Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A geologist paints Darwin

By Carol Clark

Emory geologist Woody Hickcox feels a special kinship with Charles Darwin, and it’s not just because of a slight physical resemblance. “Nothing in geology or the natural world makes any sense without his theory of evolution,” Hickcox says. “He’s sort of the kindly grandfather of us all.”

Hickcox, a senior lecturer in the department of environmental studies, has taught at Emory for 27 years. He’s also a talented artist. His murals and paintings of nature, especially birds, can be seen throughout the Math and Science Building.

When Hickcox was invited to create a piece in celebration of the Fernbank Museum’s special Darwin exhibit, he chose to do a larger-than-life, impressionistic portrait of the English naturalist, who established that all species of life have descended from a common ancestor.

“I feel very close to him as a scientist, and painting him brings me closer to him as a person. The melding of the two is greater than the sum of the parts,” Hickcox says. “You can see in his face that he went through a lot, that there were a lot of trials and tribulations in his life, aside from the science that we are all struggling to understand.”

Hickcox says that while painting the portrait, he thought about Darwin as “a normal person,” instead of the myth. “He’s not the devil. He’s not really different from any one else. He’s just a really smart guy who, in a sense, got really lucky to go on the ship he went on. And he was one of those people who were able to bring a tremendous amount of material together.”

The portrait of Darwin is part of the show “Selections,” works of art inspired by evolution, that will be on view at the Fernbank throughout the Darwin exhibit. The eight Georgia artists in the show include other scientists from the department of environmental studies: Anthony Martin and Berry Brosi, and former faculty member Lore Rattan, who left Emory last year to pursue her art full-time.

You can meet all of the artists, and ask them questions about their work, at the official opening party for “Selections,” on Friday, October 14, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm at Fernbank.

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