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  Arts & The Environment
Professor's straw-bale home rethinks relationship to elements

Watch A&D Associate Professor Joe Trumpey share his journey building a straw-bale house >

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Activities explore global solutions >

Creative architectural design, ecological sustainability and a personal commitment to environmental stewardship all come together in Joe Trumpey's bold endeavor to design and build a solar heated, water cooled straw-bale house in Grass Lake.
School of Art & Design Associate Professor Joe Trumpey's solar heated, water cooled straw-bale house in Grass Lake is featured in the "Arts & The Environment: Earth, Air, Fire and Water" project Oct. 27-Nov. 7. The project goal is to raise awareness of environmental issues including sustainability. (Photo by Photos By Frank Provenzano)

When the project is complete next fall, Trumpey, an associate professor of art at the School of Art & Design, will have constructed a home built from and insulated by bales of straw. The house will be sustained by wind and solar energy with facilities to store rainwater and yields from crops grown on his 40-acre farm. It'll stand as one of the few straw-bale houses in Michigan and among the growing number of environmentally sustainable homes in the country.

Trumpey's dramatic house-building project also will be among the discussion topics during two weeks of events in U-M's Arts on Earth project, "Arts & the Environment: Earth, Air, Fire, Water," an exploration of how the arts can work with other disciplines to transform how people think about environmental responsibility.

"This definitely involves some serious risk-taking," Trumpey says. "But it all seemed natural to my wife and me, bringing our lives as educators, parents, farmers and creative people together with our sense of place."

Since buying the 40-acre tract four years ago, the road to self-reliance and sustainability for Trumpey, his wife, Shelly, and their two young daughters hasn't always been easy. Building materials — straw, wood, clay and stone — have been gleaned from their property and nearby farms, a rigorous and tedious process. It's not uncommon to find friends helping, and on some nights, the family camps on the site.

The Trumpeys have been farming for 15 years and raise rare sheep, cattle, chickens and goats. "Understanding our food systems and where our food comes from has always been very interesting to us," he says. "We decided to grow as much of our own food as possible, and this idea of living according to the principles of ecological sustainability began to evolve."

Trumpey is an acclaimed medical and biological illustrator. He founded Michigan Science Art, one of the largest groups of science illustrators in North America. His teaching focuses on observation and helping students to reconnect with the natural world. He has conducted field work at the Everglades National Park and southern Africa, among other locations.

"Over the years, my artwork and creativity have led us to work toward ecological sustainability through how we live and what we do," he says. "The whole notion of this house came together when we considered how our life works and what we stand for."

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