The art of seeing: Prescott College's Natural History Institute opens this weekend
PRESCOTT - The observation of plants and animals in their natural environment takes a learned eye and a keen sense of place, not to mention an academic method of study, which is often an art form unto itself.
This weekend, Prescott College will feature a symposium and celebration as part of the grand opening of the Natural History Institute. The weekend event, The Art of Natural History, began Friday night with an art reception at the Sam Hill Prescott College Art Gallery. Events continue through Sunday.
Organizers picked the name of the event to encompass, not only the science of natural history, but actual art created in the field.
The institute will feature a number of art pieces donated to the facility, part of the Josephine Michell Arader Natural History Print Collection, during the event. The collection, dating to the 16th and 19th centuries, features original hand-colored engravings and lithographs depicting extinct animals, fauna and more. Work from artists John James Audubon, Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Leonhart Fuchs, Elizabeth Blackwell, Albert Seba, John Gould, Maria Sibylla Merian, Mark Catesby and others make up the nearly 250 items in the collection.
The opening weekend will also feature tours of the institute, tours of the Arader collection on campus, a panel discussion and presentations on the Butte Creek Stream Restoration and "A Naturalist's Way of Seeing." From 8-10 a.m. Saturday, organizers will offer an exploration of Natural History at the institute. The tour of the Arader collection will be held from 9-11 a.m. at the institute and a panel discussion on natural history will be held from 2-3:30 p.m. at the institute.
On Sunday, a tour of the campus will be offered from 9-11 a.m. "A Naturalist's Way of Seeing" with Walt Anderson is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the institute.
The art exhibit, which opened Friday night, runs to Saturday, Dec. 14. The Prescott College Art Gallery at the Sam Hill Warehouse, located at 232 North Granite Street in Prescott, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Prescott College Gallery Coordinator and Instructor M. Jennifer Chandler said the books were "broken" and parted out as individual art pieces. Those pages make up the bulk of the collection. Besides the art, skulls, one of Fleischner's 1982 field journals, tools, specimens and more are also featured in the exhibit.
The public can also take part in the exhibit. Chandler invited those who attend to draw and write observations in a field journal available at the gallery. Their observations, and drawings, will become a part of the gallery's archive following the exhibit, Chandler said.
"People can come here and they can look at an object under the microscope," Chandler said. "We've got specimens people can actually handle and report their observations."
Natural History Institute Director Tom Fleischner called the study of Natural History the "practice of paying attention to the world around us."
Besides working as director for the Institute, Fleischner is also a professor at Prescott College and an author. He recently edited the book, "The Way of Natural History," worked with a photographer on the book "Desert Wetlands" and penned the book "Singing Stone: A Natural History of the Escalante Canyons."
These days, much of his time has been spent developing the Natural History Institute in time for this weekend's opening celebration.
"The institute is a part of Prescott College," he said. "Natural history is, essentially, the practice of attentiveness to the natural world. I would emphasize it's practice, not just the body of knowledge that accrues from the practice, of learning how to see and learning how to have your ears and eyes, and all senses, open."
As a 26-year teacher at the college, Fleischner teaches a number of courses, which naturally includes natural history.
The institute will not only provides services to students of Prescott College, but also offer outreach to the Prescott community, Fleischner said.
"Natural history is sort of seen as a sub-set of science, sort of 'science lite.' We see it as the opposite, that it's something larger than science. It's an integration of science, art and humanities, so we're trying to feature all of that into this facility and everything we'll be doing," Fleischner said.
The institute will host a research component, an educational component, outreach, community building, featured speakers, and so on. For more information on the institute, including a complete grand opening weekend schedule and upcoming speakers, visit them online at www.naturalhistoryinstitute.org.
Natural History Institute Program Coordinator, and Prescott College alumni, Lisa Zander worked with the gallery, collecting native plants and rocks, for inclusion in The Art of Natural History gallery display.
"It's definitely a marriage of art and science," Zander said, describing the exhibit. "The things we learn here, especially at Prescott College, effect the way we look at the world for the rest of our lives. This particular collection falls within a specific historical period, the age of exploration, which is sometimes called the age of discovery."
The art on display for the opening, she added, count as detailed artistic representations of living, and extinct, creatures from a time when photography didn't exist.
Cailyn Brierley, a current student and program assistant for the institute, helped develop the displays for public viewing.
"I'm trying to learn as much as possible about the history of this art work. It's really fascinating. Understanding the stories of the people who created these beautiful pieces (and they're all so different) makes experiencing the pieces more real," Brierley said.