In this week's Sunday Science Cat Viglienzoni visits the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. The museum's exhibit director Bob Raiselis takes our reporter behind the scenes at a special exhibit tying together art and science.
Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: "What makes our native plants so crucial to the environment, as opposed to ones that might be more flashy?"
Bob Raiselis, Montshire Museum of Science: "Flashy plants are great to look at. Native plants are the plants that support the animals and insects that have been in the local landscape for centuries."
Cat Viglienzoni: "And as we can see in this drawing right here, I notice that a lot of times the animals and the plants are very interconnected."
Bob Raiselis: "Yes. These particular pieces of artwork are botanical illustrations. Some of them stretch the boundaries of botanical illustration. This includes animals, this includes color. Scientific botanical illustrations don't include color."
CV: "Why would people use something like an illustration when we have cameras and photography?"
BR: "Right. When we take a picture of a plant, we're taking a picture of that specific plant. When a botanical illustrator illustrates, they're looking at many, many examples of that plant species and then taking all those characteristics and then making a single drawing that encapsulates all the characteristics of that plant species. And they use microscopes, they use magnifying glasses, they take lots of pictures -- pictures are handy for this sort of work -- but then they do the illustration by hand."
"This is an illustrator named Bobbi Angell, who's from Vermont. She does work for the New York Botanical Gardens illustrating plant species. So she kindly lent us many of her original works, the original copper plates that she works from, many of the tools that she uses. And we're in this section illustrating what exactly the process is from going from a plant to a scientific illustration."
CV: "It seems, just looking at the amount of different tools that we have here, that it's not as simple as just taking a pen, taking paper, and sketching."
BR: "Absolutely not. She actually does copper etching. So she's coating a copper plate, scratching off the coating with a stylus, then using that to print from. There are a couple steps in between there but it's a fairly complicated process and it has a long history in the world of art."
CV: "And so if people are saying you know, they see these, they're inspired, they want to take this on, you guys also have a way for people to try this at home. Is there a technique that you recommend when people go home and want to try it, or is it just you know, take a pencil, take paper and start?"
BR: "Look closely. We've actually put in magnifiers so people can look at the close structure of the leaves here. In order to make a drawing, you have to look closely. It's a good excuse to look closely."
There is also a wall in the exhibit devoted to botanical illustrations by artists from our region.
"From the Mountains to the Sea: Plants, Trees, and Shrubs of New England" ends December 1.