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Last updated: 11/05/08

What’s New:
Library Exhibit — November 2 - November 30, 2008
Primordial Tides: Sea Life in the Art of Prehistoric Peoples by David Wheeler

The November 2008 exhibit in the University of Rhode Island Library Gallery is Primordial Tides: Sea Life in the Art of Prehistoric Peoples, a collection of watercolors by David Wheeler.

Artist’s Biography

I am an artist/educator living in New York State. I have an M.F.A. from Tufts University/The School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a B.F.A. from Pratt Institute. 

I have been a teacher and practicing artist for 25 years, instructing at colleges in New York and Massachusetts. I currently teach at the State University of New York's Empire State College, at Russell Sage College, and at the Pratt Institute Center Extension Campus at Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. As an artist in the schools I have worked in 28 Eskimo, Haida, Athabascan, Aleut, Aleutik, and Guichen villages for the Alaska State Arts Council. I have written of this work and my Iceman Project in Art Education, the journal of the National Art Teachers Association.

My life-long interest in natural history fuels my work as an artist, science illustrator, and museum model maker. I have made life-sized dinosaur reproductions for the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Osaka Museum of Natural History in Japan. I have made various other models for the Adirondack Museum, the University of Vermont, and the Museum of Afro-American History.   

Exhibitions of my paintings and drawings have been presented at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian Institute's Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, MD, The Palace of the King of Portugal, the New York State Museum, the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT, the Virginia Marine Science Museum, and other labs, universities, and learning centers.

Artist’s Statement

Being a marine science illustrator, I have long wondered about the earliest appearances of fish and sea mammals in cave paintings and rock art. May and June of this year provided me with the time to research the coming of the earliest drawings and paintings -- depictions of jellyfish, fish of all sorts, sea birds, seals, and other marine life. Finding the images, I set about reproducing them in color as accurately as I could -- not to copy from other artists, but to experience the primordial impulse, to feel in my own hands the act of early mark making, to find in the cave art the how and why of the stunning displays produced in dim lighting in the depth of caves or out in the open on rocks and cliff faces.   

The how, it turns out, is already known, for the chemistry of the colors is well researched. Goethite, manganese, and dolomite provided the pigments, just as animal fat or wet clay provided the vehicle for the particles of ground stone. Charred bone or pine sticks provided the perimeter lines in the drawings. After all was said and done, however, the why of the ancient paintings eluded me, just as it has for legions of art historians, archaeologists, and other researchers. Were these images the work of shamans? The backdrops for initiation rites? A call to the spirits of the sea creatures, a plea for their return in abundance? Were the paintings fuelled by the artists' ingestion of psychotropic plants, as some investigators have suggested? Perhaps the impetus will never be known. My lingering impression is this: that whatever their larger meaning, context, or degree of supplication, the heart of the images is love of drawing. In every instance the paintings seem to me vital, dancing expressions of a new magic: mark making -- representation -- the creation of  signs and symbols -- visual language -- consciousness.

The Library Gallery is located on the main floor of the University Library, 15 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 02881. Library hours are:

Monday-Thursday 8:00 am - 11:30pm
Friday  8:00 am - 8:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Sunday 1:00 pm - 11:30pm

For more information, please contact Brian Gallagher at 401-874-9524 or


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