Nature Lab Director At Athenaeum Salon

edna lawrence lab (5.30) Taxidermy — at least vintage taxidermy — has been all the rage in recent years. Whether its the kitschy decorating aesthetic or nostalgia, one certain well-studied and much commented upon species — Hipsteria masonjariensis — has been hunting down these specimens to near extinction. Certainly the prices have gone through the roof. (Time to move on to some new thing?) However, this modern passion for having dead animals watch you watch ‘Game of Thrones’ does not seem to have anything to do with scientific curiosity. It’s just that they look cool. (And they do.) But how did these artifacts come to be, and why?

For Friday’s salon the Providence Athenaeum will host Neal Overstrom — director of the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab at RISD — who will talk about “Collecting Nature: Menageries, Museums, and the Human-Nature Connection.”

In the bio-centric world where our ancestral hunter-gatherer societies evolved nature was either dangerous or elusive.  Survival depended on our relationships to the plants and animals around us, and the perceptions and beliefs that that arose from these interactions became ingrained in our cultures, stories, and lore.  Over the past two millennia the display of living and non-living specimens from nature — first through the acquisition of the unusual for spectacle and later through systematized collections for knowledge — provided opportunities to encounter, organize and control elements of nature in ways that earlier peoples could not.  These new relationships are often framed in the context of history and culture, however what role does our own evolutionary heritage contribute to our sense of awe, wonder, or curiosity?

So, I’m not really sure what that last bit means but . . . he’s bringing samples from the collection.

Free and open to the public, 5pm to 7pm, Friday, May 30, Providence Athenaeum, 251 Benefit Street

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