Rosamond Purcell

ARTIST'S STATEMENT FROM, An Art that Nature Makes
Almost thirty years ago, from the ground of a rural scrap-metal yard came the first, and still most treasured, of found objects: two books glued together by the passage of New England seasons, and half-gnawed by mice into a nest of syllables and straw. Here, I realized, was a perfect example of manmade objects, the books, turning half-way across into an expression of animal industry, the nest. It stands at the cross-roads between artifact and nature, a hybrid object, a grafting of text to nest—”An Art that Nature Makes” * — a title which became the title of the documentary film about my work as an artist and writer and now, here at Big Town, a title for the selected photographs taken for a variety of reasons over the past decades.

An over-arching theme that unites the images in the gallery is that these disparate often wild things have been contained. The Norfolk Island Kereru dive-bombing into the box, the giant ferns in an album, even the gorilla skulls side by side linked by their differences, joined by their similarities belong within a single frame. Of course ‘containment’ in some instances has been contrived. I placed the Kereru head-down into the box to express the fateful history of this large extinct pigeon: the Naturalis museum in Leiden had a single pair of these birds, and according to their records they were first described—and last seen—in the same year, 1801.

The pre-constructed composition of ‘Book Cloth’ and ‘Moths on Music’ are also containers. 'Book Cloth' of binding, cloth, and random text is a recomposed expression of a ruined structure. 'Moths on Music' have a historical reference: on sooty telephone poles in northern England, white moths over decades developed dark smudges to better survive, camouflaged from predators on the poles. These particular moths have been ‘collected’ by my having placed them on termite-eaten music. Now contained within the framework of the music, dark spots on the wings commingle with dark details of notes from the score. But the notion behind the composition refers also to this well-known example of a strategy for survival. The ‘container’ here includes a piece of science history one does—or does not—need to know

But well beyond the box, the book, the shell, structural sameness, or natural camouflage, ‘containment’ is inherent, above all, with the photographs of eggs—the murre eggs in the collector’s box, the fossilized elephant bird egg, the eggs of the hummingbird, and the lacy hard shell of the guira cuckoo. The eggs set their own limits: their contents are invisible, vanished, or perhaps, in the case of the elephant bird, turned to stone.

*Title from Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 4.4 lines 504-6
“over that art which you say adds to nature, is an art that nature makes.” In this scene the characters argue about the hybridization of plants, which was becoming fashionable in Shakespeare’s time and was described as an art that nature makes.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS, Solo except 2 person where noted
1972: MIT Creative Photo Lab (2)
1973: Brockton Art Center (2)
1975: University of Iowa Art Center
1975: Neikrug Gallery, New York, NY
1976: Addison Gallery, Andover, MA
1976: Madison Art Center, Madison, WI
1977: Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, DE
1977: Roswell Museum, New Mexico
1977: Gallery Fiolet, Amsterdam
1977: Photographer’s Gallery, London
1977: Il Diaframma, Milano
1977: Photography Place, Philadelphia, PA
1978: Santa Fe Gallery of Photography, NM
1980: Boston Athenæum
1980: Marcuse Pfeifer, NYC
1981: Focus, San Francisco
1982: Marcuse Pfeifer, NYC
1983: Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara (2)
1983: University of Vermont
1983: Robert Klein, Boston
1984: Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, Michigan
1984: Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard (2)
1985: Houston Center for Photography (2)
1986: Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
1986: Marcuse Pfeifer, NYC
1986: Bunting Institute, Radcliffe College
1988: Academy of Fine Arts, Honolulu
1988: Field Museum, Chicago
1989: Catherine Edelman Gallery,Chicago
1989: Marcuse Pfeiffer, NYC
1990: Bishop Museum, Honolulu
1992: Aiken Gallery, South Carolina
1993: New York Academy of Sciences: Eden in a Jar: The Collector, the Curator, and the Camera.
1993: Center for Photographic Arts, Carmel, CA Under Glass, 2 person with Richard Ross
1995: Cleveland Museum of Art, Extinct Animals
1995: Gallery of Contemporary Photography Santa Monica, “Few know the sweetness of the twisted apples”
1998: Los Angeles Public Library The Writing on the Wall
1999: Kathleen Ewing Gallery, Washington DC, "Swift as a Shadow"
2000: School of Design, University of Wisconsin, "Nature as Teacher: College of the Atlantic Extinction Then and Now"
2007: Kathleen Ewing Gallery, Washington DC, "Bookworm"
2007: Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA, "Bookworm: Photographs by Rosamond Purcell"

