Friday, October 31, 2014

Survey and our formation announcement sent to membership.

We've sent out an announcement and survey to the members of OBFS and NAML to inform them of the Art @ FSMLs working group, and to learn how many of us have an art/humanities program at present. Thanks for your help drafting the message!

In case you somehow didn't get the memo, I've pasted the announcement below. Please forward to any other non-member stations you may know of, as well.


New Working Group on Art at FSMLs

At the September 2014 OBFS/NAML Joint Meeting in Wood’s Hole, Dr. Jerry Schubel presented on the new National Academy of Sciences publication. “Enhancing the Value and Sustainability of Field Stations and Marine Laboratories in the 21st Century”. In his talk, Dr. Schubel took the FSMLs to task for often failing to connect new data and knowledge through to policy and action, something that becomes more and more critical to our facilities’ survival as time goes by. 

Many of us feel that art can create the emotional connection to science that is needed to link this chain of progression, and can provide unexpected new ways of perceiving problems, issues, and potential solutions. During a lunch table conversation, an official working group on art at field stations and marine labs formed.

The purpose of the working group is to explore the intersection of art and science, provide examples, and share ideas and resources. Integrating art into field science programs is new ground for many stations, and we can all use some aid in figuring out the deep potential of this partnership, and how art can improve our operations, connect us to new stakeholder groups, and help us achieve our missions in a changing physical and political climate.

The working group now has a blog at The list of participants is posted. If you would like to be added to the group, or to post something to the blog, please contact the current Group Coordinator, Faerthen Felix. 

At present, we’d particularly like to build a reference library of case studies for art at FSMLs. The blog already has a few examples, including Philippe Cohen’s list of programs from the 2012 OBFS art at field stations poster session; the H.J. Andrews “Ecological Reflections” program; and program descriptions from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s Cedar Point Biological Station and UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station. Please consider helping us expand this resource by writing up a brief case study for your own field reserve or marine lab art program.

We’d also like to establish just how many FSMLs currently have an art or humanities program. We’ve created a very short SurveyMonkey questionnaire, and we’d ask you to please take a few minutes to answer the queries about your program. If you just can’t spare the time, a simple e-mail saying, “Yes, our FSML has an art program”, or, “No, we don’t” is better than no response.

Thanks in advance for your assistance! Please don't hesitate to get in touch with me for more information about the Art @ FSMLs working group.

--Faerthen Felix, UC Berkeley - Sagehen Creek Field Station, ffelix @

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Art and Science ideas

Here are some resources to help you think deeper about what art can bring to a FSML program:
  • Does everyone already know that the Huffington Post features an "Art Meets Science" news section that often finds really interesting intersections of the two disciplines?
  • The National Science Foundation has some cryptic entries into the art-science realm, but it's hard to tease them out. Here's one.
Have any favorites I missed? Post them in the comments, please.

Update, 10-30-14:

Gwen Pearson suggested these great links:

Updates from Philippe Cohen

From Philippe Cohen, Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve:
At the 2012 [OBFS] meetings I organized a presentation/poster session for biological field stations to show off what they are doing in terms of art and science. This pdf contains the descriptive materials I received from various field stations that participated in that effort.

...Finally, at Jasper Ridge, we are always open to possibilities and although there is no regular program currently in place, if there are people who are interested we are glad to explore ideas and funding on an ad hoc basis. We are hoping to have our second visiting artist within the year since the first one was so successful.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

NEH Lecture on The Intersection of the Humanities and the Sciences.

"Watch the live stream of the 43rd Jefferson Lecture featuring Walter Isaacson.

Isaacson, acclaimed author, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization, and biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, spoke on The Intersection of the Humanities and the Sciences on May 12th at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts."

Isaacson on Einstein:

"Einstein's leap [that time is relative and light speed is constant] was a triumph not of pure science, or deduction, or induction. It was a triumph of imagination. It came from questioning the accepted wisdom and challenging authority...

So when we emphasize the need to teach our kids science and math, we should not neglect to encourage them also to be imaginative, to be creative, to have an intuitive feel for beauty and to question received wisdom...

And that's the role of the humanities."

Monday, October 20, 2014

Science-themed art exhibits at NSF and AAAS

Download brochure.
"The National Science Foundation's Art of Science (AoS) Project was conceived and implemented in 1989 by a cross-directorate committee of NSF staff. Its purpose is to bring to NSF original works of art that visually explore the connections between artistic and scientific expression.  
Art of Science exhibits are displayed in designated public space and are scheduled to rotate quarterly. The AoS committee endeavors to showcase work across the scientific and engineering disciplines from different artists/scientists using a variety of mediums.
For additional information on the Art of Science Project please contact a current member of the AoS committee via email at"
From February 29 - June 30, 2013, the Long-Term Ecological Reflections program staged an art exhibit at the National Science Foundation.

More information:

Thanks to Fred Swanson for the exhibit documentation.

