BUFFALO, N.Y. -- At the University at Buffalo, students are
being trained in the interdisciplinary field of ecosystem
restoration, in which they learn how to restore ecosystems damaged
by natural or manmade influences. But communicating this new,
multidisciplinary science to the outside world -- or even to one
another -- has been a challenge.
So they asked some local artists for help.
The result is a door-sized, three-dimensional painting that aims
to depict the complexity of ecosystems, as well as the nature of
human interactions with them.
The commissioned work, Streams of Thought, was unveiled
at an opening reception on Aug. 7 in UB's Center for the Arts on
the North (Amherst) Campus.
"Our program office is located in the School of Engineering and
Applied Sciences, but it involves seven academic departments in
three different units throughout the university," said Alan
Rabideau, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Civil, Structural
and Environmental Engineering and director of the "Ecosystem
Restoration Through Interdisciplinary Exchange" (ERIE) program,
funded by the National Science Foundation. "We wanted to create an
office space that speaks to everyone who's involved in it."
A doctoral training program launched in 2007, ERIE was designed
to train a new generation of environmental specialists who will be
as comfortable with the social and policy implications of their
work as they are with its scientific aspects. Students in ERIE
follow academic programs and conduct research projects designed to
advance the science, engineering and policies of ecosystem
restoration, as well as aid in the ecological recovery of the Great
Lakes and Western New York.
In addition to the Department of Civil, Structural and
Environmental Engineering, the project involves the collaboration
of students and scholars from the departments of American Studies,
Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Geography, Geological Sciences and
Philosophy, all in the UB College of Arts and Sciences.
"One of the things we discuss when we talk about environmental
restoration is that people value nature for many different
reasons," said Rabideau. "Engineers tend to focus on particular
values, like protecting infrastructure from wandering streams or
looking at the economic benefits of ecologic services. But it's
also important to look at why the broader community values
ecosystems. One reason is aesthetics. Another important concept
that our Native American scholars emphasize is that ecological
restoration must address the complex relationship between
humans and their local places."
Artists Gary Wolfe and Priscilla Bowen spent about six months
working on the project. Wolfe, a UB alumnus, is a visual artist and
past president of the Buffalo Society of Artists, whose work has
been exhibited in the region and beyond it. His two- and
three-dimensional works combine painting, drawing, collage and
assemblage. Bowen is a visual artist whose work focuses on
representing the mystery and beauty of nature. Her work has been
exhibited widely in Western New York.
According to Rabideau, the artists decided to take a
collaborative approach to the painting in order to mirror the
collaborations of the ERIE program.
Working from diagrams provided by the UB scientists that depict
the interdependence of ecosystems, the artists created as the
background of the piece an aerial perspective of streams moving
through the landscape.
Each artist then developed four panels that were attached to
that background to show specific ways that scientists, scholars and
communities interact with ecosystems.
"This was a collaborative piece," explained Wolfe. "In the
painting, you see the individual and also the landscape as a whole.
We believe the two were melded together in an interesting way.
That's kind of reflective of what the ERIE scholars are doing,
pulling together all these different academic departments, but each
still retaining their individual flavor."
The painting's permanent home is in 202 Jarvis Hall on the UB
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.