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Art and Animals

By Margo Awad and Nishaad Vinayak

Sophy Tuttle, a talented and accomplished artist, met with our group on Monday, August 9, and provided us with examples of informative art pieces where she brought awareness to a wide variety of endangered animals and other natural issues. She began the meeting with everyone introducing themselves and sharing their favorite animals. Tuttle explained that the career she would pursue – either art or biology – depended on which colleges accepted her; after receiving admission from Rhode Island School of Design she decided on a future in art. Although at first Tuttle relinquished her passion for biology after going to art school, she discovered a way to express her love for nature and science through art.

Tuttle discussed her affinity for public art and explained the thought process behind several projects. Tuttle mentioned her admiration for public art’s ability to make viewers look at certain things differently, ask questions and start conversations. One of her projects in East Boston titled “Fear” depicts several different sharks in focus and hopes to start a conversation about whether humans should fear sharks or vice versa; she told us that 7 humans die as a result of shark attacks a year while 1,000,000 sharks die as a result of human contact each year.

Throughout the meeting, Tuttle emphasized the importance of research in artwork and understanding the science behind her project themes. When discussing another mural called “Rising Tides”, she went into depth about the research behind each facet of the mural. She talked about the quantitative analysis behind temperature rise, and the saltmarsh sparrow- an endangered bird whose nests are often destroyed by increasing storm surges and rising sea levels due to climate change. Another project Tuttle completed for the town of Medford that involved repainting electric boxes reflected cogent research into local biodiversity. Tuttle researched animals from the Mystic River watershed – a river that runs through Medford – and composed them into a variety of designs on the boxes. Tuttle rejoiced about immersing herself in projects and making sure her work fit into the ethos of the area.

Tuttle also reserved a segment to discuss her graduate thesis project in detail: an installation that exemplified the combination of art and science. “Solastalgia” contained many small boxes or shrines filled with natural and found objects, collaged images and artwork to immortalize extinct animals. Tuttle spoke about how the project was a place to grieve for the lost animals, and provided a memento for activists to persevere in the face of inertia when combating climate change. While doing introductions at the beginning of the meeting Tuttle noted how everyone’s love for their animal stemmed from stories and research; she stressed how her research sparked an understanding of the weight of climate change and its burgeoning impact on hundreds of species’ around the world.

As a conclusion to the meeting, Tuttle explained a project that each intern in our group would work on. We were assigned to choose an animal from a lengthy list of hundreds of endangered Massachusetts species. After selecting our animal we were told to do background research and make a list of the threats it faces. We were then challenged to come up with an evolutionary adaptation for the animal, a change in its biology or behavior which would help it survive. We were asked to make a drawing and write an explanatory paragraph relating to the animal and our creative choices. This project would be an informative way for us to predict or imagine future evolutionary adaptations animals could develop due to climate change factors. She assigned this project to be shared the following week when we would be able to meet again as a group and discuss what we decided on.

Tuttle’s project proved challenging, but when she returned she could see our sketches and paintings of the turtles, fish, snakes, and birds which we envisioned surviving the imminent threats of climate change through adaptations like new camouflaging abilities, protective spikes, and even evolving wings to escape road traffic. You can see our artwork here []

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