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"With nearly 400 members and no space to call home, the Washington Sculptors Group has nevertheless regularly managed to find wide exposure for its artists, many of whom are among the region’s finest and deserve to be seen. The group’s recent venues have ranged from such ad hoc spaces as office lobbies and parks to more traditional galleries including Artisphere, the Mansion at Strathmore and the BlackRock Center for the Arts.

The group’s latest exhibition, “Gedankenexperiment,” is a good fit for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which for several years now has devoted a chunk of its lobby — along with a small dedicated gallery space — to science-themed art of both the 2-D and 3-D variety."
"Thought experiments consider the effects of a hypothesis or theory that cannot easily be tested in the physical world...

Inspired by scientific and mathematical theories, hypotheses, and principles from Archimedes, the I Ching, geology, geometry, architecture, and more, the artists featured in GEDANKENEXPERIMENT have conducted their own thought experiments, resulting in the sculptural expressions—incorporating wood, metals, paper, computer parts, and limestone—featured in this show."

More information:
Thanks to George Nolte for the link.

Questions from Fred Swanson

From Fred Swanson, H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest:
I was asked to write an essay to be one of six in a set to appear in Ecosphere (ESA on-line journal) for next year's ESA centennial. Title something like: "Ecology, the Arts, and Humanities: Confluences at Sites of Long-Term, Place-Based Inquiry" (too long, but gives the scope). It's not a book. I'm not an expert, but have been involved with colleagues in pushing the cause in some circles for quite a few years and tracked some of the OBFS action via our Andrews OBFS representative Mark Schulze. I've been working mainly in the LTER and USFS Exp. Forests and Ranges networks because of tighter personal fit in them.

Recent interactions with Art and Mike Lannoo got me wondering about status of the FSMLs - about how many (what fraction of the 270 OBFS sites in round numbers - same for the 120 NAMLs - are these numbers right?) have some arts/humanities action? is there a rough sense of the class vs. residency split (if there is such a thing)? I get the picture that practical motivations of class and student numbers are prime, but just the pleasure and inspiration of it is important too. ??

The paper prep has me viewing the situation as one of lots of highly dispersed action at the ecology-arts-humanities confluence happening at many dozens of sites of long-term inquiry, but it is quite cryptic - not easily located on many site/program webpages, I know of only one webpage that tries to show profiles of many sites ( - it's simple, poorly kept-up, incomplete), and there is no overarching system of communication - there's some emerging, grassroots communication in LTER (workshops at the 3-yr All Scientists Meetings) and FSML (the blog you just turned me onto - thank you). Do you see it that way too?...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

UCIRA Artists-in-Residency program.

Diagram of paper folding sequence. Pablo Colapinto of
UC Santa Barbara visited the NRS’s Yosemite Field
Station to explore biological folding strategies.
Image credit: Pablo Colapinto
In association with the University of California Natural Reserve System (UCNRS), the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts (UCIRA) sponsored six student artists-in-residence at California field stations this summer.

Here's an article from the UCNRS describing the awards. I'll try to get more detailed project descriptions to post later.



Detailed project descriptions and artist websites/contacts...

Art @ Cedar Point Biological Station, case study #2

Cedar Point Biological Station is a part of the University of Nebraska Lincoln's School of Biological Sciences.  We are located on the western high plains about 3 hours drive east of Denver.

The station, originally as Cedar Point Ranch, hosted Girlscout events from about 1949 to 1971.  The owners of Cedar Point Ranch, the Gainesforth family, had a multi-generational interest in the outdoor experience and funded, with support from Mrs. Robert Goodall, a designed camp in 1960: a two story lodge, an infirmary, a directors cabin, 10 cabins for scouts and two central wash houses.

For various reasons, by 1971 the Girlscouts were no longer using the Goodall Cedar Point Camp and early in 1975, UNL initially leased the site for advanced field based biology courses and site based research.  CPBS has been very faithful to its original mission and for the past 39 years we have offered 6 to 10 courses in advanced biology as well as hosted up to a dozen researchers each summer.

This is a simple narrative about the Art @ CPBS program which in my view has been wildly successful. My primary job being day to day management of the station as the associate director.

After several examples of field stations supporting art and art education that were presented at the OBFS annual meetings, I asked one of our regular users why CPBS hasn't partnered or hosted something art based each summer.  This user, the partner of one of our just retired faculty, had spent at least part of every previous 37 summers at the station and nearly as long as the education director at the UNL Sheldon Museum of Art .

Rather than explain or excuse the past she put me in touch with one faculty member in the department of Art and Art History.  The art faculty were immediately interested and in fact only agreed to partner if we would agree to at least a 5 year effort. How does one turn that sort of response down?

This past summer 2014 we offered PHOT 161, a introduction to digital photography for non-art majors, as 3 UNL credits in two weeks at the station.  The course enrolled 13 students.  The art faculty also wanted to do some sort of resident artist program.  We had several applicants and offered a one or two week resident experience to 5 of them.

