Producer: Michael O’Reilly
It’s not every artist who sees a sketch from the archives of the Wagner Institute of Free Science (a Victorian-era science museum in Philadelphia), and thinks, “that sketch of a paramecium would make a great ruby-studded brooch.” But this is exactly what Emily Cobb did, the first time she was introduced to the Wagner’s voluminous collection. She is one of the recipients of the Temple University-Wagner Free Institute of Science Humanities & Arts Research Fellowships – a joint fellowship between the science museum and Temple University (the campus of which practically surrounds the W. Montgomery Avenue building the museum has called home for over 150 years). Students and staff of Temple (where Cobb teaches as an adjunct) are encouraged to pursue a research project using the Wagner’s vast holdings.
Cobb came at this thinking she would probably end up using one of the many display animals. Her work up until that point had gained inspiration from living things – snakes, giraffes, fish – the distinctly “macro” world of living things. Much to her surprise, she found herself gravitating towards delicate but finely rendered drawings of the “microscopic” world. Most of these drawings were by Joseph Leidy, to whom the museum owes much of the direction of it’s collection. “Direction” because while he may not have collected the majority of the specimens himself, he was advising others of the things they should try to acquire.
We follow Emily all over Philadelphia – from the Wagner in North Philadelphia to NextFab, in South Philadelphia, where Emily uses a 3D printer to produce a small prototype of a model that up until that time, had only existed on the display of the computer. We end in what used to be the disciplinarian office in a converted high school in South Philly, to visit with the JV Collective, of which Emily is a part. Comprised of 5 different women artists working in jewelry, object, fabric and metals, they were just written up in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Jewelry is not “just” ornamental, according to Cobb. Instead of hanging it on the wall of a museum or gallery, it is a way to wear the art out in the world. And what better way of engaging people and art by wearing those pieces around your neck?
Emily explains why she loves making jewelry.