Artist on a Rock

By Chris Petersen and Madeline Motley

Sometimes we take our students and put them on a rock 25 nautical miles offshore.  It isn’t punishment.  The place is called Mount Desert Rock and its one of COA’s field stations, where students have been studying whales and oceanography since the 1970’s.  Students shouldn’t feel that they have to be studying marine biology if they want to study at the Rock- there is room for many disciplines!  Our students mix their major by bringing knowledge from one field to another- mixing, matching, and forming new synergies.

Katie Powell, '16.

Katie Powell, ’16.

We call this Human Ecology, but it really doesn’t matter to us what you call it.  One student that got plopped on the rock this last summer was Katie Powell (’16).   Katie spent last spring and summer capturing the beauty of Mount Desert Rock through various mediums of artwork including watercolor, sketches, oil on canvas, and photography. A show of her work opened Tuesday March 31 in the college’s Blum Gallery, and runs through April 10th.  If you are on campus, you need to see it.

The Rock is not just a great place to watch for whales (from the lighthouse) but also a wonderful place for an artist.  It certainly provides solitude, but not from everything.  You get to share the stunning sunrises and sunsets with hundreds of gray and harbor seals (and a few other students).

Water color portraits of famous whales.

Water color portraits of famous whales.

Getting to the show at different times, Chris and Madeline found that they had different favorite pieces.  Madeline loved her display of watercolor pieces of whale tails, or flukes.  Flukes are like fingerprints.  The marking of a whale’s fluke is unique to the individual.  This is how Allied Whale identifies whales for their Humpback and Fin Whale catalogues.  There are several individual whales that frequent the North Atlantic and are continuously documented by Allied Whale researchers and recognized by name.  This led to the creation of the Adopt a Whale program, which allows the public to sponsor a whale and make a donation for Allied Whale research.  In return Allied Whale sends pictures and updates on the adopted whale to his or her sponsor.  Now, thanks to Katie, sponsors will also receive a beautiful water color piece of their adopted whale!  Katie created a water color of each whale available for adoption.

Left to right: Ernie McMullen, Darron Collins, and Katie Powell.

Left to right: Ernie McMullen, Darron Collins, and Katie Powell.

Chris’ favorites were the seagulls and the barnacles.  Katie was in his marine biology her first term and did some amazing ink drawings of barnacles, but they weren’t in this ‘rock’ show.  He still would like a barnacle print (strong hint implied here – and yes, he knows he already has a puffin picture).  Katie’s sketching in her field notebook for marine biology was extremely impressive, but her artwork has certainly grown since she has been at COA.

Katie spent hours on each of her pieces, and Chris and Madeline think her work has really paid off.  Her large pieces are oil paintings that Katie produced through her internship and in classes with Ernie McMullen (shown here with art critic/COA president Darron Collins).

More of Katie’s artwork can be viewed on her web page, littlebirdartwork.

So, Mount Desert Rock is certainly for whale biologists, but is also a pretty amazing place for artists.  We are waiting for a rock poet.  If you want to be that person, or even if you just want to study marine mammals, oceanography, plankton, or any other amazing idea, contact Sean Todd.

And go see the show.  You will love it.

About marinestudiesatcoa

Chris is a professor of marine ecology and policy at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine
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