Photographer Donna Hamil Talman Enlivens WPI’s Gordon Library Gallery with Her "Signs of Life" Exhibition

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Donna Hamil Talman

WORCESTER, Mass. - Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the EcoTarium are hosting "Signs of Life," an exhibition highlighting the collaboration between award-winning contemporary photographer, Donna Hamil Talman and the EcoTarium. The show is supported in part of the Massachusetts/Worcester Cultural Commission.

This is Hamil Talman’s first solo exhibition in the area in several years. It showcases more than 30 of her photo-based images of dinosaur remains, and photographs of prehistoric and related objects in the EcoTarium collection.

The exhibition runs through Friday, December 17, in the third-floor gallery of WPI’s George C. Gordon Library. It is free and open to the public. The Gordon Library is open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 12 midnight; Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday from 12 noon to 12 midnight. An opening reception for this show will be held Thursday, November 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Gordon Library.

The EcoTarium has also selected two of Hamil Talman’s photos to be simultaneously on display in the EcoTarium. The EcoTarium will also choose, interpret, and display objects from its collection that relate to Hamil Talman’s art.

For a few years, Hamil Talman has been interested in human connections to the ancient past and has been going to natural history museums in various locations and photographing vertebrate fossils (dinosaur bones), which have been incorporated in her art. In working with these ancient finds she began to wonder what, if anything, had been found around Worcester. That led her to talk with the EcoTarium staff and to discover that artifacts have, indeed, been found here.

As the EcoTarium staff and Hamil Talman talked further, a collaborative project was born. The EcoTarium considers art a natural gateway to engage visitors in the natural world and has used photography, painting, and other art activities to inspire a passion for nature. The artist is interested in knowing if her images awaken in her art-focused audience curiosity about the scientific side of things.

The most dramatic example of pre-historic finds is remnants of a mastodon, found in the Shrewsbury area by workers digging a trench on a farm in 1884. A mastodon tooth was found in Northborough the same year. The local and historic ties to exhibition images of fossil seashells and trilobites are that they are part of the EcoTarium historic collection, which is a reflection of the institution as one of the oldest natural history societies in the U.S. The examples of plants show that change in the local ecosystem takes place in a very short amount of time, especially when considered next to pre-historic life.

Children love dinosaurs and many even know the scientific names of the creatures in the photographs. Most adults, at some level, feel the power of the ancient past and even feel some connection to it. Through her art, Hamil Talman hopes to deepen that connection for viewers. The images are a link, an entry point, to open up a conversation about how we humans are connected to our historic past and, especially, how Worcester is a part of that history.

This ongoing series of Hamil Talman’s inhabits a realm between painting and photography. After taking the photographs, Hamil Talman drew upon years of darkroom experience and experimentation to push the boundaries of traditional photography by manipulating the prints in unique ways, so that each image is one of a kind. The work is time-intensive and hands-on in the darkroom. Bleaches are used on finished prints in ways reminiscent of an archeological dig in which years are cleared away, and toners, special coloring chemicals suitable only to photographs, are used to create unusual and rich colors.

Hamil Talman is a winner of numerous grants and awards, including a Creative Arts Fellowship in 2001, another Worcester Cultural Commission grant, residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and, this summer, a residency in Balatonfured, Hungary, sponsored by the Hungarian Multicultural Center. In 2001, Hamil Talman organized "Invoking the Source," the premier exhibition with nationally recognized artists at the Worcester Center for Crafts in collaboration with Clark University. Recent solo or small group shows have been at well-established galleries in Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Denver, and New York.

For more information about Hamil Talman, visit her Web site at www.donnahamiltalman.com.