Artist Macnamara gives first Spoerl lecture

On Wednesday, Sept. 24 The Spoerl Lectureship in Science and Society Lecture Series kicked off with a night of marriage jokes and a six-foot tall insect nest as Peggy Macnamara shared her experiences with conservation biology.

Macnamara takes an unorthodox approach to her contribution to conservation biology. Her medium is her art. Though an associate professor at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Macnamara also has been an Artist-in-Residence at The Field Museum in Chicago.

Three books and 25 years later, Macnamara describes her work as bringing science to a broader, less biologically inclined audience.

“I wasn’t a nature person,” Macnamara said. She began drawing in museums with no clear intention in mind. “I was feeling my way, I didn’t know where I was going but I was there [at the museum] everyday trying to go somewhere,” continued Macnamara.

Her work in the scientific realm began with drawing bird butts and has since ranged to insects, nests, zebras, and migration. Despite the scientific focus, Macnamara stressed, “I am not doing what a scientist wants.”

With this, Macnamara began explaining her artist process. She highlighted that most of her projects start with a vague interest and no clear idea with where to go.

“[The art] will grow on its own if you are there doing it,” offered Macnamara, “Don’t worry about falling down because you are going to and who cares?”

Audi ence members were mainly art and/or biology students. Sophomore Alison Smith, a studio art major, found Macnamara’s lecture to be personally inspiring.

“I also really have a love of birds,” begins Smith, wearing a t-shirt with a pigeon on it. “But I don’t understand all the scientific aspects of them. After hearing [Macnamara] talk, I thought that I could do this artwork just because I think birds are pretty. It doesn’t have to have a scientific basis.”

Though this advice was meant for the whole, Sophomore Gustavo Figueroa was not as enthusiastic about the talk.

“I was expecting more of Peggy’s work to relate to conservation. What I got from the lecture was very commercial,” said Figueroa who was required to attend Macnamara’s lecture for his Art and Biodiversity Conversation course.

This class is the environmental topics course that the Spoerl lectures are held in conjunction with each year.

Even Smith agrees that the lecture seemed to cater more to the artistically inclined in the room.

“[Macnamara] herself said ‘I’m dumb.’ She couldn’t tell you the biological things about the organisms that she draws,” said Smith.

On the Thursday following the lecture Macnamara presented again in his class. Here Macnamara explained more about her recent park project in Chicago.

“I thought it was almost counterproductive to further explain your line of conservation work to just 20 students when you had a much greater audience the night before,” continued Figueroa.

Figueroa also found that some of Macnamara’s jokes were unnecessary. Macnamara described her experience working in Madagascar as “terrible—there wasn’t a toilet in the country.”

“Madagascar is one of the most bio-diverse countries and they’re suffering greatly from deforestation. [Macnamara] could have instead explained how her conservation efforts are helping that,” explained Figueroa.

Macnamara showed apprecitation for her subject matter saying, “I am drawing things that are perfectly made. I only have the illusion of control.”

This lecture was part of the Spoerl lectureship in Science and Society Series: Art and Biodiversity Conservation. There are three more lectures in the series this fall with “Defining Conservation Photography” on Monday, Oct. 6, “Communication Issues, Educational Outreach Programs and Community Conservation” on Monday, Oct. 27 and “Wolf-Human Conflict” on Tuesday, Nov. 11.