Friday, March 30, 2018

Microbes: in the lab and the art studio

Glass artwork inspired by microbes.
Most people may be surprised if they saw a microscope sitting on an artist's desk. Microscopes are supposed to be in labs, not in art studios. Local Laramie artist Rene Williams would disagree.

"Everyone should have a microscope but until they do, they can use mine!" Rene says.

Rene is spearheading the Science Loves Art program, one of the outreach components of the new Wyoming EPSCoR grant on microbial life. 

Rene grew up with the need to create. Art became a part of her daily life after she moved to Toulouse, France with her husband and 3 boys. She began exploring architecture, sculpture, cooking, gardening, and history.

Close up of glass fired project.
"We chose to live in Wyoming after France because we wanted to continue our simple lifestyle.   Riding our bikes downtown and living in a small community was appealing, but also being close to nature and the outdoors was important." Rene explains. 

 Rene draws inspiration for her pieces from the natural world. One of her previous projects, the Urban Garden, focuses on the small plant life that continues to thrive in urban environments. 

"I see green moss on the edges of brick walls and lichen growing in beautiful colors on rocks and am inspired by the colors, textures and shapes." Rene says. 

Close up from painting done by Rene Williams.
Rene never saw the need to merge science and art, because she saw them to one. The Science Loves Art program began with a grant from the U.W. Biodiversity Institute.  

"The scientists on this project were all specialists in plants and fossils and we became friends and enjoyed hanging out in the studio and making art together.  I proved to them that everyone can make art and it we all looked forward to our time in the studio." Rene says. 

Moving into the new project, Rene has learned about the microbial world through her collaboration with scientists. As researchers gather data on microbial life, they send interesting shapes or images they see to Rene to use for inspiration. 

"I’ve learned that bacteria/microbes comes in 3 basic shapes: sphere, rod and spiral. These are interesting shapes for abstract art with glass, paper, paint, concrete, etc." Rene explains.

In addition to her own work, Rene has opened the 4th Street Studio. This is her working studio, but it is also open to the public for workshops and events. One of the first workshops the studio will be hosting involves creating fused glass to resemble microbe patterns. Future workshops will include paper marbling, beer making, wine making, welding, paper making, concrete art, and abstract painting. This summer she plans on offering special workshops and events for children. 

This technique creates circles and cells within the glass that resemble microbes.

"Wyoming has amazing artists, some of the best scientists and a very curious population!  So far, we have had amazing response during our events and open hours at 4th Street Studios.  Having a place to create art and collaborate with other friends and scientists and just talk about art and science has been something that the public is eager to have access to." Rene says.  

Rene looks forward to continuing her outreach efforts through SLA in Laramie, and throughout Wyoming. She plans on bringing her artwork and workshops to schools, museums, and community organizations around the state.

"I would like for my artwork and events to bring conversation and curiosity so that the general public are aware of how important microbes are to our lives.  Simple abstract paintings or pieces of artwork can be enough to begin that conversation and awareness." Rene says.