Wildlife on Wheels turns muse for these talented artists from Johnston Middle School

When HMNS’ Wildlife on Wheels hit Johnston Middle School on Feb. 14, it wasn’t for your run-of-the-mill presentation.

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School

Our live animal presentations are anything but average, but this one was particularly fascinating: The students in Christina Gutierrez’s art class got to draw the wildlife they met, and their completed work is something special:

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Taryn Tsujimoto, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
June Chen, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Melanie Montiel, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Courtney Collier, 7th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Jamie Wright, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Leah J. Schultz, 8th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School
Caroline Hamilton, 7th grade

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School

A student examines a baby alligator

Wildlife on Wheels hits Johnston Middle School

This toad had trouble sitting still, so kudos to this kiddo for capturing his essence.

Outreach programs like Wildlife on Wheels, Bugs on Wheels, Science on Stage and others are bookable as part of an on-site field trip — or they can pack up and come to you. For more information on our Outreach programs and to learn how you can book a live animal presentation for your school or organization, click here or email us!

Travel to Japan without leaving home at family-friendly World Trekkers on Feb. 15

Editor’s note: Today’s blog comes to us from Jim Matej from the Okinawa Cultural Association of Texas.

All cultures are marked by their festivals and celebrations. In Okinawa — Japan’s southernmost prefecture — the Buddhist custom of Obon is celebrated every summer and has given rise to Japan’s most internationally recognized performing art: the Eisa dance.

Obon began more than 500 years ago. It is believed that each year during Obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. During the three-day event, graves are visited and food offerings are made at temples and household altars, ending with traditional dances called Bon-Odori (Obon dances).

The unique culture of Okinawa was established during the reign of the Ryukyu Kingdom. During that time it was a hub of maritime trade in Southeast and East Asia. This was due, in most part, to a tributary relationship with China’s Ming Dynasty. Ryukyuan ships, often provided by China, traded at ports throughout the region including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Java, Malacca, Siam, and Sumatra.

See authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko at HMNS' first ever World Trekkers event Feb. 15!With the abolition of clans and the establishment of prefectures during the Meiji Restoration of the 1800s, the Buddhist dances in Okinawa began to transform into Eisa performances. Today, in the local villages and towns of Okinawa, Eisa is still performed in its traditional role as part of the Obon festivities.  The youth of each community gather to form their own Eisa groups. On the last day of Obon, they march through the streets and stop in front of homes to perform a traditional send-off for the visiting ancestors.

Koza City (present-day Okinawa City) began the transformation to modern Eisa dance by establishing the Traditional Okinawan Dance Festival in 1956.  Although held at the same time of year as Obon, this Eisa competition is open to all community Eisa groups in Okinawa. The festival has since evolved into a festival representing the Okinawan culture as a whole.

Okinawan Eisa Dance was brought to the world stage by Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko (Ryukyu Kingdom Festival Drums). Since the early 1980s, RMD has elevated this religious and festival dance into a performing art. The choreography is created in Okinawa and is a dynamic blend of traditional Eisa and Karate forms with contemporary influences incorporating both traditional folk music and modern rock music. Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko is now a worldwide organization with chapters throughout Okinawa, Japan, Latin America, and the United States – RMD Texas being one of those.

See authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko at HMNS' first ever World Trekkers event Feb. 15!In traditional Japanese costumes — with Jikatabi’s (calf-high white cloth shoes) flashing and arms swinging in synchronized movement, rhythmically pounding drums — this high-stepping, high-energy drum and dance troupe has performed worldwide, including at venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City.

In 1995, in association with Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, the people of Okinawa incorporated the Eisa dance into a celebration of summer itself. The “Summer Festival in Naha” now has the world’s spotlight shinning on five days of Eisa being performed in the streets of Okinawa’s capitol city. The last day is capped off with the unbelievable “Ten Thousand Eisa Dance Parade.” Up to 10,000 Eisa dancers process down Kokusai Street, lighting up the city with their colorful costumes and jubilant dance, all proud to be part of Okinawa’s most internationally recognized performing art.

Join HMNS for its first-ever World Trekkers festival celebrating the art, culture and cuisine of Japan and see authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko performed up-close by RMD-Texas.

World Trekkers will take place in the Grand Hall on Friday, Feb. 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Attendees can opt to buy a passport to track their cultural comprehension through each World Trekker festival, spotlighting Egypt (May 3), France (Aug 9), and Russia (Nov. 15). Tickets are $9 for the public; $7 for members. Click here for more information or here to purchase in advance.

The Sphinx Moth: A Work of Art

Today we have a special guest blog from Chad Erpelding, Assistant Professor of Art at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.  He teaches 2D Design and Painting there.  This fall the Cockrell Butterfly Center is hosting an exhibit of some of his students’ paintings that were inspired by sphinx moths.  Here is what he has to say about the project.

The overlap between art and science is a subject rich with potential and currently being investigated by many artists.  Damien Hirst suspends animal specimens in large tanks of formaldehyde.  Olafur Eliasson, who is currently having a major survey of his work at the Dallas Museum of Art, explores weather systems and natural phenomena.  Mel Chin worked closely with a scientist in realizing his piece Revival Field, which uses plants to remove toxic metals from a polluted site.  So when Dr. William Godwin, entomologist at Stephen F. Austin State University and adjunct curator at HMNS, brought up the idea of a joint project between the Biology Department and the School of Art at SFA, I jumped at the opportunity.

