The human need for the biosphere beyond our utilitarian needs, to the full range of biophilic affinities for other life. We need other living things because they give us companionship, aesthetic joy, defense, endless fascination in their study and sufficient reason for reverence. This relationship is selfish, and collectively provides a powerful rationale for conservation.
Stained Glass Life
Religion draws from nature for symbolism, anthropomorphism, and sometimes natural elements become deities themselves. Religion can serve nature by providing the rudiments of a conservation ethic. Can the Garden of Eden can be a persuasive argument for the inherent value of nature and the conservation movement?
A century-old church window presents images of nature in stained glass. Real cross-sections of fossil and modern bone are aligned across the middle of the window. A cladogram, or family tree, connects the bones to branches made from blood red glass. The image of the sun reigns above, while the moon rises from below. Life on earth thrives between them. The cross-section of bones from left to right are: human, mammoth, fossil crocodile, Tyrannosaurus rex and modern ostrich.
Wood, glass, lead, bones
Bronze Death Masks of Zoo Animals
Bronze death masks, feet and hands of 16 different birds, mammals and reptiles are chained together and mounted against a wall as one might display hunting trophies. The heavy chains evoke a sense of incarceration or subjugation. The animals died while in captivity in two American zoos. The masks preserve post-mortem expressions.
The human desire to control and dominate nature served human evolution in a world that provided seemingly endless resources. The modern zoo, after centuries of animal collections as live curiosities, has necessarily evolved to conserve and educate, slowly recognizing that conservation is self-preservation.
Great Oak on Wooden Gate
This silhouette of an oak tree is painted on weathered fence board with the ends of the limbs and roots connected to each other. It comes from the oak trees of southern Louisiana that extend their massive limbs outward and often touch the ground. As a child, I believed that the roots connected to them, allowing water to circulate endlessly through the tree. As a teen, this image became a metaphor for the interconnectedness of knowledge, with all outer branches connected. We seek a singular simplicity, the underlying physics of everything. Gerald Holton called this quest, The Ionian Enchantment. It was Liebniz’s “Impossible Dream”. Stephen Hawking’s “Ultimate Equation”. I believe young naturalists seek ideas that will make everything make sense, a kind of unifying theory, a refuge from our own confusion.
You never find the whole dinosaur. What you see in a museum is usually completed with reconstructed bones, or it’s a composite of multiple skeletons. But that loses the best part of the story. What happened to the missing bones? Were they scavenged, decomposed, or washed away in the present day? By leaving the distinction between what is real and what is not, the viewer can contemplate the question. In this sculpture an abandoned oil tank was used to cut silhouettes of the missing bones. These pieces were assembled into a life-size triceratops. The few real bones collected from one excavation were put in their proper position. The distinction here is obvious.
Steel from abandoned oil tanks, 20% real triceratops bones