I am very much looking forward to summer 2015, as the art faculty have all said this first summer was just a place holder and their real effort will start in 2015.

Lesson here; if you want something just ask people around you.  Their answer may just be a quick and easy path to what you need.

more to come...

Jon Garbisch associate director, CPBS

For more information:
Our website:
shared webpage with the department of Art and Art History

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Art + Environment Conference, Oct. 9-11, 2014

We've just returned from the triennial Art + Environment Conference at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. The conference occurred around a new, taxidermy-themed exhibit entitled "Late Harvest", that was thought-provoking and ground-breaking. If you are in the area, you might try to see it.

The conference is an absolutely remarkable event focused on "art that walks in the world", that is to say, art that has a real contribution to and influence on the culture and environment. Jeff and I presented very briefly about Sagehen during one of the lunch sessions on the Harrison project, and I believe we have started conversations that will lead to new art/science projects on the ground at Sagehen.

This is the premiere event of its kind in the world, and I can't recommend the conference highly enough to anyone with an interest in the intersection of art and science. Attendees came from all over the world and included educators and science practitioners, as well as museum reps, artists, writers and poets. Everyone seems to value collaboration and discussion with scientists, though many folks I spoke to don't seem to know where to start.

"Fighting Lions" by A. Worthington, c. 1880.
There were some very interesting presentations on more theoretical aspects of the linkage between art and science, including one from Adam Duncan Harris, the Peterson Curator of Art and Research at The National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, which lent a number of historic wildlife paintings to the Late Harvest exhibit.

Harris discussed how Darwin was influenced by the Romantic tradition of wildlife painting to emphasize a vision of inter-species competition that was far bloodier, over-the-top and dramatic than more recent scholarship has revealed to be the case.

Of course, Darwin's own work then fed back into the art world and made it mandatory to create natural history illustrations from life observations within the natural environment, rather than from the out-of-context and often falsely depicted taxidermy models previously employed.

The NMA video-recorded the conference and will eventually make the material available on line, though the timeline is somewhat hazy. I'll update this post when the videos become available.


Update: 10-18-14

The Nevada Museum of Art has generously shared the PDF of the Late Harvest exhibit catalog with us. This catalog includes the essay by Adam Duncan Harris mentioned above, as well as additional relevant material.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

Update: 12-27-14

Orion Magazine has published a series of conference recap posts. There is an interesting and thought-provoking comment made by artist David Brooks about how biologists are the true avant-garde thinkers of our time.

Art & Science Through The Natural History Print

Santa Barbara Natural History Museum has a spectacular art collection of natural history illustrations dating from the 17th to 19th century. From the Maximus Gallery website, these antique engravings and lithographs:
"...give us a glimpse into history, help us to understand how the sciences developed, and show how people communicated in an earlier age. Originally used for scientific identification, as printing methods improved and more artists were involved, they became sought after for their intrinsic beauty; a blend of art and science...

These beautiful and historic works are lasting testimony to the contribution that art has made to our understanding of the natural world during the last four centuries."
While attending a recent iDigBio workshop, we were able to tour the collection and speak with the curator, Linda Miller about her program. The gallery often pairs selections from its holdings with specimens from the Natural History collections in order to increase the impact of both.

I followed up with Linda later about the relationship between art and science, and hope to hear back from her soon.  I'll update this post if she has anything to add.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Art at FSMLs: Case Study #1

UC Berkeley's Sagehen Creek Field Station has had a turbulent past.

Founded by a son of Aldo Leopold in 1951, the facility gradually fell into disrepair and neglect after the charismatic and politically-powerful founder passed away.

In the first California budget crisis of the mid-1990's, the only thing that kept the station from going away was a codicil in the Forest Service permit that required the University to return the site to natural condition should they ever abandon. Well, if you don't have the money to operate, you certainly don't have the money for a big restoration project, so Sagehen sat quietly in caretaker status for a few years.

A grassroots lobbying effort by the Truckee community stimulated the University to rethink their approach. Another California budget meltdown and a change in Vice Chancellor for Research resulted in a new, more entrepreneurial operating model for Sagehen: the university hired business-oriented managers, but ended up covering their salaries and little else. There was no choice but to collaborate and build partnerships in unexpected quarters. We gathered a broad community-based advisory group, generated a Vision Statement, and got used to saying yes. Sagehen stopped retracting and started growing.

Sometimes saying yes would result in strange, but interesting and productive bedfellows. One of the early courses that showed up was UC Davis' innovative Nature and Culture, combining humanities and science students and curriculum. The class was quirky and odd. It got us thinking more about the possibility of partnering art and field science, in a deep, connected way that “separate-but-equal” art (or writing) courses just don't.

It touched on the strange resistance some artists expressed to us about being thought of as mere “scientific illustrators”. If field station art wasn’t that, then what was it?

Then something interesting happened...

[Download full article]

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Links to more information: