Educational lake videos draw over 1 million followers to Art MFA alum’s TikTok page

Georgina “Geo” Rutherford (MFA, Art & Design [Print & Narrative Forms], 2021). Images: portrait from YouTube video still; background image from TikTok .

Since last summer, Georgina “Geo” Rutherford (MFA, Art & Design [Print & Narrative Forms], 2021), has been posting educational videos on TikTok—each starting with the greeting, “Um yes, hello,” her head popping into the frame from below. Her videos combine her background in art and education to teach viewers about the Great Lakes and other noteworthy bodies of water around the world, discussing each lake’s history, unique facts, and environmental challenges. She has attracted more than one million followers and a lot of recent attention.

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Just this year, Rutherford has been the subject of a May 13 story on WUWM 89.7 FM, a short film (Um Yes, Hello—The Geo Rutherford Story by Thomas Sawyer that premiered September 25), an October 29 article in Smithsonian Magazine, and a November 14 feature on CBS 58 Sunday Morning.

“I think It’s important to use the videos to keep people’s interest,” she told CBS 58’s Rose Schmidt. “I’m not trying to fear-monger; I’m telling stories.”

Perhaps as noteworthy as her videos’ popularity is how new Rutherford is to their subject matter. “I didn’t know anything about the Great Lakes prior to 2018,” she told Schmidt.

Originally from London, Ontario, Rutherford has also lived in Colorado and Michigan—where she earned a 2012 BFA from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and taught high school art for five years in Chelsea. As the daughter of a geologist, she has always focused her work on the environment. But it was in Milwaukee that she met her first Great Lake, and soon she made Lake Michigan the focus of her graduate studies at UWM.

“My reaction was to make my whole life about the Great Lakes for the next two years,” she told WUWM’s Susan Bence. “I visited every Great Lake and walked on every single beach I could. I did like a Great Lakes heavy intensive art residency, but my number one beach was coming to Bradford,” she says.

Tubes of Rutherford’s collected items from Great Lakes beaches. Image from .

As a Graduate Student Excellence Fellow in 2020-21, she wrote, “My artwork is currently exploring concepts of invasiveness, impermanence, and the unseen in relation to the Great Lakes. The transparent surface of the lake is a deceptive indicator of the health of the ecosystems below the surface. With climate change, invasive species, and polluted waters, the lakes are quickly devolving into a water desert at the heart of the Midwest.”

Her online fame is a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. “I had zero intention of becoming a TikTok person,” she told Schmidt. “It was kind of just an accident, bred from boredom during the pandemic.”

Rutherford is an associate lecturer and area technician in the Peck School’s Print and Narrative Forms program. She is also the art director at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp each summer and co-chair of the nonprofit organization #WhyYouMatter .

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