For the past year, University of Maine student Sonja Allen of South Burlington, Vt., has used her double majors in marine science and studio art to create seascapes in the lobby and halls of UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Center, a popular educational destination for schoolchildren visiting campus. Allen, who graduated in May, completed the network of murals this fall. In collaboration with Neil Greenberg, director of aquatic operations for UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Institute, she painted creatures that are the focus of research at the center, as well as their intriguing habitats, ranging from a Maine tide pool to a California kelp forest. Allen’s passion is her marine sculpture, which was displayed earlier this year on campus.
How do marine science and studio art intersect for you?
I look at something like a river and see color in the fish, the water, the rocks. It’s all about color. Scientifically, what is color? It’s all about how we see light waves. That’s another reason I like art and science. Mixing paint is all about chemical reactions. So the two go hand in hand.
How was this intersection fostered at UMaine?
Professor Malcolm Shick was an incredible mentor for me while I attended UMaine. He put an incredible amount of effort into the classes he taught, and the passion he felt for learning and knowledge has yet to be matched by anyone I’ve met thus far in my life. I worked in his lab scanning coral, and he recommended books for me to read when I mentioned a particular art project I was undertaking. His support and encouragement led me to eventually gain the confidence to undertake a capstone that combined my studies in marine science with my work in painting and sculpture. Malcolm and I have remained close even though I’ve graduated, and he continues to aid me in pursuing a career in marine artwork.
How did sculpture come into your life?
Sculpture was something I discovered during my junior year at UMaine. I had never done any sculpture, but I fell in love with welding. My sculpture has a lot of contour lines and is very black and white. I don’t use color, but I love color, so in the murals, some of my favorite passages are rocks, where I used as many colors as I could think of. I would say the upper-level sculpture classes I took at UMaine were the most helpful in preparing me for my future career. Beyond being interesting and engaging, the UMaine sculpture studio offers a phenomenal array of tools and equipment for students to experience creating sculpture.
Where are you headed in your career?
I was able to make connections through the UMaine Art Department that have led me to various galleries that have offered to show my sculpture work. I have work in a gallery in Northeast Harbor, and it wants more work next spring. I’m also going to go to different science museums in Vermont to see if they need a muralist. Near the end of my college career I was eager to graduate, but I came back to the university and continued to paint murals because I wanted to keep and cultivate the connections I’d made. UMaine has given me the skills I needed in the arts, as well as the connections I needed to give me confidence and a direction in which to head.