can only be seen when water is applied to it. In Boston, an organization called Mass Poetry used it to display poetry on sidewalks. We wanted to bring the same concept to campus to celebrate the university’s one-hundredth birthday.”

This unique project has already received a great amount of support from various individuals across campus. Along with enthusiastic artistic support, the project was lucky enough to receive funding from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education and Human Sciences.

“There are two main things I want this project to bring to the university,” said Kocken. “First, I want people to get out in the rain and actually enjoy it. And second, I want these quotes to resonate with people and remind them to reflect on the university and what it means to them.”

Along with being a way to reflect and appreciate the university’s history, this project might also turn out to be a fun way to discover new parts of campus.

“We have not yet released the eight locations around campus where these quotes will appear,” said Thomas. “We want it to be like a surprise scavenger hunt. No one will know they are there until it rains and then there will be unexpected surprises around the corner.”

Both Thomas and Kocken agree that the centennial will be an incredible time for reflection and appreciation of how far UW-Eau Claire has come. When asked to sum up the meaning of the centennial, Thomas referenced a quote by former state poet laureate and emeritus English professor Max Garland:

“But the wildest notion? Enacted here — that not just the glittering sons of the rich, but the daughters and sons of farmers and mill hands might learn the art of how we learn and how we pass it on.”

Kocken agreed there is no better way to capture the spirit and mission of UW-Eau Claire’s centennial in a few poignant words. And the next time it rains, you will have the opportunity to hunt for the words of wisdom that will appear across campus.