By Sara Katherine Johnson
For the first time since the building opened in 2004, artwork is on public display in the Baylor Science Building. Thanks to the collaboration of Dr. Dan Samples, temporary full-time lecturer in biology, and Julia Hitchcock, associate professor of art, there are now six new pieces of student art displayed on the BSB’s second floor landing.
To lead the effort to brighten the walls of the sciences building with artistic works, an Art in the BSB Committee was formed by Dr. Kenneth T. Wilkins, Divisional Dean for Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences. The committee was charged with bringing art into the building over a period of time.
“There’s a difference between bringing in art and decorating,” Samples said. “We (on the committee) wanted something that would have some relevance and that might stimulate thought or the creative spark.” With that in mind, Samples offered students of Hitchcock’s Drawing 3 class a chance to view histology slides in his lab for inspiration.
Histology is the study of cells and tissues of plants and animals. The art students examined thin slices of human tissue on glass plates that had been stained for viewing. Normally, there is little visual contrast to the tissue or cells, so using dye for staining helps to bring contrast or highlighting to the tissue. To view the slides, Samples taught the art students how to use high-powered microscopes.
Beginning in October 2013, students made two three-hour visits to Samples’ lab for microscopic viewing. During their visits they took sketches, asked questions and noted the things that made each slide unique. They then spent several class sessions conceptualizing and working on the actual pieces.
To translate the views on the slides into art, the students started with cotton rag paper and coated it with gesso. Gesso is used a sealer and to give pigment something to hold onto instead of bleeding into the canvas. Next, students applied ground graphite, which they were able to manipulate by moving it around on the gesso with alcohol.
“The unknown is where creativity starts,” Hitchcock said, speaking to the value of this kind of exercise for artists. Her students made their own interpretations of what they saw through the lenses when seeing human tissue. Hitchcock said through interpretations with an artistic statement, someone’s trained eye can see elements of the true reproduction of what they are seeing.
Hitchcock said this collaboration between biology and art goes beyond a simple partnership. She described it as allowing her art students to “recontextualize” ideas.
Students in scientific fields will also benefit from these types of works, Samples added. He explained that histology is a very visually driven field, and to really learn the material students should move beyond merely memorizing images. Looking at artwork, he said, helps develop the observational skills of students.
“My students had to try to figure out how to describe something they might not have the terminology for,” said Hitchcock, who pushed her students to not only visually communicate but also to articulate words. Each student wrote their own statements on the creation process, and these are included on the small plaques mounted next to each work of art.
College of Arts & Sciences dean Lee Nordt presided at a reception held March 21, 2014, to officially welcome the art installation to the Baylor Sciences Building. Two of the artists — Kendal Kulley, a senior studio art major from Leander, and Carolina Low, a senior Baylor Business Fellow and economics major from Yukon, Okla. — were on hand to talk with visitors about their creations.
The six artworks are located on the second floor landing of the BSB, on the north end closest to Waco Creek.
The art committee hopes this will be the first installment of more artwork to come, created by students and others. Displayed works could even include commissioned or donated works. Faculty in the art department and and science departments hope to collaborate on future projects as well.
Photos #1 and 2: New student artwork displayed in the Baylor Sciences Building
Photo #3: Dr. Dan Samples, biology, and Professor Julia Hitchcock, art
Photo #4: Student artist Kendal Kulley
Photo #5: Student artist Carolina Low
Photo #6: Art in the BSB reception, March 21, 2014