Sunday, December 30, 2018

Looking back at my art and science 2019

Antoine et Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier,
linocut with collaged washi,
2018 by Ele Willoughby
This year started with the end of our tenure running the Toronto Etsy Street Team gallery. Though this meant a great deal less time curating shows, I did make a move to show my art more in gallery shows, and sell through galleries and shops and less selling in person. Early in the year, I decided I would not participate in the One of a Kind Christmas Show. Selling art in person is tough to do; it's hard on your body to stand for long hours, fine art can be a harder sell than handmade goods which serve more than just an aesthetic purpose, and retailing anything can be gruelling - perhaps more so if it is your own creation. But, I am quite pleased that I did participate in a large number of artshows, a sold art in a variety of cities this year.

The first show for me this year was The Tarot Lovers: Works of Heart exhibition, which showed (and sold) at the Wellington County Museum and Archives. Curated by Shelley Carter, this show is one in a series she has organized with themes based on Tarot cards. I enjoyed the challenge of mixing those concepts with my ongoing works about the history of science, as an excuse to highlight the loving partnership of Antoine Lavoisier (26 August 1743 – 8 May 1794) and his wife Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier (20 January 1758 – 10 February 1836). Lavoisier is often referred to as the 'father' of modern chemistry, without any reference to his wife, and yet, as their official illustrator, she shows herself participating in his experiments and her skills as technical scientific translator allowed him to be up-to-date with chemistry across the Channel.

The next exhibit for which I submitted work was also an exchange of multiples: The Matchbook Project Cabinet of Curiosities.
 The works, along with my previously exhibited 'Imaginary Menagerie' prints were exhibited at Balzac's upstairs gallery for the Curious Fauna show in the fall, and I got my very own wunderkammer of beautiful and very varied artist-made matchboxes on the theme of cabinets of curiosities. This delightful project was curated and created by Hearyung Kim and Natalie Draz (whom I know from PROOF Studio Gallery).

In March I took part in Graven Feather's 'What the Fukushini' exhibit, submitting a version of my pink fairy armadillo linocut with collaged washi papers. This show, in partnership with The Paper Place, had artists make works on or with a specific washi paper. There was a great and delightful variety of works.

 Pink fairy armadillo, 11" x 13", 
multimedia by Ele Willoughby, 2018 (sold)

The most significant creation of new work for an exhibit was my five new portraits of Canadian women in STEM which were part of Curiosty Collider's show Interstitial: Science Innovations by Canadian Women, along with two other artists, this June in Vancouver! Interstitial was curated by Larissa Blokhuis, who makes gorgeous natural history inspired works, mainly in glass. I had previously made Ursula Franklin's portrait for the Phylo Project from Dave Ng and the Advanced Molecular Biology Laboratory (the science education facility within the Michael Smith Laboratories, UBC): a trading card game about Women in Science and Engineering! I added geologist Alice Wilson, physicist Harriet Brooks, computer scientist Trixie Worsley, medical researcher and biochemist Maud Menten and geneticist and Down syndrome expert Irene Ayako Uchida. Of these new five, I had only previously known Menten, despite having worked at the Geological Survey of Canada (like Wilson), being an alumni of U of T where Worsley had taught physics and computing and being a physicist by training (like Brooks). I was very glad to become involved with a great science/art organization and take part in this exhibit. Some artwork sold and many others in these editions have since - and it caused me to do some research specically on the history of Canadian women in STEM. This was revealing in and of itself, and I also gained some useful insights into how to find great stories about underappreciated women scientists.

Redbud and the Bees, 18" x 24",
linocut with collaged washi papers by Ele Willoughby, 2018
I made 'Redbud and the Bees' for  Creature Conserve  a non-profit outreach organization which brings artists and scientists together to "foster sustained and informed support for animal conservation," and their show Urban Wildlife: Learning to Co-exist. I remembered the urbanredbud citizen science project here in Toronto. Local U of T doctoral candidate Charlotte de Keyzer is working with the public to gather data on flowering times of Eastern redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) and their pollinators using bee nest boxes and traps. She made the suggestion of highlighting how the redbuds are moving into Toronto due to climate change and gardiners, and though popular with our local bees, they also attract a less popular new species the Eastern carpenter bee, who drill holes in wood to build nests. (Because the world is very small, it turns out de Keyser is the sister-in-law of my friend Laura Watt who you may know from Cubits). This show was curated by Creature Conserve founder, artist and scientist Lucy Spelman. It has been shown at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in July, and ArtProv Gallery in Rhode Island in September. This year, the exhibit will travel to other galleries in the US. Stay tuned for more details and chances to see these works!

