It Starts with a Spark
An art and science celebration
By Nick Houtman
I live with a clay artist. In addition to vases, bowls and jars, pots sculpted into seed pods, tide-pool creatures and Egyptian birds emerge from her studio like scenes from an alternate Fantasia. These creations spring from her close observation of nature and speak to me of the joy that comes from a feeling of kinship with the world.
Her ability to breathe life into clay — sticky, malleable and common as mud — still strikes me as a miracle. It takes a persistent curiosity, well-developed skills and a willingness to try something new, perhaps fail, and try again.
These qualities also describe people who do science: the oceanographer who collects water and mud from an ice-cold sea to run experiments; the soil scientist who explores how human history is written in the materials under our feet; the chemist who designs molecular compounds with new colors and useful properties; the sociologist who explores the human dimensions of wildfire and climate change in a rural community.
So it makes sense for us to celebrate the infectious spirit that drives these endeavors with SPARK, Art + Science @OSU. For a community bent on changing the world, art and science are not just complementary. The qualities that underlie them are necessary for tapping our imagination, for understanding how the world works and for connecting new knowledge with our values. They fuel the mission of this place as surely as the air we breathe.
I am reminded of that when I walk into spaces designed to foster research and see art that delves into the pursuit of knowledge or invites people to participate in the journey. If you walk up the main staircase in the Memorial Union, look at the murals of oceanographers at sea. Or in the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, check out the paintings by Linfield College professor Ron Mills de Pinyas. They leave no doubt about this center’s deep commitment to family and community life. At the Linus Pauling Science Center, a light sculpture offers a brilliant interpretation of chemical analysis.
This winter, a SPARK presentation highlights OSU’s favorite animal. From February 1 to 28, the Beaver Tales Art Show at the LaSells Stewart Center features original works highlighting the aesthetic, ecological and cultural aspects of these industrious creatures and their habitats. Scientists like Caroline Nash, whose work in Eastern Oregon appears in this issue, continue to explore the impacts that beavers have on watersheds.
Next spring, April 13 to May 27, The Arts Center of Corvallis will present another collaboration between artists and scientists. Microbiomes: To See the Unseen will feature works in a variety of media. OSU microbiologist and glass artist Jerri Bartholomew provided knowledgeable inspiration as well as a piece from her studio.
Nick Houtman, Editor