Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

    Augustana’s artistic legacy displayed in “Witness” and “Herbarium Tales”

    At the beginning of the 2017-2018 winter term, Augustana’s Teaching Museum of Art became home to two new exhibits: “Witness” and “Herbarium Tales”. After a traveling exhibit, “Organize Your Own”, came to Augustana’s campus during fall term, the museum is instead hosting two exhibits that were designed and curated by Augustana faculty, and feature collections that belong to the college.
    “Witness”, which is featured in the upper gallery, is curated by the director of the museum, Dr. Claire Kovacs.  Dr. Kovacs explained that her inspiration for this specific exhibit came from the idea of what it means to bear witness to something, and how artists respond and represent this idea in their works.
    “So, one of the things I’m thinking about in this exhibition through the works is not just that the idea of bearing witness is not just a first-person narrative, but rather it can be told by other people,” Dr. Kovacs stated.
    According to Dr. Kovacs, one of the pieces in the exhibit is a collection of photographs of Elvis upon first coming to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, still months before the Ed Sullivan Show. “A local community member who was fifteen at the time was there,” Dr. Kovacs explained. “[He] had his camera and bore witness to this event”.
    Besides the photos of Elvis, Dr. Kovacs described a multitude of other works in the exhibit.  Some of these pieces included a series of arpilleras, which are colorful fiber pieces that were created by anonymous groups of women, some photojournalism pieces, and political cartoons among others.
    However, Dr. Kovacs explained that while her inspiration was to answer this underlying question of “How do people bear witness to something?”, her goal was really to showcase some of the works in Augustana’s art collection.
    “My goal, sort of taking a step back, even from the exhibition, was that I wanted our community to dig a little deeper into the works we have in our collections. We have about 4200 works in our collection, there are some that are available on campus and there are some that people are familiar with, but there’s plenty more that are really interesting,” Dr. Kovacs said.
    Dr. Rafael Medina, curator of the “Herbarium Tales” exhibit, in the lower gallery of the museum, found inspiration for his exhibit in a similar way.  Dr. Medina explained that his main goal in developing this exhibition was to showcase the college’s herbarium collection as the biology department moves closer to consolidating all of the specimens and digitizing them.
    To go along with the perspective of a liberal arts college, Dr. Medina stated, bringing these plant specimens into the Teaching Museum of Art was a fantastic opportunity. “I wanted [to use] this opportunity, especially in an art museum, to connect plant science…with other perspectives [of our interaction] with plants like art or history,” Dr. Medina said.
    The process of working with the college’s herbarium collection, to consolidate and preserve the works, has been going on for about a year, with the help of various students.  One student who has been working on the project since the middle of the fall term, sophomore, Nelly Gutierrez-Gonzalez, described her work with the plant specimens.
    “[The specimens] are just put on top of paper that’s already crumbling, so in order for them to stay well and for the future, they need to be [mounted on] acid-free paper and material that will preserve it for longer periods of time,” Gutierrez-Gonzalez explained.
    Gutierrez-Gonzalez also described her work with the plant specimens as a type of artistry in itself because she has to position the plant how she wants it and must make sure that it looks suitable. She added that because of the age of some of the specimens – some dating back to 1893 – she must be very careful to make sure they are preserved safely.
    “This is our resource for teaching and research, and it’s part of the legacy of the college,” Dr. Medina explained.
    Both “Witness” and “Herbarium Tales” are two exhibits that bring attention to some of the extensive collections that Augustana already has.  Whether that be through a display of plant specimens overarching 145 years, or a gallery of artistic responses to the idea of bearing witness to something, “Witness” and “Herbarium Tales” truly represents two facets of Augustana’s legacy.

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    Augustana’s artistic legacy displayed in “Witness” and “Herbarium Tales”