Art, science and water: “Seeing a River” opens

by | Feb 3, 2023 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

A river always is changing, always in flux – and so it makes sense that the new exhibit “Seeing a River,” now on view at the Joan Truckenbrod Gallery in Corvallis, may look different at its next stop.

In “Seeing a River,” two artists with deep connections to science team up with a scientist who’s also a successful artist to offer different views of three different waterways.

For Jerri Bartholomew, a microbiologist at Oregon State University and a well-known glass artist, the waterway is the Klamath River. For the past two decades, Bartholomew has studied a single parasite on the river that’s been responsible for a devastating loss of salmon.

For Andrew Myers, a visual artist and educator who teaches at OSU, it’s the McKenzie River. And for Leah Wilson, an artist who recently has joined Bartholomew’s lab at OSU, it’s Whychus Creek in Sisters.

“We’ve each picked a different system,” Bartholomew said in a recent interview. “Something that resonated with each of us. … We all bring a different perspective to what we’re seeing when we look at a river.”

It makes sense that Bartholomew would choose the Klamath, a river that’s about to undergo a massive change. Four dams on the Klamath are scheduled to be removed starting next year. It’s the largest dam-removal project in history, and Bartholomew’s research into the salmon parasite was part of the case for taking them down.

In fact, one of the glass pieces she’s showing at the Truckenbrod is intended to change as the river recovers.

“What I’ve done is create a river of salmon,” she said. “At the point where dams have been constructed in the river that blocked salmon passage, the salmon above that point in the river are ‘ghost’ salmon.” But in the future, as salmon return to those portions of the river, the work will reflect that, with “real” salmon replacing the ghosts.

The original idea for the show was to have all three artists focus on the Klamath River, but delays on the dam-removal project prompted Myers and Wilson to turn their attention to other waterways. Myers focused on the McKenzie River, a 90-mile tributary of the Willamette that flows from Lane County’s Clear Lake. Wilson turned her attention to Whychus Creek in Central Oregon.

Although Bartholomew thinks future iterations of “Seeing a River” might focus solely on the Klamath, she said she was pleased that each artist chose a different river for this show.

Myers and Bartholomew are longtime collaborators at OSU, where they help run the Art-Sci Collaborative for students who are interested in working at the intersection of art and science. The two taught a course together on the art of the microbiome, “teaching students how to incorporate or use art to see science different,” Bartholomew said.

Wilson brings considerable experience from the crossroads between art and science to the collaboration; among other credits, she served a six-year residency at OSU’s H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest east of Eugene, and created work inspired by changes in the forest over an extended length of time. Her work with Bartholomew’s lab at OSU will be focused on the Klamath River.

After decades of acclaimed work in scientific and artistic circles, Bartholomew sees clear connections between the two: “Art and science are both very process-oriented and discovery-oriented. And a lot of the processes are very similar. And when I teach a class in this, I show how parallel they really are. There are clear differences. But I think what makes a successful scientist is creativity and art is another expression of creativity.”

If You Go

“Seeing a River” opens Friday, Feb. 3 at the Joan Truckenbrod Gallery, 517 SW Second St. in Corvallis. An opening reception is set for Friday, Feb. 3 from 4 to 8 p.m., with an artists’ panel at 5 p.m. If you miss that, the artists also will be on hand during the Corvallis Arts Walk, 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 16. The show runs through Feb. 25. The Truckenbrod Gallery is open Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

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