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Posted on October 25, 2011

Both art and science will be on display when Cal U hosts “Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek” from Nov. 10 through Dec. 8 in the lobby of Frich Hall.

The collaborative exhibition by 90 regional artists recalls a massive fish kill in the Pennsylvania-West Virginia waterway in 2009.

Each of the artists painted one species of aquatic life killed in the Dunkard Creek incident, which has been blamed on pollution and the release of toxins from golden algae, a non-native organism.

The artists’ subjects were drawn from West Virginia Department of Natural Resources lists of fish, crayfish and mussel species killed, as well as insect populations that dropped significantly after the algae bloom.

Cal U is one of nine sites in the Monongahela watershed that will host the traveling exhibition, which is sponsored by the Mountain Institute Appalachia Program. 

Cal U’s Office of Academic Affairs will host an opening reception from 5-8 p.m. Nov. 10 in Frich Hall. It will begin with a gallery talk by Ann Payne, of Morgantown, a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and the artist who conceived and organized the project. 

Curator for the exhibition is Maggy Aston, assistant professor of art and design at Cal U and one of Payne’s former students.

A work by Jordan Wong, a student of Aston’s, is included in the exhibition. His piece depicts the johnny darter, Etheostoma nigrum, a bottom-feeding freshwater fish.

A resident of Greensboro, Pa., just a mile from Dunkard Creek, Aston has enhanced the exhibition by collaborating with Cal U’s departments of Art and Design, Biological and Environmental Sciences, and Music.

The paintings will be viewed in an aquarium-like environment that includes glass display cases holding biological specimens and a sound track of bird, frog and cricket calls. A large, collaborative mural depicts water, nature and industry in the Mon Valley, and a video loop of underwater scenes shows streambeds before and after fish kills.

Aston praised Dr. David Argent, chair of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, for collecting the specimens, providing display space and assembling additional glass cases for the exhibition.

Cal U students also contributed. Jessica Barton assisted Argent with identifying and locating the specimens; Valerie Herrera helped to research, complete and install the collaborative murals; Caitlin Sowers assisted with exhibition and mural installation; Wong designed and distributed posters and invitations; and Christopher Campus created the digital soundtrack.

“This exhibition is meant to raise awareness of what happened at Dunkard Creek,” said Aston. “It features many nationally recognized artists who all have a concrete tie to the Monongahela watershed, into which Dunkard Creek flows.”

Aston teaches a biological illustration class with Dr. Mark Tebbett, of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences. The course will be offered again this spring, and she believes the exhibition will attract students and demonstrate that biological illustration is a viable career.

“This continues the collaboration between departments,” Aston said. “The (illustration) course and exhibition point to the idea that you can combine science and art as a career path.

“And with its live reptiles and greenhouse, Frich Hall has so many interesting things to draw. My students love it.”

Argent, whose research interests include water quality, said he is delighted for his department to be part of the exhibition.

“We welcome the opportunity to display biologically related art in our building,” he said. “Given the tragedy of Dunkard Creek, I could not pass up the opportunity to offer a venue in which patrons could see firsthand what species were lost, what the immediate ecological impact was, and what the long-term recovery will be for this stream.”

The opening reception is free to the University community and the general public. Complimentary exhibit brochures will be distributed at the reception. “Reflections: Homage to Dunkard Creek” will be on view from 8 a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays until Dec. 8 in the lobby of Frich Hall.  For more information, contact Aston at or 724-938-4563.