2007: L.C. Bates Museum, Hinckley, ME, Artists as Naturalists
2006: Bates College Museum of Art, Lewiston, ME
2006: Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale; travel to Artspace, Kansas City Art Institute
2005: National Library of Medicine, Dream Anatomies; travel to California Science Center, Los Angeles
2004: University of Wyoming Art Museum, Dice: Deception, Fate and Rotten Luck
2004: Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, Bottle: Contemporary Art and Vernacular Tradition
2004: Amazing! Maine Stories, Maine Historical Society, Portland, ME (with artifacts from foundry of William Buckminster)
- National Academy of Science, Washington DC. The Art of Neuroscience: Image and Understanding
- DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA. Terrors and Wonders: Monsters in Contemporary Art
- Mobius Gallery, Boston. Words on Fire
- University of Rhode Island, Transgressions/Transformations
- Ricco Moresca Gallery, New York, Mütter Museum photography
- National Academy of Science, The Beauty of Phenomena; Art in the Communication of Science
- Yerba Buena Museum, San Francisco: photographs from Dice: Deception Fate and Rotten Luck (text Ricky Jay)

2006: Smith College, Northampton, MA, Dissolution and the Singular Object
2004-2005: Harvard University, Science Center Special Exhibition Gallery: Bringing Nature Inside, 17th Century Natural History, Classification, and Vision
2004: Mount Holyoke Art Museum: Two Rooms: 1655 / 2000
2004: (October-December) Tufts University Art Gallery: Two Rooms: 1655 / 2000
2003: Santa Monica Museum of Art. Two Rooms: 1655 / 2000 Traveling exhibition, Purcell’s reconstruction of the 17th century museum of Olaus Worm and of her studio
2001: Photographic Resource Center, Boston, Strange Attractor: In the Orbit of the Artist (Exhibition Curator)
1993: Museo Nacional de Ciencias, Madrid, El Real Gabinete Permanent installation of the history of the museum’s collections
1992: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, MA, Musee de l’Ame
1991: Museo Nacional de Ciencias, Madrid, Naturalezas (and other museums in Spain)
1989: DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA, A Trail of Ash in “Ten Artists, Ten Visions”

- Boston Athenæum
- Calvin College, Michigan
- DeCordova Museum, Lincoln, MA
- Delaware Art Museum
- Harry Ransom Humanities Center, Austin, Texas
- Houston Museum of Art
- Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts
- Metropolitan Museum, New York
- Mount Holyoke Art Museum
- Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
- National Academy of Science, Washington, DC
- National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
- National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD
- New Orleans Museum of Art
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Polaroid Corporation
- San Francisco Museum of Art
- University of Massachusetts
- Victoria and Albert Museum, London

