Martha Glowacki’s Preserved Natural History


Morgan Fuerstenberg graphic

From preserving the works of others to dead animals preserved in cabinets as art pieces, Martha Glowacki is a woman of many talents. Glowacki has always been interested in art, preserving life and making history by combining the two. What was once a dream from a young age is now a reality.

Glowacki knew that her dream was to become an artist. However, she never knew that she would be one of the rarest kinds of artists, at least in Wisconsin, to her knowledge. Her artistry consists of creating narratives and exploring, with some research on historical artifacts. “It is very integral to my work,” Glowacki stated. Part of her research allows her to look at natural philosophers, “modern day scientists,” as she puts it, in the 1700s, two of whom are Stephen Hales and Etienne Jules Marey.

Stephen Hales influenced her on the physics of botany. Hales studied how plants grow and figured out that as plants adjust to face toward the sun, like a sunflower, their roots often grow towards it as well. To produce art on this, she picked a flower or some other plant and cast a mold out of its figure. She then melted metal and put it into the mold. Once it was finished cooling down, she showed four picture frames with different flowers in them. Each frame included an excerpt from a book to make a conversation.

“I have a lot of respect for Marey,” Glowacki stated about the man who was able to draw movement. “He also was able to measure pulses in your body and understand the movement of a bird’s wing motion.” Glowacki based her bird’s wing in motion piece on the design Marey used test it back in the 1750s. It looked like a tiny record player on the bird’s back with pieces of string or metal attached to the bird’s wing. The bird she picked out was a yellow macaw that, if living, would fly around in circles constrained by another string and show its wing motion.

However, one of her favorite works that she has done was with the Chipstone Foundation of American Material Art in Milwaukee. The Foundation saw her work and asked her to be a guest artist at their showing. Along with that, they loved her cabinet pieces so much that they asked her to create three of them. 

“This was, is, a dream for me,” she declared. She said it did not take long for her to accept the offer.

Glowacki was not disappointed in her experience and did not disappoint the foundation. Her works were phenomenal. She took three historical cabinets that were essentially priceless and made different narratives for each one. One focused on forests, the next, wildlife, and the last one, engaged what happens when both of these die, fossils.

The first cabinet depicted how people relate to forests. The cabinet was the size of an oversized jewelry box, so to prop it up, she had elm branches to symbolize nature and what the wooden cabinet originted from. In the drawers, she had metal leaves and apples that trees would produce and other facts that people would find interesting.

The Wildlife cabinet was dresser sized, and it was stunning. She included wildlife like preserved dead animals as the figures standing next to and on the cabinet. Mainly, there were birds, but a strikingly different figure was a female deer with antlers — Glowacki called it, “a hermaphrodite.” She covered the birds and deer in graphite so no real color would come through except for grayish-black color. She said that it would emphasize the animals’ surface and display the ruffles of feathers or the leg patterns of the birds. 

Lastly, the Fossil cabinet, about the size of a china ware cabinet in the 1800s, not only had fossils, but also tea pots that were designed or had fossils in the outer and inner edges. Inside the drawers, she placed facts about what animals lived in what time, who created the work in the case and what type of fossils were visible on the tea pot. Glowacki said that even though the designs were a little contorted on the pots, archeologists could make out the fossils.

Glowacki has made her dream come true and, in doing so, is working and living doing what she loves. The sense of intimacy between nature and people is very important to her.