Founded in 1968 “as a way to network among the illustrators of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC,” the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators currently features numerous branches across the country as well as a sizable international membership.
Dating back to 2003, the Finger Lakes chapter is in an enviable position: given the area’s natural diversity and beauty and Cornell’s position as a bastion of scientific research, the presence of a diverse and passionate community of scientific illustrators comes as no surprise.
First opening this February at the Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts, GNSI Finger Lakes’ current member show was quickly closed down as part of the months-long hibernation of local galleries and museums in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cautiously reopening to the public a few weeks ago, the TCFA will be hosting weekend open hours through the end of August (see below for details and special guidelines).
This is in many regards much like any other large group show in the area, with artists working in a variety of traditional and digital media, and across a range of styles and special subjects. While a few artists are long-time professionals in the field, most appear to be relative newcomers—typically with broader backgrounds in illustration, graphic design, fine art, and/or the sciences. As with any local survey show, the results are distinctly mixed in both intention and accomplishment. Pieces on display range from student-looking works to those that bridge technical and imaginative depth—with much of the work falling in the skillful but unassuming middle.
Working in various media, Lucy Gagliardo deploys an impressive combination of illustrational fundamentals, anatomical knowledge, and explorative curiosity. Using a meticulous scratchboard technique, “Harlequin Beetle” (I’ll omit Latin subtitles) is crisp, symmetrical, intricate—while “Harlequin Pattern,” a linocut, treats the subject as a vehicle for bold color abstraction.
Kelly Finan, in her own way, shows a similar versatility. “Leatherback sea turtle,” a larger mixed media piece, deploys considerable detail and realism—particularly in its menagerie of candy-colored jellyfish. And yet there’s something distinctly cartoonish about the turtle that puts us back in children’s book territory. Also by Finan: a pair of small, columnar watercolors display playful cropping and a sense of tactile nuance.
Both “Downward Leaching of Copper Isotopes in The American West” and especially the more conventionally lyrical “Galapagos Snail” show real painterly intelligence.
Though better known as a children’s book author and illustrator, Annie Zygarowicz is also, on the evidence of three digital paintings here, an uncommonly nuanced bird artist. “Common Raven” and “Red-breasted Merganser” are portraits in profile, while “Common Loon” shows a pond-hunting scene. Crisp contours, quiet colors, painterly accents, and dignified typography help her work stand out here.
Also of particular interest are glass-boxed paper sculptures and fully freestanding pieces by Carla Elizabeth. The former are something genuinely distinctive in local art. Paying playful homage to the tradition of the insect specimen, Elizabeth amplifies scale, pattern, and color. Meanwhile, on the other side of the gallery, two cranes and a flamingo perch on one of the conservatory’s pianos. Made of such materials as papier-mâché, paper, polymer clay, and artificial flower petals over wire armatures, their straining for realism may strike more traditional gallery audiences as kitsch. Still, they are possessed with an engaging sense of animacy.
August will see the beginnings of gallery reopenings in Ithaca, with both Corners Gallery and the State of the Art Gallery announcing new shows for the month. As a holdover from the spring, the GNSI show promises to bridge the Ithaca area’s gallery-going past with whatever the upcoming “new normal” proves to be.
The TCFA will be open Fridays, from 1-5 p.m. and Saturdays, 10-2 p.m. According to Managing Director Mark Costa: Admission to the TCFA open gallery hours will be limited to one family unit at a time to assure everyone's safety. Strict adherence to all required social distancing and sanitation regulations will be followed at all times, including mandatory face coverings and a temperature check upon entry. TCFA is following all DOH and NYS regulations, and access to the gallery may change, dependent on revised guidelines. Please visit www.tburgconservatory.org before your visit for updated information.