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2020 Grand Prize Winner - Elizabeth Hungerman


This accordion book started in the Museum of Natural History, where I work as a docent. It began with an educational program on adaptations, given to class of first graders. In this program, different skulls and bone fragments were displayed and the class was asked what role each of these fragments may have played in helping that particular animal survive. Teeth played a major role in this discussion, with the class learning the word ‘carnivore’, ‘herbivore’ and ‘omnivore’. The function of each set of teeth was explained and ended with children poking at their own teeth, after having examined several animal skulls. This talk ended with the children having learned some new terms and a better understanding of adaptations.

There is an area in the museum, where a variety of skulls are displayed and people are free to interact with these skulls. It is called the Nature Lab, and I was scheduled there quite frequently. When there was a lull in visitors, I would spend my time drawing the skulls on the backside of surveys, unaware that these drawings would play any role outside of entertaining me in that moment. At the same time, I was in a drawing class, where we were creating our own Florilegium, an accordion book filled with drawings of plants. This was a very broad prompt and I was at a loss of what to create, until I found a skull drawing on my desk while contemplating this problem.

I decided to combine these skulls with the types of plants they were known to eat, with teeth adapted to eating leaves, sunflower seeds, berries and more. Aesthetics certainly played a role in the creation of this book, which took on a life of its own once I had begun it. It became a musing on the life and death, depicting both the plants that sustain the lives of animals and the skulls of those same animals, who in turn sustain the lives of plants when they themselves die. It came to promote the view of life as cyclical and interconnected, implied by the line-work surrounding and connecting each panel. While the skulls fit within tightly contained boxes, both the plants and the lines flow freely, an expression of the ability of life to continue.

All of the plants and animals depicted are present in Michigan, as are the plant specimen displayed on the backside of the book. This book, beyond any scientific or aesthetic sensibilities, became a record of my own life, with time spent in the museum drawing, and in class painting, even containing the plants I had collected at the bio-station over the summer and in Ann Arbor during the semester. It became a record of what I myself learned, about plants, drawing, adaptations—all things I came to better appreciate over the course of the fall. Though one book cannot hope to convey all these things alone, I hope it serves to express some of the complexity and interconnectedness of life.