Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SciArt meet-up

Austin Monthly for October 2014 included my linocut of
Florence Nightingale in their write-up of the 'X Marks the Spot' show
at Art.Science.Gallery
Today I got to meet-up with a group of scientists/artists: Hayley Gillespie (ecologist, artist and founder of Art.Science.Gallery), Peggy Muddles (aka the Vexed Muddler, who works on the genetics of bacteria in lungs of CF patients by day, and amazing SciArt ceramics by night) and Rovena Tey (cancer researcher on mat leave and science-inspired cardmaking genius behind Handmade By Rovena)* and have a tour behind the scenes at the Royal Ontario Museum! The ROM is a rightfully famous museum, which boasts not only a world class archeological (especially Egyptian) collection, but a proper natural history museum, which has always meant that it was a research institution as well as a public museum. One of Hayley's friends from grad school is the curator of freshwater fish, and he was kind enough to give us a tour of the freshwater fish, and mammals and enlist his colleague to show us the invertebrate collection. Sadly, photographs were not allowed for security reasons (as it's best not to publicize the inner workings of a museum which houses some very valuable artifacts).

As token physical scientist, when the conversation turned to finer details of genetics and mapping family trees (if you will) of huge datasets of species, I felt like saying, "Oh! Bayesian regression! I know what that means!" with a little wink. The physical specimen themselves and the tour was fascinating. I could certainly relate to the problems of data archiving and preserving physical specimen, as these are serious problems for earth scientists too (especially the marine ones, as some ocean bottom cores need to be frozen and pressurized to avoid essentially melting or exploding, or both). I wouldn't have guessed that most of the ROM's collection of fishes is housed outside of the city, because that many tens of thousands of alcohol filled jars is deemed too great a fire risk downtown! It really is an incredible feat for these scientists to have even gathered all these species, let alone all the work of detailing and studying them, tracing their evolution, afterwards - and an invaluable resource.

We saw a few thousand sample jars of fishes, as well as some mammals (like bats) which are stored in alcohol. We saw their large collection of mammal pelts, which sort of takes your breathe away. The ROM is a museum of a certain age; at some time in the past they were gifted a large collection of mounted mammal heads (presumably from the estate of a hunter). I saw the head of a black rhino, now on the brink of extinction. It was staggering in size, even compared to the other rhino head. There were more heads of assorted quadrupeds than I knew how to identify.

I was pleased to happen to see a giraffe weevil along with a fabulous, large bronze sculpture of a giraffe weevil, on a plinth in the hallway between offices for scientists. I had only seen photos when I made my linocut. The invertebrates curator was an expert on leeches (which yes, are gathered the hard way... as any Canadian who has portaged a canoe through swampy water will be familiar). There were marvellous and/or scary arthropods including a mantis shrimp the size of my forearm, a roughly metre long South American earthworm, delicate and beautiful shell of a paper nautilus (or argonaut), adorable slipper lobster, and all sorts of other crustaceans... as well and swapped tales of fieldwork and labwork (mis)adventure.

Afterwards we were joined by Hayley's husband Cole (a psychiatrist) for a lovely lunch and discussion about that inspiring intersection of art and science. It was a real treat!

Hayley also brought me a copy of the Austin Monthly from October 2014. They included (part of) my portrait of Florence Nightingale in their write-up of the 'X Marks the Spot' exhibit at Art.Science.Gallery. It's always great to see my artwork in print, but I especially like that they've selected the perhaps unexpected. People will know her name, but as a nursing pioneer, rather than a statistician and data visualization pioneer, but she was both. She also brought me Ada Lovelace bookmarks from the 'Go Ahead and Do It' women in STEM show. Gabriel promptly ate one when I got home.

