Jane Petrick Lavino ’82
Curator of Education,
National Museum of Wildlife Art
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 74, No. 1, Fall 2002
From the National Museum of Wildlife Art, perched on a butte in Jackson, Wyoming, Jane Lavino looks out over the 25,000-acre National Elk Refuge, home to more than 7,500 elk and a staggering array of other animals and birds. "The museum is located within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem," she explains, "which is sometimes referred to as 'the Serengeti of North America.' We have spotting scopes set up by the windows. It's quite a show sometimes.
"The opportunity to view such a variety of wildlife at close range in their natural habitat, and then to see the artistic interpretations in our museum, provides a fantastic experience for visitors."
As curator of education, Jane oversees all aspects of learning at the museum. She and her staff conceptualize, teach, and evaluate programs such as educational tours, symposia, studio classes, teacher workshops, film and lecture series, artist-in-residence programs, Web site curriculum, and games, as well as oversee the educational materials that accompany museum exhibitions. (Check out the amazing features at the educational section of the museum's Web site: www.wildlifeart.org.)
"As any wildlife artist will tell you, nothing compares with the experience of viewing live wild animals up close," Jane says. So, in addition to the abundance of wildlife just outside the museum windows, her department often arranges for handlers to bring live animals into the building for sketching programs and other educational purposes. They also coordinate wildlife-viewing field trips, led by artists and biologists.
"When I entered Bowdoin, I didn't know what I would major in, but I knew I wanted to take biology and art classes since I was interested in animals and art. It took a little while for those interests to sort themselves out. For a while, I contemplated careers in scientific illustration and visual anthropology (documentary-type filmmaking). Fortunately, I realized along the way-thanks to a summer job as an arts counselor at a camp in New Hampshire-that I loved teaching too."
After beginning her career at a history museum in New York, Jane worked as an art teacher in public and private high schools before she found her current niche at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in 1991.
"My current position as an educator at a wildlife art museum is perfect because it combines my interests-education, art, and animals," Jane says. "I love the variety that comes with changing exhibits, getting to know some of the contemporary artists, and exploring the educational potential inherent world-class art collection."
For instance, the museum recently hosted an exhibit of seven life-sized bronze chimpanzees called "The Gathering." "It was so powerful that many people became still and quiet upon entering the space," Jane says.
"We were able to capitalize on the insight and intrigue of the installment by bringing the sculptor, Bart Walter, and the primate biologist Dr. Jane Goodall, to the museum to lead a variety of programs.
"The best exhibits captivate people emotionally and intellectually, leading them to better understanding of the natural world and their connections with the wild. The greatest thrill is to see people make connections, become excited about ideas, and leave the exhibit changed in some way."