This August, the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) staged an exhibit called 'Quantum' about the history of quatum mechanics. My friends at The Maker Bean (where you can now find my art, at both their Bloor and Dufferin and OSC locations) asked if I had an artwork about quatum mechanics. Indeed I do! So my portraits of physicists Bohr, Meitner, Roentgen, Wu and Curie, as well as Schroedinger's Cat, have all been on display at the OSC since then!

Me, at sea and two of my space-related prints:
my portraits of astronaut Mae Jemison and
Space Race engineer and mathematician Mary Golda Ross
This October, I was invited to give a talk as part of Science Literacy Week about my experience being an astronaut candidate for the Canadian Space Agency. Since astronauts are both scientists and science communicators, I took this as an opportunity to talk about both my research and sciart, together for the first time. I spoke at an event called "Space Mythbusters" at Gerstein Library along with a couple of other scientists. I told them what the astronaut selection process was really like and a bit about the mission that Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques has now begun, onboard the International Space Station. I also gave a version of this talk to a Boy Scout troup and am planning to do so at a couple of Toronto Public Libraries in 2019. Jesse Hildebrand spearheads Science Literacy Week, and he invited me to submit a proposal for Story Collider, a science-themed storyteller series and podcast. He hosts the Toronto series along with Misha Gajewski. So, I'm going to be doing that too, very early in the new year! Catch me on January 14th.

Eastern carpenter bee multimedia (sold)
Once again, I participated in Graven Feather's In the Round Show, this year hosted at PROOF Studio Gallery in the Distillery. I made a couple of round multimedia works based on my new bee and redbud lino blocks and one on the pink fairy armadillo. Like other years, I also participated in and helped organize the Toronto Etsy Street Team shows, including the Summer Market (or, this year, our first Etsy: Made in Canada Spring Show), Etsy: Made in Canada in September and our TEST Christmas Market, less than a week ago.  I also participated in Peggy Muddles' Scienterrific Pop-up at Tosca Terran's new Co:Lab space - in the same gallery where we had our year-long TEST Gallery pop-up! Likewise, I participated in Graven Feather's Holiday Market too. I was very pleased to also send off a selection of women scientist prints to Anthology boutique in Madison, Wisconsin.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, linocut, 12" x 12" by Ele Willoughby, 2018
As well as all these shows and works created with specific shows in mind, I also added to my on-going collection of scientist portraits with neuroscientist and artist in his own right, Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852 - 1934), 17th century scientist and scifi author Margaret Cavendish, ancient Egyptian court physician Merit Ptah (arguably the earliest recorded woman in science), pharmaceutical chemist Alice Ball (who made the first effective treatment for leprosy), mathematician and Space Race engineer Mary Golda Ross, and mathematician Emmy Noether. All of these involved research and writing on my part too. I also managed to complete my long-awaited chair reuphostery personal project, with involved printmaking, patchwork, applique and embroidery.

On a personal front, we managed to also sneak in trips to Sault Ste Marie for my family reunion and out to New Brunswick to see my husband's family. Amazingly, our - now five year old son - has been raised to be a good little traveller, and we managed to do this by car! My husband has some new, hard-won job security. Our son started French immersion in senior kindergarter this year. All of this is good.

When I looked back I see that in fact, a lot happened this year, and while it sort of feels sometimes that I have never accomplished enough, I have done rather a lot. I know that this year will bring more art shows, already in the planning and several more speaking engagements. I have several collections I am continuing to build and I would like to do more varied multimedia work. It isn't always straightforward to navigate a path as self-employed modern day Renaissance woman, but I think (I hope) that I'm on the right patch to carve out my own place at the intersection of art and science.