As the last light of day dwindles to muted dusk over the northwestern corner of Lancaster City, citizens bundled against the crisp February air trickle into the North Museum of Science and Nature. Patrons of the arts visited to attend the ‘First Friday STEAM Art Gallery Opening,’ while others came for the ‘Family Friday– Something to Crow About’ event. Though billed as separate affairs these two items were not mutually exclusive, overlapping with a shared theme carefully curated to accentuate the best qualities of both.
Located on the second floor of the museum, the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Gallery repurposes four hallways with adjoining offices into a brightly lit space crafted to demonstrate how the Arts figure into the traditional STEM fields. The hallways bustle with activity, neatly attired grandparents delicately clutching the hands of grandchildren, ushering them through the exhibit as warm laughter and murmurs of congratulatory conversation fill the air. The scent of aromatic cheese wafts in from the nearby refreshment area, replete with standard issue crackers and bottles of Perrier.
Of the three-featured artists in the gallery, Noelle Turco’s work most captured the eye and the attention of younger patrons. A resident of Lancaster City and graduate of Millersville University’s undergraduate art program, Turco’s mixed media works are bright and playful– oftentimes quite literally. Described as ”upcycled mixed-media pieces” by museum staff, the works are three-dimensional collage hybrids intended to engage children’s imagination by inviting hands-on interaction.
“Booger Boy,” the title of one such work, is a colorful, protruding face with a bulbous green nose. Children can reach up to swing the nose aside, allowing a slinky to spill out of the cavity. Another titled “Eye Love You” is a crazed collage of wooden letters and spinning trinkets. Goggles and magnifying glasses are attached to the piece one chains and ropes, begging to be put to use for closer inspection.
“I like the idea that it’s all recycled. And I’m surprised it’s not more falling apart,” says Turco self-effacingly in between quietly thanking her admiring patrons.
Turco’s work calls to mind the prismatic Dia de Muertos style, sans the funereal fetishism and constructed with the everyday things found by her trawling of yard sales, second-hand stores and recycling bins. The artist hopes her works will inspire children to see the world through a more constructive lens.
“My purpose, intent and goal [is] just to show kids to step outside the box,” says Turco. “Like every time they go to throw something away or a toy breaks hey, I can make this into…”
Down another hallway, lining the aquamarine and eggshell colored walls is the work of aerospace photographers Tom and Mark Usiak. The Usiak brothers, native sons of Lancaster, have been capturing the dramatic moments of NASA launches for over 40 years with their high-resolution photography. Photo after photo reveal austere space exploration hardware– rockets and shuttles standing dramatically in the dusk light. The crowds mob in around the white haired and be speckled Mark Usiak– one patron after the next clasping his hand and grabbing his attention to which he happily responds, orating about one of his various shared works to the delight of the surrounding crowd.
The third featured artist of the opening is Deborah Diana whose avian themed pieces share a direct connection with the rest of the evening’s proceedings. Birds are Diana’s primary subject matter– Large eyed owls and austere crows are featured among her works, each bird delicately rendered with line work that bristles with kinetic energy. The museum’s patrons pause to take in her art with a respectful hush, quietly acknowledging the artist standing nearby. She responds to each in kind with a warm smile and is pleased by both the gallery showing and the feedback she has received.
“It looks great, it’s a great response,” says Diana. “People have been really admiring it and I feel really good.”
A Philadelphia native, Diana originally studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her work with ‘Something to Crow About,’ a local group dedicated to preserving harmony between humans and crows directed her interest in the North Museum showing, an effort she describes as having a “…continuity with subject matter.” Here the STEAM gallery dovetails with the Family Friday aspect of the evening’s proceedings. Downstairs, in another wing of the gallery, patrons move past a large glass case exhibiting taxidermy crows, ravens and related corvus species with accompanying informative bulletins about the often misunderstood and stigmatized birds.
Alison Mallin, Volunteer Coordinator, delights guests with the Lenape Indian myth of the Rainbow Crow and other factoids. Nearby are two interactive art exhibits that patrons are encouraged to partake in. A large ‘quilling’ bird is outlined in a massive frame– guests scoop tiny rolls of paper from nearby bins and help fill in the negative, sticky spaces within and surrounding the bird. Meanwhile the young and old alike take turns taping paper silhouettes of birds to nearby walls, symbolizing the migratory flock that arrives in Lancaster County each winter. Diana curated both arts and crafts activities at the behest of the museum.
The evening concluded with an oral presentation by Laurie Ulrich, a representative of the ‘Something to Crow About’ group. Ulrich’s informative show gave an overview of crows as a species and the work of her organization to protect them to a sparse, but highly engaged crowd.
While Lancaster County is home to a sizeable population of “resident” crows, “tens of thousands” of migratory crows arrive here from Canada and northern parts to escape a deadly winter, staying roughly from September to April. According to Ulrich, the cycle has occurred for well over 200 years, mostly indifferent to the doings of human beings. The presentation also noted the long-standing misrepresentation of crows in popular media as both dirty Carron birds, and portents of ill omens. These ideas do not reflect the true intelligence of the crow as a species– birds able to create and manipulate simple tools to solve complex problems as well as the ability to remember and recognize human faces over long periods of time. Ulrich and her group hope that by providing this information the public will be more understanding of the migratory flocks, and less interested in attempting to destroy the birds via traps and poison.
“They are just like us. Their motivations are to eat, to stay safe, to stay warm, to look out for their families,” says Ulrich. “They are living their lives just like we are.”
The presentation concluded with Ulrich encouraging audience members to pass along the knowledge they had gained and to contact the group at their website (http://www.somethingtocrowabout.net/) if any conflicts continue to arise between Lancaster natives and their visiting crow populations. Some of the audience shared their experience with crows one another before filing out of the museum and back onto the chilly evening air.
The North Museum has a longstanding tradition of engaging patrons of all ages with fun, thought provoking exhibits and activities that demonstrate the vitality of the STEM fields. With the inclusion of the Arts and the creation of the STEAM gallery the portfolio of the museum has broadened, providing a valuable type of educational inclusivity that will delight visitors for months to come.