Students carried five-gallon buckets that held their art supplies through the hardwood forest of the Appalachian Mountains. When they found something to draw, they turned the buckets over and used them as seats as they sketched. Art professor Megan Marlatt’s summer class spent two weeks at U.Va.’s Mountain Lake Biological Station, and nature served as their art’s subject and inspiration.
“The first day, we collected natural specimens, leaves and mushrooms, and we drew them up close. Also, the station has a collection of insects and fungi that we got to draw in detail,” says Marlatt. Next, students drew the deep woods, capturing dense foliage—“in the forest, there isn’t much depth of field, everything is right in your face,” she says. Then they drew more open landscapes such as meadows and eventually mountain panoramas. “Our collective P.O.V. stepped back further and further as the class progressed.”
The station’s director, Edmund D. “Butch” Brodie III, was excited to have art students join the scientists who have been coming to the mountaintop for 75 years. “I believe the production of art and scientific research is more similar than most people realize,” he says. “The creative processes have many parallels, and the motivations often are not so different. For many scientists, the major goals of research are to understand and communicate the details of the natural world.”
The balance and perspective that art brings to other fields of study was also recognized by the students. “I cannot live without one or the other,” says Quang Pham (Engr ’15). “One represents my logical side, where everything makes sense and follows the rules; the other side allows me to let go and draw on creativity and freedom, where anything is possible.”