Roanoke College

Coral reef exhibition combines math, art and science

  • Coral reef exhibition combines math, art and science

  • 02/05/13
  • Update: Roanoke's Olin Gallery will host a second reception for the Roanoke Reef and Phenomenal Indicators exhibitions on Friday, Feb. 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Food and drinks will be served.
    The gallery is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week.

    Crochet needles, yarn, and more than a hundred hands created a unique semblance of sea life that soon will be on display at Roanoke College.

    The Roanoke Reef, an art exhibition known as the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, debuts Jan. 25 at the College's Olin Gallery.  

    Visitors will find more than 1,800 multi-colored yarn pieces crocheted by people in the Roanoke Valley and throughout the country in the past year and a half. These pieces resemble life-like coral reef shapes, complete with starfish, sea urchins and anemone.

    The global exhibition aims to encourage preservation of coral reef life through a series of satellite art reefs set up throughout the United States, Europe and Australia. Roanoke College's reef is the only satellite site in Virginia.

    The reef project is sponsored by the Institute for Figuring, a Los-Angeles based non-profit that promotes scientific and environmental issues through creativity and education.

    But this Roanoke Reef houses more than just colorful sea pieces.

    Old coat hangers, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, glued together and standing against one wall of Olin Gallery, represent a Toxic Reef, which shows the harmful results of pollution and trash on sea life. Crocheters even wove pieces of plastic into some of the shapes. This gray and black display stands in stark contrast to the colorful reef creations throughout the gallery.

    Another display represents a dying bleached reef with white and natural-colored coral shapes. The white shapes resemble calcium deposits.

    Jan Minton, a mathematics teaching associate at Roanoke, is the spark behind this unique project's debut at the College.

    A similar coral reef exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., caught Minton's eye during a visit in early 2011.

    "I immediately thought, 'Roanoke College should do this,'" said Minton, who was drawn to the project's unusual combination of math, science and art. A large number of single crochet stitches form these coral shapes into a curving pattern that resembles hyperbolic geometry.

    Beginning in the fall of 2011, Minton hosted meetings at Roanoke for people throughout the community to learn about the exhibition and crochet coral pieces for it. The word spread, and Roanoke faculty, staff and some students studying science crocheted starfish and other coral pieces to contribute.

    "It has really caught the fancy of some people," Minton said, explaining that local residents have arrived this week with bags full of coral pieces for the exhibit's installation.

    Additional pieces will be accepted through the exhibition's end, which is March 4.

    Colleen Smith, wife of Roanoke Dean Richard Smith, even enlisted her mother, brother, niece and sisters-in-law, who live in Hawaii and California, to crochet for the exhibit.

    "I have taken yarn and needle everywhere," she said. "Everyone can be an artist."


    Art Exhibition: Friday, Jan. 25- Monday, March 4

    Olin Gallery: The Roanoke Reef

    Opening Lecture: Dr. Paul Snelgrove: Friday, Jan. 25, 6 - 6:45 p.m., Olin Theater

    Openings Reception: Friday, Jan. 25, following lecture until 9 p.m., Smoyer Gallery

    The Roanoke Reef is a collaborative project merging the talents of contributors from Roanoke College, the Roanoke Valley and beyond. This community endeavor is a nexus project that combines art, math and science in order to create crocheted structures that mirror natural coral reefs. This is a satellite of the worldwide Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project, created by Margaret and Christine Wertheim of the Institute For Figuring in Los Angeles.

    Incorporated in The Roanoke Reef exhibition will be "Untitled (Symbiosis)," created by Amanda Agricola and Mateo Marquez. This is an interactive installation that explores the concept of long-term mutuality between two or more biological entities. These reciprocal interactions are the basis of a vital coral reef, as well as a fundamental link in the development of ourselves. This installation goes beyond the basic biological correlation and enters into the contemporary, creating a balanced amalgamation of beings and technology.

    Dr. Paul Snelgrove is a biological oceanographer who studies seafloor ecosystems at Memorial University's Ocean Sciences Centre in Newfoundland.  His book, "Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life," details the decade-long Census of Marine Life program, which banded together a global network of more than 2,700 scientists from more than 80 nations. This science team took more than 540 research cruises across jurisdictional and disciplinary boundaries to learn what lives in the ocean, what lived in the ocean and what will live in the future ocean.


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