Art to Explore the Natural World
At the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, guests are invited to interact with displays, including a touchable cast of a T. rex femur, which Eulala Harden Scheel ’20 helped sculpt during her Field Work Term.
Growing up in New York City, visits to the American Museum of Natural History were a staple of school trips, and love of the natural world “was always an anchoring point in my life,” said Scheel.
While working at the museum, Scheel had the chance to experiment with a variety of new techniques and materials.
“I hadn’t used that type of foam or clay before. I also had never done subtractive sculpting, where you’re carving out material instead of adding up,” said Scheel. “I’d never worked with fiberglass polyurethane, or silicone at this level, and I definitely hadn’t used them to make a femur of a T. rex.”
The T. rex femur is the one section of the exhibition model that visitors can touch, which aligns with Scheel’s personal mission to create visceral, emotional reactions in those who view her artwork.
“I want people to see something and immediately know that, even if they don’t know how it makes them feel, they know that it does. I would also like to evoke specific reactions with certain pieces,” said Scheel.
During her time at Bennington, Scheel has delved into multiple artistic forms, including ceramics, sculpture, and printmaking.
“I had a piece from my advanced print assemblage class that was included in an exhibition at Mass MoCA,” said Scheel. “I was going through a hard time, and I’d lost faith in my ability to generate images and take inspiration from other people’s work, so I turned to the natural world.”
Scheel collected walnuts that she found on the ground during her walks across Bennington’s campus. She sanded them down to different cross-sections and printed them, creating a flipbook that traveled through a walnut. This project, along with a print of an outsized drawing of a walnut, were both included in the exhibition.
“I also made two other works, one of which showed someone inside a house that had been reversed. Below was a shelf that held objects that had fallen off of my house, which I painted, stamped, and arranged,” said Scheel. “I called it Walnut. There were different textures and sensations. It was kind of sad and bleak and serious, but it also spoke of home.”
When Scheel’s grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Scheel turned to her artwork to cope with this difficult family experience. Chains, a performance art piece in which she molded a series of clay chains while blindfolded, was Scheel’s imagining of what her grandma felt while living in a home she no longer recognized.
“Alzheimer’s is a generational disease that can be passed on through families, and it interferes with how memories are processed and sequenced. It also mimicked the links of DNA,” said Scheel. “The piece was about trying to make a smooth progression of objects and events without any context. I was left with a lot of broken parts, doubled chains, messed up bits. But seeing the end result was helpful and important.”
Scheel’s Field Work Term at the American Museum of Natural History, supported by Jake Adams '01, a senior preparator in the exhibition department, gave her yet another artistic perspective on the natural world. The connections she made at this large, established institution also provided a contrast to her previous experiences.
For her first Field Work Term, Scheel worked as a studio assistant for Erica Prince, a Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary artist and designer. Scheel spent her second as a visionary at Creative Visions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting creative activists and storytellers.
Going forward, Scheel is interested in combining the artistic relevance of her time at Creative Visions with the technical abilities she gained at the American Museum of Natural History.
“Socially impactful, artistic work with large studio space would be ideal. From these experiences, I also know I need to have a hands-on job,” said Scheel. “To have a physical object that I interact with every day, it doesn’t get better than that.”
By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer