Kurtz's painting
(Image credit: ‘Three Sisters in Soil’ video by Cornell University, World Soil Day 2017)

Kirsten Kurtz is a soil scientist. She’s also a visual artist, and she’s found an unusual way to combine these two parts of her life.

“I was taking a class in acrylic painting, and I was really not liking the colors of acrylic paint,” she says. “At the same time, I was working in the Cornell Soil Health Lab and becoming really enamored with the variety of colors of these natural soils.”

So Kurtz started making paint out of soil, and using it to create vibrant images. A dancer’s dress is a rich red, and a landscape glows gold.

Now, she invites others to paint with her at events. “Most of us as children played in the mud,” she says, “and I think that it brings back this kind of in-touch-with-the-earth feeling that a lot of us have, even if we aren’t that close to farming or close to soil.”

She hopes the experience inspires people to care about soil health. She says unsustainable agriculture and development have degraded much of the world’s soil. Reversing that trend is important for growing food. It also helps the climate because healthy soil stores a lot of carbon.

“I just want people to understand that soil’s a natural resource as important as clean air and clean water,” she says.

Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.