Speaking of taxidermy, Wednesday’s post reminded me of my trip back to Providence a couple of years ago, to show the Tailor around my old city and my alma mater. He was politely interested in my tour of the campus, but I knew he’d completely freak out (and I was right, he did) when I showed him my favorite haunt of all: the Nature Lab.
I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent in this place, but needless to say, this building was a second home for three years of my life. Now before you think I’m a total nutcase for spending all that time in a room full of dead things, let me explain. The Nature Lab exists for a very specific purpose: to provide real, no-kidding, three-dimensional reference material for drawing.
RISD feels very strongly (and if you read this blog, you know I do, too) about the importance of drawing from life. When you sketch something tangible, right in front of you, all sorts of sneaky extra knowledge (understanding of anatomy and structure! A real grasp of 3-D space! An interest in science!) takes root in your brain, making you a far better artist than any photograph ever could. In this age of Google image searches and the Inter-tubes’ enabling of half-baked research, this stuff is more important than ever.
The Nature Lab was founded in 1937—and it remains remarkably unchanged today. So the result is a stunning combination of natural history museum and down-home lending library. RISD still operates its specimen collections as if the Internet never existed, and I love that (ask me sometime about the glorious Picture Collection—their circulating library of half a million physical image clippings!).
When I was a student here, I was mostly entranced by sketching the individual objects in the collection. (I mean, how often do you get to touch a baboon skull?) But now it’s the overall effect of the whole that gets me. This place is the ultimate cabinet of curiosities—and proof that you really can get lost in one room.