*We missed Glendon Mellow (aka the Flying Trilobite), scientific illustrator, SciArtist and Scientific American blogger, who couldn't make it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Surveyors, an all-female crew in the American west in 1918

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage topographical map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

All female survey crew working on the Minidoka Project, Idaho, 1918.
I love when people approach me about doing a fascinating custom order. An artist, Krista Caballero who has been collaborating with many others on a project called Mapping Meaning which brought together "artists, scientists and scholars to explore questions of social, mental, and environmental ecology. Inspired by a photograph from 1918 depicting an all-female survey crew, the project is rooted in a five-day experimental workshop that takes place biennially on the Colorado Plateau." She wanted to thank her collaborators with the gift of a print and wanted to know if I could make an edition inspired by this very 1918 photo. Since one of the things I do is communicate science through art with portraits of scientists (with a special focus on women in the history of science) and I have also done a variety of earth science surveys and mapping, this is very much my thing. In fact, I worry sometimes about hagiography... about only present heroes and heroines, or perpetuating the myth that science is a series the story of a series of lone geniuses. Plus, those survey rods with their odd symbols are so graphic and tempting to one who makes relief prints.

I proposed portraying these women and incorporating vintage geological, topographic and seismicity maps of the western North America, so that each print would be unique. All of the vintage maps came from the Geological Survey of Canada and were actually used in the field - as a tip of the hat to these women. I felt that any marking on the maps actually made them more app. The maps are also from western North America, and are decades old - a little further west and north, and later than these women worked... but they can be tied to similar pioneering surveying work. These hard-working women would have produced the sorts of data fundamental to producing the maps like these geological, topographic and seismicity (or earthquake) maps. The history of science is not only a series of exploits of well-known genius experimentalists, famous for their eureka moments; nor is it simply a tale of paradigm shifts brought about by wiser theorists who suddenly saw the need to shift the entire underpinnings of a given field of science. The history of science is also a tale of hard work by countless unknowns; an all-female survey crew from the early twentieth century seem especially unknown. We have no record of their names and they do not fit our preconceived notions of who explored and mapped the west, or who did fundamental scientific grunt work. I think Idaho in 1918 would still feel like the wild west and imagine these women to be quite fearless.

There are a few extra available here.

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage topographical map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage topographical map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby
The Surveyors, linocut with vintage geological map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage geological map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage topographical map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage geological map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

The Surveyors, linocut with vintage seismicity map, 14" x 11", edition of 10 each unique, 2015 by Ele Willoughby

And do check out Mapping Meaning - there's some very interesting stuff there!

Monday, April 27, 2015

minouette on Etsy & the Etsy: Made in Canada community!

Carving a lino block in my studio during the Etsy Canada photoshoot!
(photo by Nicole Breanne Hudson)
A few weeks ago, we had a little photoshoot in my studio! As the captain of one of the largest teams in Canada, and someone actively involved in planning Etsy: Made in Canada, Etsy asked if they could profile me as a member of the made in Canada handmade community. The photographer Nicole, Tanya from Etsy, and my fellow Toronto Etsy Street Team leader, Candice joined me in my studio with the baby (who thought this was a riot!) and, Minouette the cat. Though she (Minouette) can often be shy, she seemed to have decided that this was clearly all about her, and she should be the centre of attention. She stole the show. I guess that makes sense, since I named my shop after her. Anyway, I'm honoured to get to represent so much amazing talent involved in Etsy: Made in Canada, and excited to be profiled on Etsy. You can find the main landing page for Etsy: Made in Canada at the link and read the profile, complete with a peak inside my studio on the community page here!

In my studio, Minouette stations herself on my desk, so she can be sure to be in the shot (photo by Nicole Breanne Hudson)
I was also flattered to see that BlogTO listed me as one of  The top 20 Etsy sellers in Toronto by category in 'Art' writing, 

Minouette's prints and cards feature woodcut illustrations of historical figures, zodiac signs, and fluffy animals. Relevant to Torontonian interests: this high-fiving raccoon ($35)."
It's been a good week for press for the shop!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Gregor Mendel and his Peas

Gregor Mendel with his pea plants
Gregor Mendel, 11" x 14" (28 cm x 35.6 cm), 2015 by Ele Willoughby
This is a linocut portrait of Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), scientist and Augustinian friar who posthumously gained fame for establishing many of the rules of heredity, fundamental to modern genetics.... more than three decades after his death (though even he didn't realize the importance of his crossbreeding studies). By carefully crossbreeeding pea plants and tracing seven characterististics (plant height, pod shape and colour, seed shape and colour, and flower position and colour) he was able to deduce what are now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance. Apparently, pea plants were the most popular of his projects with his colleagues. His mouse experiments were frown upon by his bishop (all those copulating rodents!) and his particularly aggressive Cyprian and Carniolan bees proved an annoyance to his fellow monks and visitors to the abby.

