Science meets art at Dafoe Library

U of M artist-in-residence and former biology professor presents nature books

of M professor Erwin Huebner gave a lecture Thursday after writing a book — and placing it alongside others in a quail’s egg.

Huebner is artist-in-residence at the U of M school of art and is a recently-retired biology professor. Huebner gave a talk Jan. 17 at the opening ceremony of his art exhibition, Outside the Boundaries: Exploring the Natural World Through Artist Books, which will be presented at the Archives and Special Collections area of the library until April 15.

Huebner’s interest in artistic book work started about 15 years ago and has led him to grow a hand-made collection.

“Artist books are books that can be sculptural,” said Huebner.

“They can be more conventional binding, and they may tell a story, or they may be simply a collection of photographs.”

Huebner said that despite his interest in the arts, it was the sciences he eventually chose to study in his post-secondary journey.

“When I went to university I was also interested in science,” he said.

“So, I decided to do a degree in science and that led to graduate school, but my science has always involved microscopy and cell biology and often the visual side of science. And, along with the science, I always did art, whether it was photography or etchings.”

Exhibits on display include books showing the texture and properties of different animal skins and books made out of antique accordion book covers.

One of the books is made out of quail eggs and houses a miniature library shelf with books titled after developmental processes — including Organ Development and Gene Expression — that guide the development of an egg into an embryo and, eventually, a newborn.

“I like to incorporate something about the nature of [the book],” said Huebner.

“The content of the book is also then reflected in the structure of the book.”

“For example the egg cell […] is the foundation of all life, and so I thought it’d be interesting to make a book that’s actually made using the eggshell as the cover of the book.”

The influence of his scientific research on his book art is evident in the detailed concept behind each book — however, he noted he prefers to separate his research and his artistic work.

“The images I take for my art side are not taken because they were a part of a science project,” said Huebner.

Huebner donated a collection of 29 concertina-style handmade books to the school of art. Titled Intimate Encounters, the books are a series of scanned electron microscope images of diverse plant structures.

Underneath the vivid black and white images on every page, Huebner printed names of botanists from throughout history.

“The line of text that runs along the bottom of the books is a reflection that human beings have been fascinated by plants over the millennia,” he said.

The books are $380 each and can be purchased through the school of art. Proceeds will be used to support “school of art students who are interested in print media or micrography.”

Huebner said these books are particularly special to him.

“I spent a lot of time selecting images for it,” he said.

“It’s a lot longer than I initially planned, and that’s why I called it Intimate Encounters […] because these were my interactions with these plant materials and things that excited me.”