“Sometimes,” Groucho Marx once observed, ”a cigar is just a cigar.”
He would have made a lousy geologist.
To Greg Wessel, co-curator of an exhibit called The Fusion of Geology and Art at the Two-Wall Gallery in Vashon Island, Wash., the physical world is never that simple, it’s never ”just” anything, for behind the geological discoveries and findings and insights is a simple concept – a simple beauty, if you will.
Art. Specifically in geology, the art within.
“Geologists by nature have to think in ways that engineers and others don’t,” Wessel said. ”They have to be able to picture complex processes in time and space using parameters (such as the concept of geologic time) that are largely outside human experience. So, it helps to be imaginative and creative ... putting all these disparate pieces of information together to construct a working model and then being able to tell others about it.”
Wessel, an AAPG member before switching the lens on his career, thought that seeing those thought processes, those models together in an exhibit was a no-brainer; hence an exhibit that literally and figuratively goes beneath the surface.
“I’m also a bit of an artist, a printmaker,” he said, ”and I’ve had an idea for a long time of incorporating some geologic principles in my art work.”
He then thought about inviting other geologists to do the same thing and put the compilation together in an earth science-related show.
It was an idea so simple, so perfect, he says it was his ”duh” moment.
The devil – like art, though – is in the details. One of the problems he faced was how to get started, how to tell the geologic community of such an exhibit.
“Geologists do not read the calls for artists in arts-related publications,” he said, so he contacted AAPG, GSA and Earth magazine looking for those weekend and evening geologists who specialize in everything from music to visual art.
This was a case where the demand isn’t the problem; it’s the supply.
“There is a lot of potential to generate works of art that exhibit the wonder and beauty of nature,” he said. ”Most geologists take a lot of photos, for example. But in addition, I’m looking for connections both in the brains of the geologists and in their conscious application of geologic themes to the creation of artworks.”
The Two-Wall Gallery, which Wessel says is exactly what it sounds like (“Two walls down a long hallway in one of the buildings in the center of our town”), as well as the small island town itself, has been home to some eclectic shows in the small Washington town, including an exhibit of all nude photos.
(About that: Wessel says the town’s arts community was responding to a letter to the editor in a local paper from a woman aghast at seeing a nude portrait at a local restaurant. The community’s response: a room full of nudes.)
Wessel, by trade, is a structural/field/economic geologist and now works as an engineering geologist for the county. His work included stints with Gulf Mineral Resources in Tucson, Marathon Oil Research in Denver and as a consultant domestically, in eastern Europe and Bolivia. His wife, Margaret was an igneous petrologist by training but has also worked for the Oklahoma Geological Survey and Arco in Midland, Texas.
It is this exhibit, though – this connection between what geologists see and what they do – that has peaked their interests and energies.
One of the pieces that will be on display has the rather lengthy title ”A Lesson From Stratigraphy: Everything You Say and Do Makes an Impact, But the Impact May Not Be Measurable to You.”
Another is a cross section with drop stones in soft sediment and accompanying soft-sediment disturbance was accompanied with the statement ”Her life was like the sediment in a pond; criticism from her parents made a big splash on the surface and a permanent crater in the mud below.”
Wessel says the philosophy behind the exhibit mirrors the philosophy behind the profession.
“Geologic processes are basic to all existence and reflected in everyday human life,” he said, adding that geologists who understand and cultivate the ties make better scientists.
“If I were hiring a new geologist, I’d give extra points to the one who showed artistic talent,” he said. ”Making good maps and cross sections, which is one of the first things a geologist should master in his/her career, is fast becoming a lost art.”
Wessel believes The Fusion of Geology and Art exhibit is the first attempt of its kind to attract such art on such a large scale, the first attempt to understand the marriage between the geosciences and art.
It is for those who see in, on and between the lines.
But what of those who just see the rock?
“You’re assuming,” Wessel said, ”that the same person who sees the art in a rock will not be tempted to skip it across a lake.”
The kind of person who enjoys a good cigar once in awhile.