Skeletons to sculptures: Student-curated exhibit blends art and science

Sara Ketelsen '14 and Dina Mohamed-Aly '15 examine objects included in the Gettysburg Cabinet, an exhibit they helped curate.

Gettysburg Cabinet 1

Skeletons, sculptures and sea stars line the walls of the Gettysburg Cabinet, a new exhibit on display in Schmucker Art Gallery. The exhibit was curated and installed by the students of ARTH/IDS 284: “Wonders of Nature and Artifice: The Renaissance Quest for Knowledge” and is the culmination of years of planning by two members of very different departments on campus. Kay Etheridge of the biology department and Felicia Else of the art and art history department combined their academic interests in science and the arts to team-teach the class for the first time this fall.

The course began with an in-depth look at Curiosity Cabinets and Chambers of Wonder from the Renaissance era. These personal collections of treasures and oddities served as the precursors to modern museums and provided a space to showcase intersecting areas of learning. Using their newly acquired knowledge of Curiosity Cabinets, the students worked together to create a cabinet of their own to represent Gettysburg College.

The Gettysburg Cabinet contains objects on loan from the departments of history, health sciences, biology, and physics, as well as from Special Collections at Musselman Library and the personal collections of students and faculty members. Each item procured for the cabinet has a special significance to Gettysburg and contributes to the college’s overall identity.

“The quest for knowledge never stops,” said Professor Else, who has been collaborating with Etheridge to plan this course over the past three years. “Once you juxtapose things that are not normally found together, you begin to see new connections. This class was all about seeking out those connections.”

Gettysburg Cabinet 3

Students were encouraged to find items that spanned an array of academic interests. Each student selected an object or set of objects to research and write about for a catalogue that accompanies the exhibit.

Senior Danielle Berardinelli (pictured left) chose to write about a papier-mâché anatomical model of the human body that was used in courses at Gettysburg College in the late 1890s. 

The breadth of academic subjects represented by the objects speaks to the true interdisciplinary nature of the liberal arts focus of Gettysburg College.

Josh Poorman ‘13, a History and Religious Studies major, chose to study three Dutch maps from the Renaissance era. The maps capture the artistic brilliance of the time period and also offer a glimpse into the understanding of geography during the Renaissance.

Poorman describes the details of the map in his catalogue entry:

“Due to the high demand for Dutch maps throughout Europe, mapmakers such as Willem Blaeu (Dutch, 1571-1638) often included subtle features that symbolically represented Dutch power and prestige. Blaeu’s Asia noviter delineata, or general map of Asia, illustrates this symbolic Dutch clout on two levels. Blaeu depicts five Dutch ships roaming both the Indian and Pacific oceans, illustrating the widespread naval presence of their overseas Empire in the East.”

Other items on display in the Cabinet include a Capuchin monkey skeleton (pictured below), portraits of Native Americans, and a brass Mercury statue.

Else explained how the combination of various branches of academic learning within the Cabinet seeks to replicate the way in which knowledge is acquired within the liberal arts education system.

“In real life, things aren’t separate,” Else said. “You experience biological processes within a social environment. Collections like this are reflections of the owner as a whole, and liberal arts is all about finding and understanding the whole.”

Gettysburg Cabinet 2In addition to sharpening their research and writing skills, the students also learned practical skills associated with assembling the exhibit.

“The hands-on component was huge,” said Shannon Egan, director of Schmucker Art Gallery. “The students learned how to hang pictures for the exhibit. Some even sewed tablecloths and helped with painting.”

The class compiled their research online and hosted an opening reception at the gallery on Nov. 16. The event was well-attended and students had the opportunity to speak in public about the objects they had researched. Watch a video of the installation here. View the interactive panorama of the show.

“Part of the success of the course is how much students were vested in it,” said Etheridge. She and Else told the students about the heavy workload before the class began to make sure that only those who were passionate about the subject matter and willing to commit extra time and effort would enroll in the class.

As the semester comes to a close, Else and Etheridge are pleased with the outcome of the course and have appreciated learning from each other’s expertise.

“I had never team taught [with Else] before,” said Etheridge, who enjoys painting outside the classroom. “We have different teaching styles but we work well together. I can learn from her style and she can learn from mine.”

The Gettysburg Cabinet will remain on display through Dec. 8 and Schmucker Art Gallery is open Tues. through Sat., 10-4. Admission is free and open to the public.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. 

Article by: Liz Williams '13, communications & marketing intern
Contact: Kendra Martin, director of communications & media relations, 717.337.6801

Posted: Fri, 30 Nov 2012

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