Member Spotlight: Scott Rawlins

SCOTT RAWLINS, 2011Even before 1981 (when Raiders of the Lost Ark was released) I have been trying (in an unfocused way) to pattern my life after that of Indiana Jones —or at least his predecessor, Allan Quatermain. Both men were, to one degree or another, able to balance the sedentary world of the intellect with the dynamic world of travel and exploration.

Like Dr. Jones, I have some advanced degrees in science-related fields and teach at a university. I have traveled to unusual and/or exotic locations. I have studied grasses in Kenya, collected scorpions in Jamaica, examined the stomach of a patient in a Michigan OR and painted Amazonian plants in Brazil. Unlike “Indy,” I like snakes (and sometimes collect them) and have not been chased by natives with spears, giant boulders or beautiful Nazis.

> Scott Rawlins, 2011

We understand that scott’s early experimentation with smoking later morphed into a love of chocolate and unusual plants...The truth is, growing up in suburban New Jersey did not offer me too many opportunities for adventure. Nevertheless, my hometown of Piscataway did offer woods and fields and as a result, I developed an interest in natural history, especially plants, early in my life. My first plant collection was compiled for an 8th-grade science class and my first illustrated plant talk (“Poisonous Plants in Home and Garden”) was given when I was 14. During my four years as an undergraduate at Earlham College, when I wasn’t taking field biology classes, I participated in an apprenticeship at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and took my first class in scientific illustration through the University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, I spent a semester at the School of Visual Arts in New York honing my art skills but returned to natural science the year after as a graduate student in Antioch College’s program in environmental education.

< We understand that Scott’s early experimentation with smoking later morphed into a love of chocolate and unusual plants...

My first full-time job was as Assistant Curator of Natural Science at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. One of my responsibilities was to maintain a greenhouse (or “brownhouse” as it turned out—there was an ongoing problem with the humidity.) Over the next few years, my career as a museum professional was punctuated by periods in graduate school. I completed a MAT (MA in teaching) in museum education from the George Washington University. An internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History led to a two-year contract position with the museum and the opportunity to take the GNSI summer workshop in scientific illustration. This is where I met many of the giants in the field—Elaine Hodges, Trudy Nicholson, George Venable, Alice Tangerini, Carolyn Gast and the man who would become my mentor at the University of Michigan—Jerry Hodge. While acting as Director of Education for the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD, I supervised the replanting of a salt marsh, planned programs, and classes, and participated in a British museology* seminar at Hertford College, Oxford University. In 1987, I enrolled in the medical and biological illustration program at the University of Michigan and finished an MFA degree 5 semesters later. Toward the end of this time, I combined some research at the Smithsonian with an internship under Karen Ackoff at the Handbook of the North American Indian office. Deciding I wanted to teach rather than draw scenes from the operating room, I worked for several years as Curator of Natural Science at the Grand Rapids (MI) Public Museum and taught part-time at Kendall College of Art & Design while I waited for a suitable full-time teaching position to open.

From 1994 to the present I have been teaching scientific illustration, drawing, and design at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. I also facilitate a seminar on the cultural history of chocolate, which is, as one might expect, very popular (until the students realize they have to write papers, not just eat chocolate). I was chair of my department from 2001 to 2006 and was made full professor in 2007. In addition to my responsibilities at Arcadia, I occasionally offer workshops at the New York Botanical Garden, illustrate for the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, and conduct research on cocoa cultivation. I was on the board of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) for a number of years, serving first as chair of the education committee and then as president from 2004–2005. Professionally, I spend most of my time dealing with things academic: teaching, participating in various exhibitions and lecturing. This seems very tame compared to Indy’s exploits, though last year I trained to teach in a prison setting, and spent two days at a maximum security facility (it’s not like in the movies!). This year I will be visiting Cuba with a group of fellow academicians. It will be interesting to see if the work of scientific artists in a country somewhat isolated is more traditional or more digital in style.

By the end of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it seemed obvious that despite his age (or “mileage”), Indy was not quite ready to hand over his job to the younger generation. I joined the GNSI in 1981 and discovered a wealth of role models, including the incomparable John Cody. The worlds of art and science were, in many ways, very different 20 or 30 years ago, when I started out. Mentoring young scientific illustrators is part of GNSI’s mission, and a responsibility I take very seriously. Like academia, scientific art has become more concerned with legal issues, advertising, and other business practices. It is important to remember, however, that many individuals entered the field as adventurers—Maria Sibylla Merian, Alexander von Humboldt, and William Bartram, to name just a few. Preserving a “sense of wonder” continues to be a worthy goal for organizations such as ours.

*[Museology is the study of museums and how they have established and developed in their role as an educational mechanism under social and political pressures.]


This article appears in the Journal of Natural Science Illustration 2012, number 3.

Share this post: