Red-necked Phalarope by Vance Lowry, a painting
Red-necked Phalarope by Vance Lowry, is among the artwork to be displayed at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History science illustration show.
(Courtesy Vance Lowry / SCMNH)

Art returns to walls of Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History for first in-person exhibit there since 2020

Combining art and science, the Museum of Natural History will open its doors in mid-April for its 33rd annual Art of Nature exhibit, showcasing local artists inspired by California’s natural beauty. There will be a virtual component that kicks off this week, too.

A year ago, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History was hanging art on the walls and finalizing display cases for one of its most beloved exhibits of the year: The annual Art of Nature show.

But, like so many springtime events in 2020, the show never happened in person, and the unfamiliar territory of virtual programming combined with the distractions of a pandemic resulted in a sub-optimal turnout.

Now, illustrators, painters, print makers, and other artists inspired by the natural beauty of California are set to again showcase their depictions of local species, favorite landscapes and interpretations of scientific concepts related to central California.

And, in a sign of COVID recovery, there will be an opportunity for the public to view the 33rd edition of the show, which kicks off this week, both virtually and in person.

Opening night is April 9 (online), but members will get a chance to see the show in full glory on the museum’s walls on April 10. A week later, the museum opens to the public on April 17 at 50% capacity under orange-tier restrictions.

“It’s going to be a much fuller experience that has been in the past,” says the museum’s public programs manager, Marisa Gomez. “Last year’s show was the first virtual exhibit that we put together, and we learned a lot in the process, so when people come back to the museum they’re going to see a brand new exhibit, updates to the facilities, and other changes to make it a safer environment while we’re still dealing with the pandemic.”

Chelsea Kintz, a senior studying ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, is showcasing a watercolor painting of a local waxy cap mushroom found in the redwood forests around Santa Cruz. This is her third year participating in the art show, and she says the entire exhibit captures the essence of the place she calls home.

This watercolor by Chelsea Kintz, titled “Waxy Cap,” is set to be on display at the SCMNH art show.
This watercolor by Chelsea Kintz, titled “Waxy Cap,” is set to be on display at the SCMNH art show.
(Courtesy Chelsea Kintz)

“It’s definitely a show I looked up to, when I was learning about science illustration, and it’s just so empowering to actually get to be a part of it now,” said Kintz, who is looking forward to the in-person show so she can reconnect with fellow artists and scientists alike.

After a year of lockdowns, she noted it was “surreal” to drop off her artwork for this week’s exhibit. “I can’t believe this actually happening,” she said.

Gomez is looking forward to providing a way for visitors to engage with nature “through the lens of beauty.” Online exhibits are a great tool, but “there’s nothing quite like welcoming people into our doors, it’s the one aspect of what we do that we just haven’t been able to match during the pandemic,” she says.

If you go
  • Event
    Details about attending SCMNH's Art of Nature show
    The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History’s 33rd annual art show runs April 10 through June 27, with a free virtual kickoff reception April 9. Most, if not all, of the events will have a virtual component, for those interested but not ready to attend public events just yet.

In addition to the exhibit, which will feature interpretations for many of the pieces, the museum plans to launch virtual activity modules for parents and teachers so youngsters can engage with the featured artworks.

As things open back up in the coming months, there will also be guided field experiences and outdoor makers markets where exhibiting artists will demonstrate the methods behind their art and offer their works for sale.