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Homecoming exhibit inspired by century-old herbarium collection at UIU

(From right) Dr. Scott Figdore, Upper Iowa University Robert L. Fox Chair of Science, shares some of the herbarium specimens first gathered in the 1800s by Dr. C.C. Parker to Parker descendants, Lee Goebel Tillotson and Dr. James D. Parker.

Botanical research dating back to the earliest days of Upper Iowa University’s 161-year history is the motivation behind a Homecoming exhibit and permanent installation at Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery on UIU’s Fayette Campus. “Five Miles From Fayette” is a site-specific window installation inspired by the herbarium first gathered by Dr. Charles Coleman (C.C.) Parker in the 1800s and recently relocated and reassembled by Dr. Scott Figdore, UIU Robert L. Fox Chair of Science.

This amazing permanent art installation, in addition to Dr. Figdore’s ongoing efforts to preserve, enhance and promote this important collection, would not be possible without the support and dedication of the descendants of C.C. Parker,” UIU President William R. Duffy said. “We are especially grateful for the $100,000 gift from Dr. James Parker, the great-grandson of Dr. C.C. Parker, which allowed us to establish the C.C. Parker Herbarium of Upper Iowa University.”

Dr. Charles Coleman (C.C.) Parker

According to the University Archives, C.C. Parker became UIU’s first professor of natural sciences when its doors opened in 1857. An interest in botany sparked him to start a herbarium collection of dried and preserved plant samples for each plant species that he would encounter in his travels. Also serving as Fayette’s first doctor, Parker was provided many opportunities to travel the countryside and collect plants.

With nearly 500 specimens, Parker was reported to have one of the most complete herbarium collections west of the Mississippi in the 1860s and ‘70s. The extensive collection included several rare specimens, some of which are no longer found in the region. Parker is believed to have donated his herbarium collection to UIU in 1900. Since then, his collection was quietly incorporated along with the collections of many others into the UIU Herbarium.

In 2013, descendants of C.C. Parker met with Figdore and asked if there were still herbarium specimens collected by Parker in the UIU Herbarium. Figdore performed a search of the UIU Herbarium with the assistance of a student volunteer, Papa Pireku. The two researchers were able to locate 106 samples that were annotated and signed by Parker.

In addition, Figdore requested and received copies of letters in the possession of Parker family descendants that were written by Dr. Parker. He used comparisons of these writing samples, along with additional supportive evidence to develop a strong case that additional unsigned herbarium specimens were most likely collected in the Fayette area by Parker between 1860 and 1876. As of June of 2018, a total of 400 herbarium specimens have been identified as being part of the original Parker herbarium collection, bridging together 160 years of research and spurring creation of the C.C. Parker Herbarium of Upper Iowa University.

“Although we are quite confident that we have located most of Dr. C.C. Parker’s collection, we continue to review and update information on the samples,” said Figdore. “We want to ensure that each of them is appropriately recognized and utilized for their archival or historical significance by the scientific and UIU communities.”

‘Five Miles From Fayette’ Homecoming exhibit and installation

Artist Lee Emma Running’s “Five Miles From Fayette” site-specific installation is located in the glass atrium of Edgar Fine Arts Hall. Through Parker’s work, the artist created a second “room” for the 19th century plant samples to come alive. Running was influenced by the beauty, color and form of the hundreds of plant specimens.

Artist Lee Emma Running is pictured alongside a portion of her site-specific installation, “Five Miles From Fayette” in the glass atrium of Edgar Fine Arts Hall.

“Everything I create investigates the beauty and complexity of natural phenomena,” Running said. “I love that these plants are translucent and hold so much color in their petals, even though they are so old. When I see them projected they remind me of stained glass.”

Running uses the simple tools of projection, tracing, stenciling and cutting to identify and expand characteristics of biological ephemera. She often utilizes close handwork and digital manipulation to inspect found detritus, like a twist of animal hair, a network of leaf veins or a cluster of roots. Transforming the scale of these bits of nature reveals their intricate networks, and identifies the universal nature inherent within them.

“Five Miles From Fayette” is open during UIU’s Homecoming festivities from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday, October 12; 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday, October 13; and 8 a.m. – noon, Sunday, October 14, at Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery.

An artist talk and reception is scheduled for 3:30 – 6 p.m. Wednesday, October 10. Running is scheduled to speak following a brief presentation at approximately 3:40 p.m.

A Meet and Greet will be held from 12:15 – 1:30 p.m. Friday, October 12, at Bing-Davis Memorial Gallery with special guests UIU Professor of Science and Robert L. Fox Endowed Chair of Science Dr. Scott Figdore, UIU Archivist Janette Garcia and UIU Assistant Professor of Art Laura Gleissner.

Additional information, including a complete Upper Iowa University “Peacock Pride Ignited…It’s Lit” Homecoming schedule can be found at uiu.edu/homecoming.

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