He coined the terms "recessive" and "dominant" traits. Some of his findings are subtlely alluded to in the layout of the pea flowers, like a Punnett square depicting a cross between two pea plants heterozygous for purple and white blossoms - that is, purple flowers are a dominant characteristic and the first generation of crossbread plants will have all purple flowers, but the recessive white flowers can reappear in subsequent generations. The first edition is a variable run of 8 prints, each 11" by 14" (28 cm by 35.6 cm), on ivory Japanese kozo paper with "chine-collé" white and mauve paper.

Apart from completing this print this weekend, I unfortunately got to spend most of the beautiful Sunday afternoon inside, in line.  A few weeks ago, I was thinking that I don't get out enough with the baby and still had not used gift certificates I got at Christmas. It's a challenge sometimes to work around his meals and naps and get anywhere on public transit (especially if that means carrying him and his stoller up and down three flights of stairs cause so many stations are still not accessible in 2015!). So, I made a point to go to a certain shop with the intent of replacing my 10 year old, twice-repaired shoes. I found the shop mostly empty of shoes but I did buy myself a dress on sale, and went across the street and bought myself an organic fruit smoothie at the Big Carrot, which I shared with the baby. At the time, I thought I'd done really well. As locals will know, a server has since been diagnosed with Hep A, and thus, like hundreds of other patrons, Gabriel and I got to wait in line to be vaccinated. It's unlikely we've been exposed; we would have had to have been served by the particular person and he or she would have had to had improperly washed hands... but it's not worth risking (and the young can show no symptoms while readily infecting others). Not how I would have liked to have spent the first lovely warm day of the year... though I was kind of impressed that everyone took the public health advice, turned up, and waited patiently. The elderly couple behind us offered to push the stroller and hold out place in line so I could at least let Gabriel run around a little. He's not too rambunctious and people were patient with him, which I appreciated. It helps that he smiles at everyone.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Immortal Jellyfish

Immortal Jellyfish
Immortal Jellyfish, Ele Willoughby (c) 2015, 11" x 14" (27.9 cm x 35.6 cm)
This hand-printed linocut of the Turritopsis dohrnii is the only known animal to be able to revert to its younger colonial stage after having reached maturity - that is the full-grown T. dohrnii jellyfish medusa, if it gets stressed, or old and sick, can revert back to the polyp stage, form a new polyp colony and start all over. So in theory, the jellyfish can bypass death and this cycle can go on forever. The jellyfish is "biologically immortal"! In the real world, there are diseases and predators which interfere with the T. dohrnii's plans of immortality, of course... but unlike the rest of us, it's not an impossible jellyfish dream.

T. dohrnii are hydrozoans which begin life as a sort of free floating fertilized egg known as planula larvae, a sort of plankton. These settle on the seafloor and a colony of polyps, or hydroids, attached to the seafloor like a little garden of multi-branched soon-to-be-jellyfish. The jellyfish, or medusae, bud off these polyps, each a genetically identical clone to the next. The medusae swim freely until sexual maturity. After that, should the T. dohrnii face environmental stress, assault or simply age and illness, it can revert to the polyp form, found a new colony and begin again! This cycle can, in theory, repeat ad infinitum.

The "immortal jellyfish" was formerly classified as T. nutricula, which had also been confused with the similar T. rubra. It turns out that it's quite the challenge to tell one Turritopsis from another. Currently only one scientist, Shin Kubota from Kyoto University, has managed to sustain a group of these jellyfish for a prolonged period of time in captivity; in two years, his colony rebirthed itself 11 times! Wanting to avoid the mistake of confusing one Turritopsis for another, I was glad to read the New York Times Magazine profile of Shin Kubota and the Turritopsis dohrnii - so I could be confident their images were of the right animal!

