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Observing Art in the Natural World

Students in Sharon Kreamer’s biology class studied and drew inspiration from the artistic illustrations of 19th-century scientist Ernst Haeckel while participating in an Art-Across-the-Curriculum assignment tasking them to embroider ocean plankton under the tutelage of art teacher, Lucy Nelson. Haeckel’s gorgeous prints in the book Art Forms in Nature illustrated the beauty of microscopic marine life and the students were asked to research ocean zooplankton and phytoplankton and then create their own original work in the style of Haeckel.  The accuracy of his precise natural forms has been confirmed by modern microscopy and still influences artists and designers today.
According to Kreamer, plankton are the essential, but often overlooked, base of food webs in marine and freshwater ecosystems. They can be defined as small, often microscopic organisms that are unable to swim against a current. Plankton are a very diverse group of organisms including algae, diatoms, protozoans, and the eggs and larval stages of crustaceans and other larger animals. Along with creating their embroidery, students researched the role of their chosen plankton in its ecosystem as well as the organism’s key characteristics. 
Students either used a template or created their own for their design and were required to include at least four different stitches. Working on 6" hoops with needles and floss, students learned the patience and attention to detail necessary to create the painstakingly beautiful designs that traditionally adorned fabrics such as dresses, men's waistcoats, and household linens.
Kreamer invited her students to donate their designs to be made into a quilt, which she stitched together over the summer with a water-themed fabric border. The quilt hangs in the science wing.
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