Allston, MA – We are constantly plugged into our cellphones, computers, and tablets, watching the world through a screen and living our busy lives that we may become disconnected with nature. We may forget that we are a part of it and just as vulnerable as birds, moths, fish and turtles endangered by habitat loss from urbanization, overfishing or pollution, side effects of an industrial world. Within Julia Galloway’s new exhibition, “The Endangered Species Project: New England,” at Harvard University’s Gallery 224, nature confronts visitors. Through 305 handmade porcelain urns on tables and shelved on the walls, Galloway’s art creates a space of reflection and memorialization of endangered and extinct species of each state in New England. They are brought together and individually remembered on vessels traditionally used to hold cremated ashes.
As a Bostonian, now living and teaching in Montana, Galloway’s inspiration behind her project stemmed from learning about the Wandering Albatross, “one of the largest birds in the world, sporting a wing span up to 11 feet across and able to stay aloft for 30 days,” as she notes. Its population is rapidly falling due to the albatross’s close flight above water and collision with industrial fishing lines. Even such a large bird like this is susceptible to humans’ impact on the environment and the issue is either unheard or ignored.
Her exhibit acts as a sanctuary for animals like the Acadian Flycatcher bird (RI), Acadian Hairstreak moth (RI), Agassizs Clam shrimp (MA), Alder Flycatcher bird (CT) and Atlantic Ridley sea turtle (RI, MA, CT). The urns feature soft earth tones and animals in free movement, despite their current conditions out in the wild. The Ridley sea turtle, a creature atop worldwide endangered turtle records, attributed to hunting, entrapment in nets and littering, is displayed on an urn with impressions of waves in its solid background. Galloway sets animals like these in their natural environments through design details, but the uniform blue-tinted backgrounds allow for the pictured animal to stand out and ascend above its barriers.
In addition to the walking amongst this extensive collection of urns, visitors can also play an interactive role in the exhibit by flipping through a binder and reading about each painted animal. Galloway reminds us how we can slow or stop extinction of our animal companions by not littering or disturbing nests.
Galloway’s artistic process of molding clay on the potter’s wheel to carving, firing in the kiln, and ultimately painting details of each animal on the urns, is a long, hands-on process. The process is therapeutic and she gains a deeper connection with each animal just by shaping and forming the clay. In a sense, she nurtures, heals, and rebirths each animal with her hands. In her artist statement, she credits the “sensitive and responsive” nature of clay when soft, then its “dense and strong” quality when fired as the aspect that captivated her interest with the medium. With clay, originating from the earth, she showcases one of the major earthly problems of today.
(Julia Galloway’s “The Endangered Species Project: New England” remains on view through April 14 at Gallery 224, 224 Western Ave, Allston, Massachusetts. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; and on weekends from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Join Julia Galloway for a lecture on April 13 at 4 p.m. next door at Harvard Ed Portal, followed by a closing reception from 5-7 p.m. in the gallery. RSVP at https://ofa.fas.harvard.edu/event/julia-galloway-lecture).