Curiosity drives Fargo microbiology professor in science and her art – InForum

FARGO — Whether she’s studying plant bacteria under a microscope or a family of wild horses through the lens of her camera, North Dakota State University microbiology professor Birgit Pruess loves studying living things.

“Curiosity is what drives a good scientist. But it also leads to creativity and innovation in both science and art,” Pruess said.

Her latest art project involved traveling to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota for several years now to document the wild horses that call the ranches and sights home.

Pruss said her interest in horses comes full circle in her life as a microbiologist — two subjects for which she often draws parallels between the art and science of observation.

“I looked at the behavior of the horses and put it in the context of the ecology of the park,” she said.

It’s all part of her new book, Wild and Free in TRNP; The Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park,” which launched on Amazon in April and is the focus of an exhibit at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo starting July 18.

Liri is one of Birgit Pruess’s favorite stallions to see and document in her photography.

Contributed / Birgit Pruess

Pruess, who was born and raised in Germany, had her own horse as a teenager. When she came to America in 1992, she focused more on being a scientist for several years, until a visit out west rekindled her interest in both animals and photography.

“I started pursuing art more seriously around 2014 because I felt I needed more balance in my life. I then advanced my photography skills and spent about eight years making frequent trips to Theodore Roosevelt National Park looking at the horses,” Pruess said.

A nod to her roots in biology, Pruess is also an accomplished jewelry maker who uses beads to create arrays of molecules like oxytocin and caffeine.

“It’s a small audience for those pieces, like other scientists who think molecules are neat,” she said.

Pruess has put jewelry production on hold for now as she works to promote her wild horse projects. However, some of her pieces are available in Gallery 4.

An eye for an eye.JPG

“Eye to Eye” depicts a bison peering through the brush in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. A description of this photograph can be found on a utility box located on 13th Avenue South in Fargo as part of a public art project led by the City of Fargo Arts and Culture Commission.

Contributed / Birgit Pruess

Here is more about the artist and scientist Birgit Pruess.

Question: What is your artist origin story?

A: I’ve probably been an artist all my life without knowing it. But I did knitting in college, macrame in high school, and I’ve always loved my camera. I’ve also made science-inspired jewelry, such as wire/bead sculptures of molecules (eg caffeine) or microbiological objects (eg viruses). Somehow, I came full circle and still end up doing biology, which is the field I got my Ph.D. in. While I am a professor of microbiology at NDSU now, my original passion for almost everything that is alive remains active. Art is just another way to express it and share joy with other people.

Question: How would you describe your artistic style?

A: I think I found a niche in my nature and wildlife photography (Fargo has some great landscape photographers) and became an innovator with science-inspired jewelry.

Question: Who do you admire or emulate in your work?

A: The purpose is obviously to admire or express love and appreciation. In some ways, a photo matches what I see, but the interpretation of the subject is still up to the photographer, and the vantage point and frame can make a big difference. Likewise, jewelry is modeled after the actual structures of chemical or biological matter, but the interpretation through wire and beads is up to the artist.

Question: What kinds of beliefs or social mores do you try to express in your work (if any)?

A: For photography, I try to convey the value of the different life forms in the environment in which we live. I also try to teach people to respect nature and wildlife. For example, the book contains advice such as “keep the distance 25 meters and use a long lens” to prevent accidents. It also contains names of flowers and animals. So there is definitely a learning aspect. For jewelry, I try to understand that science is important, everywhere, and that we shouldn’t be afraid of it. I also think that knowing a local scientist can form a bridge between sometimes abstract science lessons.

Question: What do you want people to know about being a local artist?

A: First of all, anyone can make art. Once you get over the fear of not being good at it, you can. By the way, it also applies to science. Second, I think it’s important for people to know that there are artists who are local and not in some famous museum far away. Most artists are neither famous nor rich. But they are here among us and they need your support and appreciation.

Question: When you feel uninspired, what lifts you up?

A: Nature, which brings us back to biology, science and art.

Question: Favorite vehicle or instrument?

A: My new camera.

Copies of “Wild and Free in TRNP; Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park” is available locally at Gallery 4, Zandbroz Variety and the Fargo Library. The book is also available for purchase at 4e Winery in Casselton, as well as several stores in Medora, ND

Buy print (black and white) or ebook (full color) copies on Amazon. Contact Pruss at her email address, [email protected], for commission requests and other questions.

“Wild and Free in TRNP” is made possible through funding in part from the North Dakota Council on the Arts and the Arts Partnership.

What: The opening reception for “Wild and Free in TRNP; The Wild Horses of Theodore Roosevelt National Park”
When: 5-7pm July 21st

Where: Lotus Studio Spirit Room Gallery, Fargo

Information: A special book signing is scheduled for July 23. Photographs from the book collection will be exhibited from July 18 to August 13.

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