Science Stories: A unique collaboration of artists and scientists

What happens when a book artist and scientist get together? The answer:  a lot!   

Science Stories is a unique project supported by the University of Puget Sound that brings together Pacific Northwest scientists and book artists with the end result being the creation of engaging and unique artists’ books that offer new ways to interpret science and to tell a story.  

The project is the brainchild of Evergreen’s Emeritus faculty member Lucia Harrison, Puget Sound Library Director Jane Carlin, and Professor of Biology at Puget Sound Peter Wimberger. ​ Over 18 months ago they started talking about the many connections between art and science.  The University of Puget Sound created the Art & Sci Initiative to bring together ideas and concepts to promote greater understanding of science.  Wimberger, a founding member of this initiative, was eager to find opportunities to engage scientists in new ways of thinking.  Harrison, an educator with a rich history of teaching art using science as a platform has seen the impact that combining art and science in educational settings ​has had on her students at The Evergreen College as well as work she has done with the community.  And Library Director, Jane Carlin has been an advocate for local books artists as well as for integrating artists’ books into the curriculum.  As Carlin states, “These artists’ books promote unique opportunities to share ideas and to enhance understanding of science.  Combining art, text and formats in innovative ways engages the reader/viewer in ways that a traditional book can’t.”  Lucia Harrison agrees: “So often, we as the public, are removed from the important work scientists are doing.  This project offers the opportunity to showcase the important scientific work being done in our community and make it more accessible to the public.”

The Science Stories website is a wealth of information.  Artists and scientists have created videos that provide insight into their work and process, in addition to resources and reference information.

The exhibit was planned to be displayed at the University of Puget Sound Collins Memorial Library in winter 2021, but as we all know, Covid intervened.  As Harrison states, “We had to pivot and rethink how to find ways to share this information.  It has been amazing to see how the community of artists and scientists have come together to create these amazing video stories.”

The curatorial team is planning to display the books this fall, October 1 – January 15, 2022.  And as Carlin states, “We are hopeful that we will be able to welcome members of the community to Collins to see these incredible books. We want as many as possible to see the many ideas reflected in this project.”

A number of Puget Sound faculty were involved with the Science Stories project representing a wide range of research and expertise:  Dan Burgard: Working Upstream, Rachel E Pepper: Vorticella Convallaria: 1676-2020), Stacey Weiss: Striped Plateau Lizard, Peter H Wimberger: Castor and Sapient and Timeline: A View from Washington Pass, Alyce A DeMarais: Tensile: A Sublime Love Story, and Steven Neshyba: Field Study: Ice Crystals of Antarctica. In each case the collaboration took a different path and together artist and scientist contributed to the unique design.

Striped Plateau Lizard by Dorothy McCuistion

Professor Stacey Weiss, who worked with local Tacoma artist Dorothy McCuiston reflects on her experience:
“Working with Dorothy was a wonderful experience and I was struck by both the depth and breadth of her research about the natural history of my lizards and the ecology of their environment. We had been hoping that she could visit my field sites in Arizona with me, but the pandemic prevented both of us from traveling there. When she decided to use a dying process with plant materials, I reached out to my friend and Director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Southwestern Research Station, Geoff Bender, and requested that he send us a bundle of plants from my study site, which he did. The result is just incredible! The colors that transferred to Dorothy’s art book are so reflective of the place that I love, it really blew me away.”

Alyce DeMarais Professor Emerita, Department of Biology shares thoughts about her experience.  She worked with local artist and letterpress printer, Jessica Spring: 
“I have always appreciated the melding of art and science.  I view science as a creative endeavor and marvel at the science that underlies artistic processes.  Working on this project with Jessica Spring provided new insights–it was fascinating to see how Jessica approached the project and how she connected data with words and images.  Her work captures the complexity of the science and its place in the world.”

Working Upstream by Jim Oker
Working Upstream by Jim Oker

Dan Burgard, Professor of Chemistry worked with artist Jim Oker and Suze Woolf. Oker writes: “Through the Working Upstream book project, book designer, Suze Woolf and I strove to explore the nature of this work and the issues it raises through images that evoke the notion of seeing aspects of the world in and through water. Water can become a lens through which the world can be seen, both figuratively and literally.”  The book’s form and materials also makes reference to a scientist’s microscope lens.  In discussions of this work, viewers will see a way of studying drug use in a community without violating individual privacy.”

All of the artists used images, innovative book structures, and tactile materials to seduce their audiences to engage in a dialog about issues raised by the scientists’ research.  Each one offers insights in the research being conducted in our region and helps foster a greater understanding of science and the connection that art has in helping us understand this complex work.

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