Generally speaking, scientists pursue research in hopes of making sense of phenomena happening around them. Through close observation, creative design, and thoughtful analysis, they paint a compelling portrait powered by data. This work helps translate observation into actionable shared knowledge.
Artists represent another group who rely on creativity, interpretation, and technical skill for their craft. Though often pitted against “left-brained” scientists, artists follow a similar methodology in representing a question, idea, or observation. The end product is different, but both scientists and artists seek to sort out and react to the incredible stuff that makes up life.
And what better place to unite the powerful truths of science and art than at a wilderness field station like UMBS?
This summer, two artists-in-residence will bridge the gap between ecological research and the fine arts. Cathy Van Voorhis, a landscape painter and lecturer at Stamps School of Art and Design, and U-M alum Karl Ronneburg, a New York-based composer, percussionist, and multimedia/performance artist, will enjoy the pristine beauty of northern Michigan and share their creative talents with the UMBS community.
“Einstein said that art and science come from the same source—a sense of wonder,” says Van Voorhis. “Most of the time, I work outdoors, because the feeling of immersion in the environment is a critical inspiration.”
In her paintings, Van Voorhis tries to incorporate knowledge about the ecosystem around her.
“When I am painting on the shores of Lake Michigan, I strive to represent the individual plants that grow there. I study the way that they grow and their specific colors: Milkweed, Red Osier Dogwood, Pitcher’s Thistle, Hoary Puccoon, Sand Cherries, Wormwood, Cottonwood trees, Poison Ivy! If there is a plant I do not know, I try to find it in my guidebooks and learn about it. I listen for the different birds that call and watch their behavior if I can spot them. Constantly, I think about all of the life that is interconnected. Whenever possible, I love to go on walks with the Park Rangers and Naturalists, to expand my understanding and appreciation.”
Like Van Voorhis, Karl (who prefers to go by his first name in professional contexts) is “frequently inspired by the natural world, including works about the Huron River, Sleeping Bear Dunes, climbing trees, poems by Mary Oliver -- and the Biostation itself!” Karl spent a few weeks at UMBS last summer, and completed several compositions inspired by the native flora and fauna.
Both artists plan to share their work with the Station’s students, faculty, staff, and researchers. Van Voorhis envisions teaching basic drawing and observation skills, and informal painting workshops in which onlookers can watch and learn from her techniques. Karl will be hosting open music workshops, jam sessions, and a short concert series to showcase and add to the vibrant work already happening at UMBS. He also plans to continue his research on Michigan trees for a forthcoming opera.
“My goal is to discover ways to use music to evoke a sense of place, not only in an abstract or referential way, but in an ecologically informed way - and know of no place better to do that than UMBS,” says Karl.
Three Scenes from Sleeping Bear by Karl Ronneburg.