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New mural at University of Michigan Museum of Natural History magnifies microorganisms

Exhibit to run through 2023

Light and shadows are an essential experience of Unseen Worlds—an artist’s celebration of microorganisms displayed on the windows of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History. (University of Michigan Museum of Natural History | Michelle Andonian.)

ANN ARBOR – A colorful new display wrapped around the glass exterior of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History is an art installation by Jim Cogswell titled “Unseen Worlds.”

The mural explores the world of microorganisms and has been in the making for more than three years.

Cogswell, a professor at U-M’s Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, said the concept of the project was to reflect on the exterior of the building what happens inside its walls.

“The Biological Sciences Building was designed to represent science, but from the outside you may not know that,” Cogswell said in a release. “My job was to put the science on the exterior.”

Over the last several years, Cogswell created ink paintings based on images from scientific research of more than 350 microorganisms. He worked with several faculty members in ecology and evolutionary biology, cell and developmental biology, at the U-M Biological Station and in internal medicine and physics.

Undergraduate student Sky Christoph (BFA, Stamps, 2023) worked closely with artist and Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design professor Jim Cogswell throughout the project. (University of Michigan Museum of Natural History | Michelle Andonian)

He also enlisted U-M Stamps School students to help transfer the paintings to a digital format and fabricate them onto machine-cut vinyl film.

The mural, which measures 1,700 square feet, was patched together from different rolls of color onto the museum’s windows. Depending on weather conditions on any given day, the artwork changes based on the intensity of outdoor light due to varying degrees of transparency.

“Our hope is that visitors will be drawn to these delightful, human-scale microorganisms and want to discover how these unseen elements impact our world,” museum director Amy Harris said in a statement. “This installation serves as an invitation to discovery.”

Shadow and vinyl versions of Jim Cogswell’s jellyfish float above an annelid worm from the Unseen Worlds installation on the window of the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History as part of his Unseen Worlds installation. (University of Michigan Museum of Natural History | Michelle Andonian)

Three students played critical roles in all phases of the project, and include Stamps students Sky Christoph and Kai Hamill and LSA student Beverly Fu.

The exhibit will be on view through 2023.


About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.