Advanced Search | Search A!:
Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Science & Art: Creative Partners

Outside the Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site is a brick sculpture entitled
Outside the Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site is a brick sculpture entitled "The Watering Hole." The sculpture is so named because the fossil site is most likely where prehistoric creatures regularly gathered to drink or to stalk their prey.
Additional photos below »

The Unlikely Pairing is a Natural Fit, Museum Director Says

By Angela Wampler | June 25, 2008

Art lovers will enjoy visiting the East Tennessee State University (ETSU) and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil Site. There are displays of art both inside and outside the facility in Gray, Tenn..

Although unlikely bedfellows, "science and art are natural and complementary partners," says the museum's director, Jeanne L. Zavada. "I believe that there is a powerful relationship between natural history and art, and that museums should employ a multi-disciplinary approach in programming. The process of learning differs from person to person, but we can all benefit by the creative interpretations of the artists among us. As long as I am in charge, arts-related exhibitions will continue to rotate in and out of the museum."

The fossil site was uncovered in 2000 by highway contractors working on State Route 75. The site has produced multiple rhinoceros specimens, an alligator specimen, and many other fossils of fish, snakes, and other species. Discoveries also included new specimens previously unknown to the area,
including a Red Panda.

During the museum's first five months of operation from Aug. 31, 2007, through Jan. 31, 2008, almost 45,000 people have visited the site from around the region, as well as every state in the nation and a growing number of foreign countries.

"I could not be more pleased," says Zavada. "We are attracting visitors of all ages and from other parts of the world. Many seek me out to praise our team and the university for what we are doing here."


At the front entrance of the museum and visitor center, General Shale's own brick sculptor, Johnny Hagerman, produced "The Watering Hole," so named because prehistoric creatures regularly gathered to drink or to stalk their prey.

Configured in a trapezoid shape with a pond at its center, the display features seven animal reliefs and nine turtles that have been meticulously chiseled out of solid, 40-pound blocks of brick. The 175- square-foot piece contains five to six tons of carved material. A single alligator weighs about 1,800 pounds.

Each sculpture was individually carved and assembled at Hagerman's home studio in Tazewell County, Virginia — a process that took more than two years. The works were then dismantled for Tennessee.

One of just a handful of masonry sculptors in the world, the 52-year-old Hagerman has produced more than 250 brick sculptures for construction projects across the nation, including the ETSU Alumni Gallery at the D.P. Culp University Center on the main campus.

READ ON about Science & Art:
— Inside The Museum: "Symbiosis"
— The Next Exhibition: "Ocean Gems: Gems of the Sea"
— Previous Exhibitions: "Artistic R-evolution," "Earth Permanence," and "Orders of Magnitude"
— Get "The Scoop on Poop" and other activities for a variety of ages.

Detail of "The Watering Hole"

Closeup of another panel of the brick sculpture by Johnny Hagerman.