Science Stories is a unique project 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. We have divided the Science Stories projects into broad topics: water, ice, mountains, flora, fauna and human health.
Collaboration between book artists and scientists is not new. In 1993 the Smithsonian Institution sponsored a landmark exhibition, Science and the Artists’ Book. In this exhibition, artists were invited to create original works of art inspired by the Heralds of Science, a 200-volume collection of classic scientific texts housed in the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. As Carol Barton, co-curator said of the exhibition, “The resulting exhibition is a surprising dialogue between science and the visual arts which may offer clues to the creative process itself.” (Retrieved from the web, January 20 2021: https://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Science-and-the-Artists-Book/)
Now, twenty-eight years after that landmark exhibition, Science Stories offers a new and inspiring dialogue, by engaging local scientists and educators with book artists across the Puget Sound region, in a collaborative process resulting in the creation of a unique, inspiring, and dazzling array of artists’ books as well as offering several book artists the opportunity to interpret works in the Slater Museum of Natural History at the University of Puget Sound.
We invited artists whose work represented a strong connection with science and our environment. The scientists were from The Evergreen State College, University of Puget Sound, University of Washington, Washington State University, The National Park Service, and Tacoma Public Utilities. In January 2020 (just before the Pandemic hit) we met together at the Slater Museum of Natural History, for what we called a “speed dating” event that provided the opportunity for participants to learn about the scientific research in our community. The artists and scientists rotated throughout the afternoon learning from one another about their art and research and artifacts from the Museum. As a result of this event, pairs were formed to work together and some individual artists opted to work with an artifact or science topic on their own. The principle goal of this project was to expand awareness of the scientific research and work being done in our local community and to provide a new way to raise awareness of their work and make the research more accessible to a broader audience. I think you will agree that we achieved this goal!
In addition to increased understanding of research on topics ranging from drinking water to ice crystals, we also learned a lot about collaboration during a pandemic. This project and resulting exhibit clearly reinforce the premise that both scientists and artists have a lot in common. Both artists and scientists rely on close observation, experimentation, and innovation.
It’s interesting to reflect on the different ways the artists responded to scientific research. For example, in Ice Crystals of Antarctica, Cirrus Clouds, Tahoma Reliquary, the Bark Beetle Books, and Working Upstream, the artists have made the scientists’ specific research and the questions it poses more visible. In The Flow of Water and Striped Plateau Lizard, the artists stayed true to the scientists’ work but simplified its complexity. In Connections: The Willow and the Mountain, Vorticella convallaria: 1676 & 2020, and Castor and Sapient, the artists have placed the scientist’s specific research in a much broader historical context. Some of the artists’ books such as Bound/Unbounded and Pangolin Pandemic place the scientific research in the context of the 2020 COVID19 Epidemic and political turmoil. Enmeshed and Whose Streets? use scientific observations as metaphors to improve human relationships. Finally, Castor and Sapient, The Making of a Meadow, The Pacific Northwest Native Plant Website and Magic Books, and Whose Streets? go beyond the research to suggest ways to resolve human alienation from nature.
We believe that Science Stories clearly shows how when scientists and artists work together in collaboration their stories can find new audiences and new ways to express their creativity. This idea of collaboration is well stated in an excerpt from ArtSci Magazine: a publication of Case Western Reserve University:
“From philosophical questions about humanity to the process of exploring our world to tangible end products, scientists and artists have many opportunities to collaborate, and no two collaborations will follow the same recipe. We find common ground as we acknowledge the importance of ethically engaging the public in critical, yet empowering conversations. When we take a moment to step back from our disciplinary niches, we can see and appreciate many approaches to understanding and describing our human experience.” (Retrieved: https://www.sciartmagazine.com/reflection-perspectives-on-art-science-collaboration.html
Like the Smithsonian exhibition twenty-eight years ago, Science Stories demonstrates how the artists’ book can be used to interpret ideas in new and engaging ways. This statement from Diane Shaw, co-curator, still holds true today, almost 30 years hence:
This close collaboration showcases how when scientists and artists communicate their discoveries through combinations of images and words, they establish a link between the two fields through the shared format of the book.” (Retrieved from the web, January 20, 2021: https://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Science)