January 24, 2011

Scientists, artists collaborate to produce new art exhibit in Seattle

News and Information

A new art exhibit featuring works created by artists collaborating with weather and climate scientists opened this week as part of the American Meteorological Societys annual meeting at the Washington State Convention Center.

The creations of 36 Washington artists will be on display at the convention center through April 9. Scientists from four states and Australia collaborated with the artists for the exhibition, “Forecast: Communicating Weather and Climate.”

Robert Houze and Cecilia Bitz of atmospheric sciences, with 'The Melt,' created by Scott Schuldt and Bitz, beadwork on a canvas anorak that represents Bitz's research in the Arctic. Not shown is their colleague, Miles Logsdon. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Robert Houze and Cecilia Bitz of atmospheric sciences, with “The Melt,” created by Scott Schuldt and Bitz, beadwork on a canvas anorak that represents Bitz’s research in the Arctic. Not shown is their colleague, Miles Logsdon. | Photo by Mary Levin.

Seattle artist Scott Schuldt worked with Bitz, whose climate research focuses on the Arctic. Schuldt, who quit an engineering career in 2005 to concentrate on art, and Bitz created “The Melt,” beadwork on a canvas anorak modeled after those worn by early Arctic explorers and based on Inuit designs. The anorak was sized to fit Bitz and the beadwork represents various aspects of her work in the Arctic.

“For me, the inspiration comes in seeing the focused and very important work that Cecilia is engaged in. It’s just fascinating stuff,” Schuldt said. “Scientists wear their work on their sleeves, so to speak, so it wasn’t that big of an artistic jump to clothe a scientist in her own work.”

Ruth Marie Tomlinson’s creation weather over coffee

“Weather over coffee: is Ruth Marie Tomlinson’s creation for the communicating weather and climate art exhibit. The book of weather symbols drawn in coffee sitting atop vials of coffee was inspired by Tomlinson’s discussion about weather and symbols over coffee with UW atmospheric scientist Robert Houze. (Photo credit: Sara Ann Davidson)

Tomlinson said she and Houze met for the first time last July, talking over coffee about the project. He explained that there are a variety of weather symbols, and drew one that represents light continuous rain – “two beautiful dots arranged just like the brand my town in Montana is named for.” The experience resulted in “Weather over coffee,” vials of coffee beneath a book of weather symbols recorded in coffee, her offering for the exhibit.

A highlight of the experience, she said, was getting to tour the Thompson, a research vessel operated by the School of Oceanography.

Such collaborations between artists and scientists can be beneficial to both, Bitz believes, but it also gives the viewer a different way of perceiving science.

Carrie Bodle’s embroidery work

Carrie Bodle’s embroidery work, “Northeast Pacific Ocean Hovmoller Plots 2002-2010” depicts visualizations of satellite data for an area near the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Image credit: Carrie Bodle)

“Visualizing science through art offers a way to communicate science on a different level than most of us experience from lectures or textbooks,” she said. “Through art, scientists can share the beauty that inspires us along our journey to understand the natural world.”

Houze believes using art in this way also allows scientists to see their own work from a different perspective.

“Thinking of science through the artists eyes deepens the scientists intuition about the harmony of nature,” he said. “Good science comes from good hypotheses, and so the appreciation of the art can inform the science.”