A Marriage of Science and Art


Millions of tourists pass each year through the San Diego International Airport. Few know much about the ocean they’ll likely visit during their stay or about the world-class oceanic research centers that call the city home.

A new exhibit in Terminal 2 aims to change that. Unveiled this month, the exhibit showcases the marine-themed glasswork and drawings of Nancy Arthur-McGehee, a scientific illustrator for the La Jolla-based California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI).

The exhibit, housed in six display cases near Baggage Claim, includes Arthur-McGehee illustrations of marine life from “The Early Stages of Fishes in the California Current Region,” a scientific tome published in 1996 of CalCOFI’s six decades of research. Those drawings served as inspiration for many of Arthur-McGehee stunning glass vessels also on display, many of which feature fish and other ocean creatures – both real and mythical.

An entire display case is dedicated to CalCOFI cruises and the value of its research. A collaborative effort among Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the organization was established in 1949 to research the collapse of the Pacific sardine fishery off California and Mexico. Today, it is one of the longest running ecological studies in the world, focusing on the dynamic California Current region.

CalCOFI director Tony Koslow, a research oceanographer in the Integrative Oceanography Division at Scripps, calls the exhibit a unique blend of art and science –both of which depend upon the power of observation. He applauded airport officials for promoting such valuable a research program.

“Art has always taken its inspiration from nature, and that’s really where science starts out,” Koslow said. “What we get from looking at art like Nancy’s is an appreciation for what we see in nature.”

Arthur-McGehee, whose father was a Scripps Oceanography marine biologist in the 1950s and a CalCOFI researcher, defines her illustration work as “art in the service of science.” She is classically trained and sees glassblowing and engraving as a natural extension to her passion for drawing the natural world.

“Nature is where I find comfort, inspiration and solace,” she said.

Arthur-McGehee’s exhibit is part of the San Diego airport’s rotating cultural arts exhibit program. It will be on display through July 14.

­– Jessica Z. Crawford

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