Natural histories: The art & science of science & art

Nov 1, 13 • 5enses, Event, Portfolio4,808 Comments
Chandler vs. Condor

M. Jennifer Chandler, director of the Prescott College Art Gallery at Sam Hill Warehouse, hangs “Californian Vulture” (California Condor), by John James Audubon, in the Prescott College Natural History Institute. Courtesy photo.“The Art of Natural History”

By James Dungeon

At first blush, the 250 prints in the Josephine Michell Arader Natural History Print Collection are a dizzying floral and faunal cacophony.

In one image, a pair of Great Auks enjoy a dynamic scene with severe cliffs and choppy seas. In another, gruesome eels swim in an illusory ether stacked row upon impossible row. Others depict plants — some in acute, meticulous realism, some in a surreal limbo including multiple stages of development.

From a scientific perspective, you could divvy these prints up by taxonomy, geography, or morphology. From an artistic perspective, you could divvy them up by chronology, technique, or stylistic sensibilities.

By all means, do that — a large selection from the collection is on display Nov. 8 – Dec. 14 at the Prescott College Art Gallery at Sam Hill Warehouse, while an ongoing rotation of prints debuts at the college’s nascent Natural History Institute this month — but before you delve too deep into delineation, just look at them.

Just. Look.

“Well, the first thing is that some of them are just jaw-droppingly gorgeous,” says Dr. Tom Fleischner, director of Prescott College’s nascent Natural History Institute. “There are some of them, like the Great Auks, that I just can’t keep my eyes off of.”

That simple act of looking was the first step that lead to the creation of these images. It’s the starting point for what Fleischner calls “humanities oldest tradition” that inspires both science and art.

“Natural history,” Fleischner says, “is, quite simply, paying attention to the world around us.”



“The Art of Natural History”

“Natural history can be problematic for people,” Fleischner says. “They think, ‘Hey, that’s something I did in grade school in a field.’”

In fact, he continues, it’s a multi-faceted area of study that brings together skills and ideas we think of as disparate in modern academic settings.

“It’s about the relationship between feelings and facts, emotion and rationality, between esthetics and cataloging,” Fleischner says. “(It’s) how these things come together and help us understand the natural world.”

In an effort to highlight the interdisciplinary aspects of the field, Fleischner has teamed up with M. Jennifer Chandler, director of the Prescott College Art Gallery at Sam Hill Warehouse for “The Art of Natural History,” a three-day celebration and symposium Nov. 8-10 at Prescott College. (There are other faculty members and students involved, too.)

Although the Natural History Institute technically opened for a few events earlier this year, this weekend doubles as the facility’s official grand opening.

There are walks, talks, and panel discussions that begin at the renovated Natural History Institute (312 Grove St.), as well as an art gallery opening for selection from the Josephine Michell Arader Natural History Print Collection at Sam Hill Warehouse (232 Granite St.).

The Arader collection itself — the pieces of which straddle the 16th through 19th centuries — is the jumping off point for the weekend’s eponymous panel discussion 2 p.m., Saturday, at the Natural History Institute.

“There are so many different ways to approach and appreciate these pieces,” Chandler says. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got an artist background, a science background, or if you’re a lover of history or a lover of language.”

In order to facilitate novel discussions about these pieces, Chandler says, the gallery will have some hands-on stations and other activities at the gallery.

“We’re trying to really honor the Age of Discovery that many of these pieces came from,” she says. “We really want to create a discussion about  this.”



The “hopeful side”

By the time she graduated from Prescott College in 2007, Josephine Arader had all but given up on a career in on-the-ground conservation.

“There were a lot of classes about how to keep the faith while working in these fields, but it was really hard for me,” Arader says. “I didn’t see a way I could work with policy or actual conservation without getting discouraged. … It was too dismal.”

She entered the family business, Arader Galleries — a collection of galleries across the country that deal in rare books and art. (It was started by her father, Graham, nearly four decades ago.)

This might seem like an about face, except that Arader Galleries specializes in natural history prints.

Building on a program Arader’s father started with a school in Florida, the gallery has given large sets of artwork to a handful of educational institutions across the country. (Technically speaking, they lease them to an institution for a few years while raising money to pay for them. At the end of the lease, Arader Galleries donates the remaining balance.)

“It seemed like that kind of program and collection would fit so well at Prescott College,” Arader says. “So, a year or two ago, I emailed Tom Fleischner, who was my mentor and advisor when I was there.”

Fleischner, who was wading through the development of the Natural History Institute back then, says the timing  was serendipitous.

“It sort of came out of the blue,” he says, “but, by coincidence, everything lined up. … It’s been amazing.”

What was initially pitched as a $300,000 collection ballooned to $1.2 million. (By early October, more than half the money had already been raised by Arader Galleries.)

Although she can’t make it to Prescott for the “The Art of Natural History” weekend — and, truth be told, she’s a little embarrassed that collection is named after her — Arader says she could think of no better home for these pieces.

After all, this kind of work is what inspires people to continue fighting the good fight, she says.

“I think that natural history artwork is the hopeful side of things,” Arader says. “It’s a way for us to celebrate the natural beauty of the world.”


Curious about whose work is in the Josephine Michell Aradar Natural History Print Collection? There are pieces by John James Audubon, Pierre-Joseph Redouté, Leonhart Fuchs, Elizabeth Blackwell, Albertus Seba, John Gould, aria Sibylla Merian, and Mark Catesby, among others.


Visit the Prescott College Natural History Institute 1-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays at 312 Grove Ave. or online at Prescott.Edu/Natural-History-Institute. Visit the Prescott College Art Gallery at Sam Hill Warehouse 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 232 N. Granite St. or online at Prescott.Edu/Gallery. “The Art of Natural History” celebration and symposium is Nov. 8-10 at both locations. Visit Arader Galleries online at AraderGalleries.Com.

James Dungeon is a figment of his own imagination. And he likes cats. Contact him at JamesDungeonCats@Gmail.Com.

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