Move over canary in the coal mine, amphibians are an understated climate bellwether deserving of the spotlight.
After a six-month residency at the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh (or RZL), I invite you to an art exhibition focused on the vulnerable state of amphibians. On display at the Frick Environmental Center public gallery from June 28th through August 31st, Edged Out is a series of paintings and sculptural works about human influence on nature.
These artworks are visual translations of research conducted by the Richards-Zawacki Herpetology Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. During my six-month artist residency at the lab, I’ve immersed myself in scientific topics represented in this exhibition, such as habitat loss, disease and conservation methods.
One of my favorite works is the painting above. This small study was inspired by the lab’s research on a fungal pathogen nicknamed Bd, which causes the often fatal disease chytridiomycosis or chytrid. Chytrid is threatening frog populations globally at an alarming rate and in many cases is causing extinctions. The issue is becoming so pervasive it’s getting picked up by mainstream media. Researchers at RZL recently had an article of the topic published in Science, which in turn was reported on by The New York Times, The Atlantic and others.
Diving this deep into herpetology as the subject of an entire body of artwork has only been possible by embedding myself in the lab, interacting with the researchers as they “do science” (such as Veronica Saenz, right, who is researching how climate change affects Bd). One of the most useful experiences has been participating in lab meetings where scientific articles are discussed and presentations are rehearsed.
Other paintings focus on habit loss and fragmentation, last-ditch conservation practices, and, as shown in the teaser below, a nod to local species that includes visualizations of their calls (spectrograms) and flora of their native habitats.
Ashley Cecil is a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based artist and illustrator specializing in paintings of flora and fauna that illustrate the interconnectedness between the natural world and its inhabitants. Learn more about her work here.