WetLand, an artwork about rising waters, sinks in the Schuylkill

Call it a case of life imitating art imitating life.

WetLand, a floating installation designed by the well-known New York environmental artist Mary Mattingly to look like a sinking rowhouse, has itself sunk into the Schuylkill.

Inspired by images of semi-submerged houses in the aftermaths of Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, the houseboat was created as a demonstration project and semi-self-sufficient habitat, commissioned for the 2014 Fringe Festival. Since then, it has made appearances in New York and exhibitions elsewhere, and been the centerpiece of a series of environmental artworks installed on the river to generate conversation about dealing with climate change and the rising water levels that come with it. It was moored off Bartram’s Garden as part of a joint program between Mattingly, Bartram’s Garden, and the Penn Program on Environmental Humanities that ended in June.

Camera icon Samantha Melamed
What’s left of WetLand, in the Schuylkill.

Perhaps it was due to climate change that heavy rains and debris led the boat, which had been taking on water for some time, to succumb on Sunday.

Though it was parked at Bartram’s Garden, which runs regular boating programs nearby, the boat was still owned by Mattingly, who did not return a message on Monday morning.

Bartram’s Garden issued a statement attributing the damage to a recent storm.

“Bartram’s Garden and our partners were aware of the damage and pursuing assessment and repair, but the hull took on water on Sunday morning before repairs could commence. We expect the boat to be lifted and towed tomorrow, and its repair needs will be assessed at that point.”

It’s not clear who will ultimately foot the bill for removal — but it won’t be cheap.

“You can’t tow a sunken vessel or boat. It has to be raised first,” said Capt. Rich Busillo, dispatcher for TowBoatUS Philadelphia. His company would charge $8,400 to raise a 42-foot vessel such as the 1971 houseboat that formed the base of WetLand, then $272.50 per hour to tow it to a scrapyard.

Camera icon
WetLand as it was originally installed on the Delaware River for the Fringe Festival in 2014. Artist Mary Mattingly is at left.