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Preserving the art of science

By: Alice Gage, Category: explore, Date: 29 Aug 2018

Meet the recipients of the inaugural Australian Museum Scientific Illustration Scholarship

White Ibis by Samantha Bayly, watercolour illustration, 2018

White Ibis by Samantha Bayly, watercolour illustration, 2018
Photographer:  © Samantha Bayly

Samantha Bayly grew up on a two-hectare property near Port Macquarie, with a Shetland pony, rabbits, cows, dogs, birds and two donkeys named Frida and Fabio.

She spent much of her childhood sitting in the backyard and sketching the animals, learning how to craft their shapes, sizes and colours.

“My mum does a lot of fine art and she loves animals … I suppose I got those things from her.”

Bayly and fellow student Lucia Garces – both undertaking the University of Newcastle’s Bachelor of Natural History Illustration course – are the co-winners of the inaugural 2017 Australian Museum Scientific Illustration Scholarship. Launched in the AM’s 190th year at the opening of the Transformations: Art of the Scott Sisters exhibition, the scholarship aims to celebrate Harriet and Helena Scott’s legacy as early female pioneers in the field of science. The scholarship is open to women and men enrolled in scientific illustration courses at a tertiary level.

Bayly’s interest in illustrating the creatures around her was not unlike the passion that drove the sisters some 160 years earlier.

In 1846, Harriet and Helena, aged 16 and 14 respectively, moved from Sydney to isolated Ash Island in the Hunter River estuary with their mother, Harriet Calcott, and father, entomologist and entrepreneur Alexander Walker Scott. There, surrounded by pristine native vegetation and under the tutelage of their artistic father, their shared fascination with the natural world grew. For almost 20 years, the sisters lived and worked on the island, recording its flora and fauna, especially the butterflies and moths.

The AM scholarship aims to highlight the continued importance of the time-honoured practice. After all, how else do you show the muscular system of a climbing possum, or the legs of a butterfly when the real specimen is damaged?

“Even in the modern age of high-resolution imaging, scientific illustration is still an invaluable resource to the natural sciences and a skill our scientists value highly in peers,” says Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Australian Museum Research Institute.

Bayly says, “There’s a quality in natural subjects that photography doesn’t do justice – it can’t capture vibrancy the way illustration can.”

As well as receiving $5000 each, Bayly and Garces will also be invited to participate in further activities at the AM to enhance their practice, including rare access to the museum collection and mentoring from AMRI scientists.

 

This article first appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Explore.