Lynne Parenti, curator of the Smithsonian Institute's "X–ray Vision: Fish Inside Out Exhibit," hopes viewers of all ages leave schooled on many levels.
"The most important is that research, aided by technology, is conducted at natural history museums," she said. "That museum specimens form the basis for much of our knowledge of evolution and natural history. That fish come in a wide array of sizes and shapes; that they are beautiful on the outside and the inside.
"We also hoped to spark interest in natural history among our younger visitors who may choose museum science as a career."
Celebrating the traveling exhibit's stop at Michigan City's Lubeznik Center for the Arts with a reception Sept. 7, "X–ray," which opens at the center today, is made up of 40 radiographs and photographs of fish culled from the Smithsonian's National Collection of Fishes.
The institution's collection is vast and thorough, to say the least. Over the decades, the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History has accumulated approximately 4 million specimens of fish specimens from throughout the globe, making up what is estimated to be nearly 75 percent of the world's species of fish. Of these, the Smithsonian has created, according to Parenti, thousands of digital X–rays over the years.
"X–ray" was created by Parenti, curator of fishes and research scientist in the Smithsonian's National Museum's Department of Vertebrate Zoology, and Sandra Reardon, the department's radiographer and photographer whose works make up the exhibit.
Despite their vast knowledge of ichthyology and hands-on experience with the source material both as scientists and as curators, both Reardon and Parenti continue to be dazzled and educated in the process of putting the exhibit together.
"When I started as a museum technician in the Division of Fishes, part of my job was X–raying fish specimens for the curators," Reardon said. "I enjoyed seeing the results and looked forward to discovering new characters. As I see the large-format prints, it is amazing to see parts of the fish I did not see before."
"You always see something you had not seen before," Parenti added. "It is a continuous, lifelong learning experience."
The images that make up "X–ray" were taken by Reardon two years ago. The show opened last July at the Peabody Museum at Yale University.
"The images convey the art in nature," Parenti said, "At the same time, arranged in evolutionary sequence, these X–rays give a tour through the long stream of fish evolution. Rare or unique specimens make particularly interesting and informative images.
"X–rays may also reveal other details of natural history," she added. "Undigested food or prey in the gut might reveal what a fish had for its last meal."
Since the exhibit opened and made its way through the States, Parenti has enjoyed the feedback she has received from viewers of the images.
"This exhibit could stand alone an as art show or a science exhibit," she said. "The joining of art and science is seamless ...we found it amazing to watch people viewing the printed X–rays. As in an art gallery, they 'ooh' and 'aah' and are star struck in a way. The general public never sees this sort of thing."
Exhibiting alongisde "X–ray" at Lubeznik Center starting today and also being celebrated with a reception Sept. 7 is "Fish Tales," a series of paintings by Evanston–based artist and instructor Sue Sommers.
Holding a bachelor's of arts degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master's degree in humanities and art from Naropa University in California, Sommers has exhibited and educated on a variety of two and three dimensional art over the course of the last three decades.
In addition to exhibiting throughout Chicagoland, Sommers has taught at Evanston Township High School, Northeastern University and New Trier High School, to name just a few institutions, and currently serves as the supervisor of student teachers at Columbia College.
Sommers' foray into the fish world came by chance. Nearly a decade ago while visiting family in Canada, she came across a filleted trout, which was to be given to her father–in–law for his pet gull.
"It wasn't an intellectual thing: It was a moment that happened," she said. "I saw it and I thought 'the gull can't have it yet.' I wanted to paint it because the image that I saw and the color and the abstraction just called to me."
"Tales" is made up of 50 paintings created by Sommers over the last six years. Using what is referred to as a "wet–on–wet" technique, Sommers' fish are painted using watercolor, then the painted canvas is sprayed with water.
"I like its fluidity," she said of her technique. "I like to treat it as its own medium and not try and treat it like another medium. So I let it run. I use a spray bottle all the time and move the color around ... it's a free medium in a sense that it allows you freedom, but you have to be very focused to see it move and what can happen in that moment."
Sommers' "Tales" are being shown at Lubeznik Center's Brincka/Cross and Robert Saxton Galleries, while "X–ray" is exhibited at Lubeznik's Hyndman Gallery. Both exhibits are slated to run through Nov. 18.
Lubeznik Center for the Arts is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Friday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The center will be closed Monday for the Labor Day holiday.