Commodes for a cause: PHS introduction to art classes paint toilets for World Toilet Day

Commodes for a cause: PHS introduction to art classes paint toilets for World Toilet Day

Ari Collins
eSomethin staff

Students in Perrysburg High School’s Introduction to Art classes just finished painting toilets. That’s right—students ditched paper and painted on what some may consider a very odd canvas.

Painted toilets may seem like an unusual project for high school students, but it’s actually part of a contest for World Toilet Day.

Years ago, the United Nations dedicated Nov. 19 to be World Toilet Day in an attempt to bring awareness to the portion of Earth, about 4.2 billion people, that live without access to safe toilets. The issue, while under the radar to most, caught the attention of Waterhouse, a bath and kitchen supply store in Perrysburg, Ohio.

This year, Waterhouse wants to bring attention to lack of sanitary services with a fun contest for local students. 

Amy Siders is an organizer of the contest and she couldn’t be more excited about it.

“I just started here at Waterhouse in July…I was just trying to figure out how to make a place that sold toilets and tubs—to make it fun and make it purposeful,” she said.

Siders explained that she first discovered World Toilet Day when searching about random holidays for potential events. She said that at first it seemed very odd but when she “started looking into it [she] realized it wasn’t just—we’re celebrating toilets, it’s that we’re bringing attention to people that don’t have them.”

Siders thought that an event to bring attention to a lack of sanitary access may be gloomy, so when designing it, Siders said that fun and creativity were key. She also mentioned that she is a fan of a competition. Thus, the idea was born — a contest that challenges student artists to paint a unique canvas, ultimately to raise money for people in need. Five toilets were donated, the only thing that the contest needed was artists.

Waterhouse searched the area for five teams of artists to bring the idea to life. Perrysburg High School makes up two of them. 

“I contacted all the art teachers at Perrysburg…” Siders said. Caitlin Shawaker, reportedly, was first to reply.  

Shawaker said she was immediately excited to get involved because the contest would challenge students to create art that would be displayed for the community to see.

After doing her own research about World Toilet Day and the contest, she told eSomethin that the project is eye-opening. There are many things that don’t typically cross our minds and the fact that 4.2 billion people do not have access to everyday, necessities like sanitation.

Shawaker said that she liked that the project challenged students on a new level because they would be “creating art that’s not just for a grade. There’s a greater product.” 

Alexis Alvarado stands with her initial design and toilet seat. (Photo credit: Caitlin Shawaker)

What is that greater product? Making a difference.

The process

As soon as the toilets became available, students got to work.

First, students created design ideas, considering themes, colors and concepts. After that, classes voted on their favorites, resulting in two final designs.

Alexis Alvarado, a freshman at PHS, designed one of the two chosen toilets. Alvarado was mostly excited to gain new skills and experience from the unique project. “It also gives me an opportunity to see an object in a new light, as well as allowing me to work on a fun project with some of my best friends,” she said.

Emily Hoskins shows off her toilet design. (Photo credit: Caitlin Shawaker)
PHS freshman Andrew Winkler paints cautiously. (Photo credit: Caitlin Shawaker)

Alvarado’s design includes many celestial elements like planets, stars and galaxies.

Perrysburg’s second design was drawn by Emily Hoskins, another freshman. Hoskins also enjoys the group aspect and uniqueness. She describes it as “nothing like I have ever done before.”

Sophomore Nathan Wolaver and freshman Grace Turpening continue adding details to the exterior. (Photo credit: Caitlin Shawaker)
Freshmen Carson Pershing and Grace Sterling work together to paint details on the tank lid. (Photo credit: Caitlin Shawaker)

Hoskins’ sketch included space-themed depictions and plans for flashing lights and three-dimensional elements.

After choosing a design to paint from, students began working.

They added base coats of gesso to prime the canvases and then started mixing colors to begin painting.

Because the project was a collaboration between different class periods, students found new colors and details added to the toilets each day.

PHS freshmen Hunter Gaffney and Aliyah Elkins add details to the bowl and the exterior. (Photo credit: Caitlin Shawaker)

This was something that most of the students seemed to enjoy: the teamwork that went into the project.

Over 100 artists in total worked together, combining various skills and styles, to transform the toilets from plain to something out of this world.

The final product—toilets and teamwork

Siders said that, from what she’s seen, students have taken away great things from the project already. She has enjoyed seeing photos of everyone working together. “It was a huge collaboration, and I think that’s the biggest deal,” she said.

The project, according to Siders, integrates art, science and social studies. She said that she likes that the project is “not just, let’s learn about Van Gogh… [Shawaker] has a much bigger vision for [PHS].”

Students have learned about more than just the art of painting through the contest.

This has been true for the other artists who participated as well. In photos, Siders said, some of them looked “angry, sometimes, because things weren’t working out the way they wanted them to.”

Despite the challenge of a unique canvas, Siders saw artists learning how to problem-solve and create works of art with such strange objects.

What now?

The next step is still in motion. Waterhouse wants the community to vote for a winner. Votes will be accepted until Nov. 18 at 5 p.m. and the winner will be announced on World Toilet Day.

And it doesn’t stop there—once a winner is chosen, the toilets will be auctioned online to raise money for charities that help people in need gain access to safe toilets.

Vote for your favorite toilet here or stop into the Waterhouse showroom to cast your vote in person.

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