We decided to organize a competition for the art students centered on sphinx moths (family Sphingidae), several members of which are found locally in Nacogdoches and throughout east Texas (see Nancy’s recent blog on these fascinating moths.)  Dr. Godwin gave a lecture on the characteristics and life cycle of sphinx moths, giving the students the base of knowledge needed to understand their subject.  From here, I stressed to the students the importance of finding the balance between accuracy towards the moths and the inventiveness that happens in the studio.  The restrictions we put on the entries were only on size and weight of the pieces themselves.  We wanted the students to have the freedom to explore their own interpretations and realize their creative impulses. 

I was thrilled with some of the pieces the students created. Carolyn Norton, a graduate student from Lufkin, won first place for her piece “Sonic Defense,” an ink drawing that follows the paths of a bat and moth in battle, including an explosion of scales – a trick that moths do to fool their predators mid-air. 

Margaret Pledger, a senior from Brenham, received second place for her “Pupa Ring,” a copper ring based loosely on the shapes of sphinx moth pupae.  Chad Hines, a graduate student from Temple, received third place for his “Sphingidae,” a drawing that simultaneously explores the patterns of the moths and the joys of making marks on paper. 

The truly fascinating part of this project for me was to see the many different directions that the artists took.  You never know from where inspiration will come.  While some of the students looked at the patterns and shapes of the moths, others were interested in their habits or specific characteristics.  A few explored broader cultural connections, using the moths as a metaphor for the human experience.  Whatever the source, I think this was a great opportunity for both the science and art communities to see how our fields can interact.  It encourages us to continue to see the world in new and awe-inspiring ways.

Please be sure to stop and take a look at these interesting works of art on your next visit to the Butterfly Center.  They are in the lower level (just around the corner from the mosquito display) and will remain on display until March, 2009.

Sphinx Moth art, on display in the lower level
of the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Draw A Dino Contest: Winners!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who entered the Draw A Dino Contest, in honor of the world premiere exhibition of Leonardo, the mummified dinosaur in Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation.

We were totally amazed and overwhelmed by the fabulous dinosaur drawings that poured through our doors throughout the contest. The creativity – and scientific understanding – of our entrants is astounding.

The contest was judged by HMNS curator of paleontology Dr. Robert T Bakker, and winners were chosen in two categories: Scientific Accuracy and Artistic Effect. It was such a tough decision – and we were so impressed with every entry – that we’ll be posting a slideshow where they can all be seen – I hope you’ll come back soon to check them out – there are some very cool kids out there!

And the winners are…

Scientific Accuracy

Dr. Bakker picked Todd Blackmon’s drawing in the category of scientific accuracy because Todd did something very scientific – he labeled his drawing, pointing out the anatomy of T. rex. This is something Dr. Bakker himself always does in his drawings, because it helps people to learn and remember.

Here’s what Todd had to say about his winning illustration:

“My reason for entering the contest was to have fun. I wanted to follow the rules of the contest and draw T-Rex and point out his features. It was very challenging to look at the huge dinosaur and make him fit on a piece of paper.”

T. rex by Todd Blackmon

Artistic Effect

Dr. Bakker chose Myria Perez’ drawing for the category of Artistic Effect because of the compelling scene she created – a scene that’s both emotionally compelling and based on current scientific understanding of the circumstances surrounding Leonardo’s death, from the hypothesized flooding event to the cracks that can be seen in Leonardo’s abdomen today. If you visit the Dino Mummy exhibit, you’ll see just how accurate Myria’s artistic vision truly is.

Here’s what Myria had to say about her creation:

“Creating “Leonardo’s Death”
Creating Leonardo’s death was a thrilling experience!  I learned so much about his lifestyle.  Before I started the final drawing, I decided to have an action scene because I am certain Leonardo’s last moments were filled with action.  I wanted to draw a picture that showed that action and a lot of detail. 

The first sketch I did of Leonardo was just an idea based on what I could remember about the exhibit and how he died with the wound.  After the initial sketch, I went online to find pictures of Brachylophosaur and thought about different positions I could place Leonardo in.  I decided on a pose for him: slightly tipping, an open mouth out towards the sky, and his tail curved around the wound a Daspletosaurus gave his side. 

Leonardo’s last moments probably included rain and a flood to perfectly preserve him as a mummy.  I decided to have the water up almost to his knee, but with enough room to let you see the details of his wound.  One of my favorite parts about drawing this scene was there was a lot of splashing and action with the blood trickling down and the rain.  The blood from his side oozes from his side and then splashes in the water. 

I was able to show this by shading dark to light under the water ripples so it would look like it faded.  I found it challenging to show the rain hitting Leonardo and sliding down his body off into the water after being blown by the wind.  The part of the drawing that took me the longest was all of the small hard to see scales over the entire body of Leonardo.  The scales are larger on the front of his legs because he would have needed better protection to walk through the brush. 

Creating  “Leonardo’s Death” is a drawing experience that has changed how I will look at my future drawings.  “Leonardo’s Death” has been my most successful drawing so far!”

“Leonardo’s Death” by Myria Perez

Congratulations to Myria and Todd! They’ll both receive $200 gift certificates to Texas Art Supply – keep drawing! – and a signed dinosaur drawing by Dr. Bakker himself. And, thank you to everyone else who entered – we’ll be posting a slideshow of all their creative, fun and thoughtful drawings here soon.