Combining contemporary art and the history of endangered Maine species, book artist Rebecca Goodale gave an illustrated lecture on her most recent project, “Threatened and Endangered: Flora and Fauna of Maine,” on Tuesday evening in Kresge Auditorium.

Goodale’s accompanying works are currently on display as part of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives at Bowdoin’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. 

Goodale spoke to a full audience of students, faculty and community members while showcasing images of pieces from the project.

The exhibition of Goodale’s works runs alongside “Envisioning Extinctions: Art as a Witness and Conscience,” by Associate Professor of Art Susan Wegner. The latter exhibit offers a historical, text-based look at the extinction of the passenger pigeon in the early 20th century. Goodale’s exhibit looks at the topic of preserving flora and fauna through the lens of contemporary art. Both exhibits have been on display in the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library since September 1.

 “It occurred to me that we could complement the historical exhibit with one that reflected the same themes but through [Goodale’s] contemporary art,” said Richard Lindemann, director of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives.

Lindemann and his staff acquire and make accessible texts and materials that are too rare, expensive or fragile to appear in the general collection. Just recently, the department expanded its collections to include more artists’ books. Book art is a medium through which artists realize art through the form of a book. Special Collections has acquired one copy of each of Goodale’s artists’ books.

This relationship provides Goodale with a means of storing and sharing her work, while allowing the library to use her materials for teaching and exhibition purposes.
 Special Collections first presented Goodale’s work in an exhibition in 2004. Goodale has been working on her present project on endangered and threatened species of Maine since 2000. She is also the director for the Center of Book Arts at the University of Southern Maine.

Goodale’s books fuse together reading and art and range in style from pop-up to fanning to wedding cake. She employs printmaking techniques including silkscreen, block print and collagraph. 

Students of Carrie Scanga’s printmaking classes were required to attend the event, and will be working with Goodale in class next week. The class members will make their own artist books later in the semester.

From the Hairstreak Butterfly to wild ginger to the Clematis flower, Goodale’s books involve colorful depictions of various endangered species native to Maine.  Color is central to all pieces and many take on three-dimensional form, from strings of water lilies to an accordion-style flag book of silkscreened willows. 

Capturing a sense of place is central to Goodale’s work. She travels around Maine seeking inspiration from the state’s most precious flora and fauna, often carrying just a drawing pad and disposable camera. 

The books of Goodale’s endangered species project inspire an attentiveness to environmentalism, science and ethics. While her works endorse an important ecological cause, garnering activist support isn’t her main objective. Goodale hopes her books engender an awareness of humankind’s impact on species endangerment among her audience, simply through the beauty of her art. 

“I am a big believer of beauty, of good design, of good use of color,” said Goodale.
Maddy Livaudais ’16 found Goodale’s artistic process relevant to the curriculum of her Printmaking I class.

“I liked that she tries to be representative of the plants or animals that she’s drawing, but not precise to the point that it has to be exact,” said Livaudais.

Goodale emphasized that her works are focused more on color, form and movement than on scientific precision. While most of her books solely consist of artwork, several also incorporate brief segments of poetry.

“I like to write because it gets me somewhere I can’t get to in the studio,” said Goodale.

Cheryl Lewis and Norine Kotts, friends of Goodale’s and admirers of her work, attended the event, eager to learn more about her art.  

“It was great to spend this amount of time learning about what informs her decisions, around color and size in particular,” said Kotts. 

“It’s always nice to look at the process,” Lewis added.

 Linemann hopes that the audience—students in particular—gain not just an appreciation for Goodale’s current project, but also for the Department of Special Collections and Archives.

 “We have a vested interest in having our collections be better known,” Lindemann said. “So my hope would be that [the audience] appreciate the fact that the library has an eclectic and wide-ranging collection of materials that might be of use to their interests.”