By Wesley Walter
Bloch Hall’s featured show for January and February “A Ribbon of Quicksilver, Art and the Environment of the Kankakee River” provided artistic explorations of the human impact and manipulation of Illinois’s Kankakee River through a variety of mediums.
On March 4, a reception and artist talk were held for the show in The Gallery in Bloch Hall. The reception, which began at 7 p.m, gave attendees a chance to view the presented works and hear talks given by the show’s two contributing artists, professor Jon Seals and professor Scott Aaron Dombrowski.
Seals and Dombrowski, both Associate Professors of Art and Digital Media at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Illinois, created the exhibition as an artistic reflection on ecological problems seen in the Kankakee River. This collective interest led the two to acquire the Craighton T. And Linda G. Hippenhammer Faculty Scholarship Fund, a two-year grant to explore Art and the Environment on the Kankakee River.
The Kankakee River, a tributary of the Illinois River which flows through Northeast Illinois and Northwest Indiana, has suffered from rising silt and sand content levels, caused by the channelization of the river on its Indiana side. Regions with higher silt and sand content, found more prevalently near the Indiana-Illinois border, are associated with lower levels of macroinvertebrate species diversity.
Seal spoke on the conservationist message of the works saying, “The dilemma is we find this problem, we explore it artistically, the science clearly shows it, well now what? So, it’s really a call to conserve.”
The exhibit, which has previously been shown at Frank Lloyd Wright’s B. Harley Bradley House in Kankakee Illinois and Dominican University in Chicago, featured a combination of works from both artists including paintings and photographs by Seals and cyanotypes by Dombrowski.
The majority of Seals’ work consisted of a series of paintings done on paper and mounted on wood. The paintings provide flowing renditions of the Kankakee River and its overall physical ambience created with a mixture of acrylic paint, mica powder and water and dirt harvested from the river itself.
Many of the paintings feature coloration that is split down the middle reflecting the pollution and manipulation of the river on its Indiana side.
Seals spoke on these environmental factors which influenced the works saying, “We found out pretty quickly that the science really changed the way we were going to look at the river because it is in fact one of the cleanest rivers in Illinois but there was manmade manipulation to the river that was causing some ecological issues.”
Several photographs by Seals depicting the banks of the Kankakee River were also included within the show.
The cyanotypes by Dombrowski consisted of prints of both man-made and natural objects taken from the Kankakee River. The cyanotypes by Dombrowski include renditions of feathers, shells, branches, plastic bottles, and other detritus all collected from the river.
Speaking on the subjects of his cyanotypes, Dombrowski said, “I like that combination of the natural, the human and the sort of transformation of things that we found along the shorelines of the river.”
Seals expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work collaboratively with the exhibition saying, “I think for me my takeaway in project has been just the power of collaboration and finding people who are stronger than you in certain areas learning from them growing and then finding inspiration in science and the data and letting the science kind of teach me.”
The reception marked the last day of the exhibition in Montevallo, and it is expected to return to Olivet Nazarene for its final showing in April.