Like other scientists, I suspect, when I first heard about the integration of art and ecology a while back my response was “what’s that?” and “don’t people like writers and painters already do that?” Then, busy with life as a college professor, I went on to other things.
Until I bumped into sources like “Ecological Reflections,” I didn’t appreciate that art has always helped my students better understand ecology.
A stellar example is The Harvard Forest’s dioramas titled “Landscape History of Central New England.” Supervised in the 1930’s by KT Fisher, the Harvard Forest’s first director, the seven exquisite models show the same piece of land from “Pre-settlement Forest” (1700) through “Farm Abandonment” (1850) to “A Vigorously Growing Forest of Hardwoods” (1930). Slides of each scene are available on the Harvard Forest’s website, but in my experience students are most engaged when they stand before each remarkable model. In the first diorama, for instance, even freshmen have noticed features such as variation in tree widths, gaps, and contrasting light intensity on the forest floor. Those observations then led to discussions about the concept of a virgin forest or disturbance. The trail behind the museum passes by living examples of such phenomena.
If you do visit the dioramas, don’t miss the demonstration model. It shows how the trees are made with copper wire twisted into boughs, branches and trunks, then soldered and painted. Leaves and needles on copper sheets are individually attached.
“Moving for Monarchs: The Awakening,” filmed at the Konza Prairie LTER site, also beautifully shows how art––in this case dance––can educate people about environmental issues. These dancers and artists, in conjunction with the non-profit conservation organization MonarchWatch, intend to “make visible the critical challenges facing monarchs and other pollinators” and inspire grass roots action.
The film is directed by Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch, a gifted dancer whose soaring Grand Jeté over the tallest prairie grasses can’t be missed. To view a trailer of the film, click here:
–Charlene D’Avanzo, Professor of Ecology in the School of Natural Sciences, Hampshire College.