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Suzanne Stryk: ‘Keeping an Eye on Things’

Tuesday, January 27, 2009JOHNSON CITY—A sampling of regional artist Suzanne Stryk’s work — encompassing multimedia paintings, small assemblages, sketchbook drawings and natural objects — is on display through April 12 at the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum and Visitor Center at the Gray Fossil Site.

“Keeping an Eye on Things” is a retrospective of the Bristol, Va., resident’s work, which focuses especially on her involvement with the Fossil Museum since 2006. Intrigued with the ongoing discoveries in Gray, she sought permission that year to sketch some of the fossils being uncovered.

Stryk demonstrates that art and science progress through similar steps. Like a paleontologist using the scientific process, this artist collects specimens, then sketches, studies and interprets them for others to experience.

As Jessica Evans, exhibits coordinator, explains, “In Stryk’s drawings, we see unique features of the natural world that any of us could see and hear — if we were to actually ‘stop, look and listen.’ Stryk offers us a window through which to view this natural realm and its intimate moments at our leisure. She gives precise details to minute forms of insect life, to the tangled nest or to the organized structure of a single feather.”

A few of the original Gray Fossil Site drawings are on display next to the fossil specimens that served as models.

“It is interesting to see how the specimens now differ from the sketches,” says April Nye, assistant collections manager. While an ETSU master’s degree student in 2006, Nye was present at the ETSU Gray Fossil Site during Stryk’s original visit. Because of her unique position, Nye located the specimens shown in the artist’s early works.

“Over the past two years,” Nye adds, “we have continued to prepare the tapir jaw. It is much more complete now than it was when Suzanne made the original sketches.”

Stryk’s prior training as a scientific illustrator gave her the skill to explore the science/art connection with intricate paintings and assemblages littered with references to DNA sequences and the scientific process. Among the works are many small multimedia pieces framed within Riker Mount specimen boxes (or butterfly boxes) usually used for natural history displays. Stryk uses the motif of sketchbooks and Riker Mount boxes in her pieces to ask “Is this a specimen or an art work?” and “Where does science end and art begin?”

The ETSU Museum will host a “Meet the Artist” reception from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10, as well as a drawing workshop led by Stryk on Saturday, March 28, from 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Registration and a $40 fee are required for the workshop, which offers the basics of drawing and journal writing focused on fossils at the Gray site, ranging from small fragments to fully assembled skeletons.

For further information, visit or call 1-800-202-6223. The ETSU Natural History Museum is open daily from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. and is located 1.8 miles off the I-26 Gray Exit 13.


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