2008Virginia Quarterly Review, "The Stories of Strangers", April issue.
2007Medea and Her Sisters: Leonard Baskin’s Images of Women exhibition catalog, Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA.
2006Bookworm, New York: Quantuck Lane Press.
2006Conjunctions Magazine, "Selective Subversions", May issue.
2006: "Taking Things Seriously XII" in Taking Things Seriously: 75 Objects with Unexpected Significance by Joshua Glenn and Carol Hayes, Princeton Architectural Press.
2004Natural History Magazine, "A Room Revisited", September issue.
2003Owl's Head, Quantuck Lane Press.
2002Dice: Deception, Fate and Rotten Luck, text by Ricky Jay. Quantuck Lane Press.
2001: 60 photographs for A Long Look at Nature by Margaret Martin, University North Carolina Press.
2001: Introduction to Rock of Ages, Sands of Time by Barbara Page, University of Chicago Press.
2000Crossing Over: Where Art and Science Meet, text by Stephen Jay Gould, New York: Harmony Books (Random House).
1999Swift as a Shadow Extinct and Endangered Birds and Animals, Collections of University of Leiden, Boston: Houghton-Mifflin. Best of Show (43rd annual New England Book Show)
1998Special Cases, Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters, San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
1998American Book Review, "First Breath, Last Sigh" in “The Monstrous and the Marvelous; The Dual Nature of the Grotesque”.
1997: 12 color photographs in 1997 and 1998 calendars, American Museum of Natural History, New York: Workman Publishers.
1996Curiositeit, collections of the Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht.
1995: Photographs for Suspended Animation by Dr. F Gonzalez Crussi, New York: Harcourt Brace.
1995Art Bulletin, “The Problematics of Collecting”, July, Vol. LXXVll, Num. 2.
1992Finders Keepers, Eight Collectors, text by Stephen Jay Gould, New York: WW Norton.
1991Naturalezas, Madrid: Museo Nacional de Ciancias Naturales.
1991A Collector's Catalogue, Limited Edition Artist’s book, Cambridge: Bow and Arrow Press.
1991: 12 color photographs in calendar, Threads of Evolution, created for ORACLE Computer Co., London: Forward Publishers.
1990: 68 color photographs in an engagement calendar, Hidden Wonders, Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press and University of Hawaii Press.
1986Illuminations, A Bestiary, text by Stephen Jay Gould, WW Norton. Award (American Institute of Graphic Arts).
1980Half Life, Boston: David R. Godine.
1975A Matter of Time, David R. Godine. Award (American Institute of Graphic Arts)

2007Boston Review, “Metamorphosis” by John Crowley .
2007Weekend America, discussion of "Bookworm" with Barbara Bogave, American Public Media, November.
2007: Review in Los Angeles Times by Susan Salter Reynolds.

2003Agni Magazine, "Breaking Ground" by Sven Birkerts, Boston University.
2003: Profile in The Boston Globe, by Joshua Glenn.
1998Atlantic Monthly, “Brief Lives - An Eye for Anomaly” by Marshall Fisher.

2007: Virginia Commonwealth University, “'Things' is where it’s at”
2007: James Madison University, “Double or Nothing: Metamorphic Mysteries”
2007: Mary Baldwin College, “Metaphoric Histories”
2006: City University of New York, Graduate Center, The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society
2006: Dublin Blaschka Congress, National Museum of Ireland (Natural History), "The Properties of Light and Glass"
2005: Weissman Center Mount Holyoke College, "The Metaphysics of Water"
2005: University of Missouri at St. Louis
2005: Halsey Institute
2004: Providence Athenaeum with Rhode Island School of Design, "Inspired by Nature; The Art of the Natural History Book"
2003: Weissman Center for Leadership, Mount Holyoke College, "The Political Embryo: Reconceiving Human Reproduction", panel discussion, "In Utero, Imaging and Imagining"
2002: College Art Association, Philadelphia, panel on Museums of Philadelphia
2002: Maryland Institute, panel,"Sideshow Art: the Aesthetics of the Unusual, the Exaggerated, and the Abnormal"
- The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (with novelist Rikki Ducornet)
- The New York Academy of Science (with Stephen Jay Gould)
- Peabody Essex Museum, Salem MA, and Maryland Institute College of Art (both with Dr. Gould)
- Jackson Hole Wyoming, The National Museum of Wildlife Art, "Framing the Wild", panel discussion
2000: Brooklyn Museum of Art, "Marvels of Art and Nature in the Guennol Collection", public dialogue with curators Diana Fane (Brooklyn Museum) and Richard Townsend (Art Institute of Chicago)
1996: University of California at Santa Barbara, symposium, "Microcosms: Perception through Possession", lecture, "Representing Possessions" with museum director David Wilson (Museum of Jurassic Technology) and artist Richard Ross (UCSB)


"Art Notes: Artist’s Images Animate Eccentric Objects from the 18th and 19th Centuries" - Nicola Smith, Valley News
"'An Art That Nature Makes: The Work of Rosamond Purcell': Film Review" - Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
"Review: 'An Art That Nature Makes,' an Illuminating Look at Rosamond Purcell" - A. O. Scott, The New York Times
"Photographer and Writer Rosamond Purcell" - Terry Gross, Fresh Air