National Reptile Awareness Day, which occurs each year on October 21, promotes education, conservation and appreciation for reptiles. Reptiles are tetrapod vertebrates that today include snakes, turtles, lizards, tuataras and crocodilians. Reptiles are incredibly diverse - in fact, birds are closely related to today's reptiles and their extinct ancestors!
How do we celebrate reptiles here at LSU? One way is through art! Shelby Prindaville, who completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in the LSU Painting and Drawing Program, has created many works of art inspired by a common Louisiana reptile - the anole, an arboreal lizard. As a student at LSU, Shelby created amazing clay sculptures of anoles jumping and climbing and hanging upside down using an innovative clay material that cures on-demand created by Dr. John Pojman, professor in the Department of Chemistry at LSU. This clay allowed Shelby to create delicate sculptures of anoles in action. But we'll let Shelby talk more about her artistic passion for reptiles.
Happy National Reptile Awareness Day!
I am interested in the human role in shaping an ecological balance and create images centered on the beautiful fragility and resilience of the natural world. I want viewers to interact and emotionally connect with my work and for that experience to demonstrate the joy of contemplative engagement with nature as well as provide a taste of the sorrow a disconnect with nature can bring. - Shelby Prindaville
Guest post by Shelby Prindaville
Reptiles have long been a subject matter in my artwork - I have a large body of watercolors and figurative sculptures featuring a variety of anole lizard species within the genus Anolis, as well as a smaller selection of drawings and figurative sculptural arrangements featuring two turtle species. All of these pieces explore concepts related to ecological balance, the beauty and fragility of the natural world, and the importance of conservation.
I chose to work with anoles because their visually fascinating characteristics, including color change, caudal (tail region) autotomy and regeneration, sexual dimorphism and dewlaps (skin under their neck), and their non-threatening size allow viewers to emotionally connect with these animals. At the same time, viewers do not fully anthropomorphize them due to their reptilian and therefore somewhat alien nature. This keeps the narrative within the natural world. The sculptures and watercolors I create with the anoles use their innate characteristics and abilities to explore a metaphysical space.
Turtles, meanwhile, feature heavily in children’s stories and fables; they are sympathetic animals known for their relatively placid behavior and are therefore a good animal to represent my broader ecological interests.
While I was making these bodies of work, Dr. John Pojman, Professor of Polymers & Nonlinear Chemical Dynamics in the LSU Department of Chemistry, offered me the opportunity to collaborate in creating a new polymer clay. What resulted was 3P QuickCure Clay (QCC), an extremely versatile media that was uniquely capable of achieving strong, thin detail work at a small scale.
If you visit John Pojman's office in Choppin to this day you will see several of Shelby's brilliant watercolors hanging from his wall.
I used QCC to make a series of approximately life-sized anole sculptures. Because I frequently install the anole sculptures on walls, their positioning implies a true environmental withdrawal or emergence while adding playful authenticity, as anoles are arboreal and often use walls for sunning or hiding places. Through careful lighting, the sculptures’ beautiful yet slightly ominous cast shadows underscore the risk of species decline.
Recent research studies document a decrease in genus Anolis lizard abundance over the last 40 years, related to changes in local climates.
I've also created painted turtle sculptures from QCC. They can be installed as interventions outside as a blank and frozen memory, or more traditionally displayed on pedestals or shelving in a gallery context to draw viewer attention to the form language.
My research into anoles led me to become a contributor to, in addition to being an active reader of, Anole Annals, a blog run by researchers at Harvard’s Losos Laboratories. Seeing my demonstrations of the uses of 3P QuickCure Clay and images of my own figurative sculptures, Losos Labs tested the clay as a potentially preferable material for studying predation bites and other environmental marks on zoological models.
Have pictures of reptiles from your yard or local nature spaces? Share them with us on Instagram, @lsuscience! #NationalReptileAwarenessDay
If you love reptiles, don't miss a special behind-the-scenes tour of the amphibian and reptile collections at the LSU Museum of Natural Science in April, 2017! More info here. You can also visit the museum anytime in Foster Hall on the LSU campus.