Incidentally, googling "immortal jellyfish" turns up a lot of strange things, including harebrained anti-aging schemes and vampire fans.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Art shows: Sheep, Space & Bees

I feel so behind in my blogging. Sometimes wrangling a very busy toddler, running a business, making art and running a thousand-member team (thankfully with help from excellent collaborators!) and you know, basic life stuff, like buying, cooking and eating food seems like more than enough to fill my days. Recently, we had a bit of a photoshoot in my studio... and I don't mean with the official family photojournalist (aka my husband). Some of the things I do for things from secret minouette places and for the Toronto Etsy Street Team will soon be getting a little press. Can't wait to share that! All these things keep me very busy, but, I don't want neglect blogging. Let me play catch up.

Year of the Goat show at PROOF Studio Gallery in the Distillery District
Like previous years, I was happy to take part in PROOF Studio Gallery's international print exhibit celebrating the Chinese New Year. This year of course is symbolized by yang, an animal which can be translated as sheep or goat. I've leaned towards 'sheep' and included my Cloned Sheep (the 'Hello Dolly!' one) and Yang: the Sheep or Goat prints.  (I can see them in the photo: Cloned Sheep is the colourful one with the blue mat in the centre and Yang in three over to the right). The show ran from February 18th to March 1 at PROOF and then hit the road, visiting OCADU print department, the Ottawa School of Art,  Concordia University Mouse Print Gallery in Montreal and Muskoka Arts Place.

Local gallery Artisans At Work is hosting
Terra Nova & Friends Exhibit
Show runs through April 2015

Artisans At Work
2071 Danforth Avenue, Toronto
Hours: Mon: Closed; Tues & Wed: 10-6; Thurs & Fri: 10-7; Sat & Sun: 11-5pm
Terra Nova & Friends Exhibit: Mother Nature, Intergalactic & Extraterrestrial Art.
First Friday Reception: April 3, 2015, 7:30-10pm. Music by The Sidewalkers, licensed bar, treats, art, and local artists.

So, I've been framing some of my earth and space science and scientists prints for the show!

My friend (and fellow TEST leader) Christine Pensa is co-curating a show about bees in June with the lovely women of Graven Feather gallery, so I'm planning to show my bee prints there, perhaps including some new ones. See Christine's Art That Moves blog for more information, or to apply to the show.

Coincidentally, Art.Science.Gallery in Austin is also hosting a bee themed show. The Buzz Stops Here (April 18 - May 30) will feature encaustic artworks (which involves painting with melted beeswax) about the science and conservation of bees! The medium really is the message here. I've never tried encaustic, so I won't be participating in their show, but I've recently sent a big package of my bee prints to their shop the Supply Room, to be available during the show.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Women of Science bringing Science to the Public on Twitter

I was really flattered to be included in the io9 article by geophysicist and science writer Mika McKinnon's round up of all sorts of scientific women who are actively communicating science, in all sorts of ways, on twitter! She mentioned my science and history of science linocuts (including the tweet above), and listed roughly 40 others, both well-known and not. Just recently, I was asked by a couple of my mother's friends about twitter: why would one be interested and how can it take up one's time. It was one of those, "Why would you want to read, 'I ate a sandwich for lunch!'?" type questions. I gave a fairly standard reply that if that is in fact the only sort of thing a person tweets, you simply don't follow them; instead, you can follow @NASA. This round-up is a better answer; you can follow - and actively engage with - some of the most creative, knowledgeable and interesting, entertaining people out there. You can stay abreast of your own interests and follow those who work in radically different areas and are excited about topics which you might not even have known existed. If you're looking for great people to follow, and kick-ass women in STEM to boot, this is a good place to start, as well as the other lists she links to.

The #SciArt tweetstorm did put my work in front of new eyeballs and I'm also flattered to have gained new followers. Thank you to all 1258 twitter followers, 667 FB fanpage followers, 960 Etsy followers, 2700 Etsy , 3861 Pinterest followers, and 83 Instagram followers. I had to correct the numbers in the previous sentence twice, in the time it took me to type it (and I type quickly). It was quite amazing to find my work spreading so quickly and get so much feedback that I could barely keep up. If I failed to reply to you, my apologies; please try again. I usually do reply promptly and don't usually feel that popular. ;)