Interviewsand Articles


Art, Science and Congratulations on Your Caribou

by Richard Whittaker, Apr 3, 2014



Welcome to issue #31: art and science combined in a new pedagogy (that includes honeybees) at UC Davis, a SF Chronicle beekeeping reporter, a spirit-woodcarving Buddhist priest, a talk with a surfing, pioneering woman Buddhist nun and a man who makes people laugh, “Sorry I misspelled your tattoo.”
     Let’s start with some art. That would be Donna Billick’s part of the equation in the U.C. Davis Art and Science Fusion Program. Donna is a charged up artist. It’s in her passionate nature to be that way, but having a labudio (studio + laboratory) can’t hurt. That unlikely combination is just one of the creative results that evolved from a chance meeting between artist Billick and scientist, Diane Ullman. Ullman is an entomologist who teaches at UC Davis. Their meeting turned out to be the very definition of synergy. Between the two of them the idea took shape of combining the practice of art and the study of science in an experimental new pedagogy. They describe all of this in our fascinating interview. I indicated that honeybees come into this conversation. It’s one of the things that sparked me to drive up to Davis, California to learn more about what Billick and Ullman were up to; I wanted to find out how honeybees were involved.
     And while talking with the artist and scientist, I heard about a reporter working for the San Francisco Chronicle who keeps beehives on the roof of the Chronicle building. I felt an instant buzz imagining beehives on top of a newspaper building in downtown SF. I could hardly wait to track down this beekeeper. Happily, Meredith May was welcoming. Spreading the gospel of beekeeping is one of her top priorities. I soon found myself walking along Mission St. on my way to an appointment with the reporter. While there, I got to tour the rooftop garden and after our interview, Meredith gave me a jar of SF Chronicle honey. Sweet!
    I can thank my friend, Ron Nakasone, calligrapher and Buddhist scholar, for introducing me to master woodcarver Zoshi Takayuki. Introducing readers to Zoshi is special pleasure. I first saw Zoshi’s carvings at Oakland’s Flytrap Annex in the context of an evening program that included taiko drumming, a bento box meal and a play written and directed by Zoshi’s young daughter. The video we watched, Spirit Woodcarver, completed the magical atmosphere. When Zoshi spoke to us all at the end, I knew I was in the presence of the real deal. What do I mean by that? (because that goes for everyone who appears in these newsletters)—I think our interview will give you a sense of it.
     Now for a change of pace. Let me just say that the truth can be viewed through many lenses. I write this in an attempt to segue to David Fullarton. Humor is not an easy subject to write about. It’s like music that way. For instance, consider the following: “Congratulations on Your Caribou—Even Though You Don’t Deserve It.” Or take this one: “Your Shed Is Rubbish Compared to the Shed I Will Someday Build.” Without the drawings, the words don’t have quite the indefinable quality of the actual artwork. But the words alone give you a sense of Fullarton’s gift. In any case, our interview with David is a way of meeting the man behind the humor.
     Completing our newsletter is a link to an audio file of a talk given by a remarkable Buddhist nun, Venerable Karma Lekshe. I was fortunate to be present at the gathering in a private home with 80 others when she spoke. All I can say, is this is an amazing story.

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of works & conversations


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