Georgia Museum of Art

The Georgia Museum of Art was recently awarded a grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts. (Courtesy Michael Lachowski)

It’s said behind every great man is a great woman. Eugene and Martha Odum, however, stood side by side for the 56 years they were married.

The “Martha Odum: Art Intersects Ecology” exhibit in preparation at the Georgia Museum of Art honors the 50th anniversary of the University of Georgia’s Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology and the Odums’ memories. The museum’s curator of decorative arts, Dale Couch, is arranging the exhibit, which will run from Oct. 7 – Dec. 31, with the help of undergraduate student and intern Victoria Ramsay. Ramsay said she is amazed at everything she’s learned about the pair and their partnership.

“It’s this phenomenal relationship that is so beautiful to learn about and experience,” Ramsay said. “Through her artwork, you see the passion that they both had, just in different forms and different mediums.”

Ramsay, who is a history and English double major, researched through interviews and readings to learn as much as she could for the exhibit. Through her research, she learned how Martha Odum would follow her husband on his travels to scholastic meetings and research functions and draw or paint the landscape.

“Shewould draw and paint these beautiful masterpieces of where they were,” Ramsay said.  “While [Eugene Odum] is teaching about ecology, she is depicting what he’s teaching.”

Twelve of Martha Odum’s watercolors will be displayed, as well as seven pieces of silver work that also have an environmental component.

“[Martha Odum] was a major silversmith here in Athens, a nationally recognized silversmith,” Couch said. “[Her silverwork pieces] take a naturalizing, organic, polymorphous form rather than anything that’s so much based in traditional silver form.”

The exhibit will be rounded out by Savannah River Basin pottery and basketry based on Cherokee and Creek river cane artifacts.  

“The aim will be to exhibit materials that will provoke discussion of the role of art in ecology and the intersections of art and ecology,” Couch said.

All the artwork displayed is considered applied art, or art with utility. While the watercolor paintings might not be typically considered useful, Couch said they have their place in decorative art.

“[Martha Odum] is doing art for art’s sake, but she’s so closely linked to the environment she’s painting that her perspective brings it to almost a scientific intersection,” Couch said.

Couch said there is an intersection between art and ecology that is often overlooked, but incredibly valuable.

“[Ecology and conservation are] critical, they’re vitally important, but they’re often linked to beauty and to an aesthetic vision of the natural world,” Couch said. “I think that aesthetic vision has driven the meaning of the science of ecology in the minds of the American public.”

Couch said he’s observed a kinetic property in the paintings of Martha Odum that reflect the processes of ecology, from environmental shifting in her landscapes between different biomes to even evolution. Her artistic understanding of the sciences matches her husband’s expertise.

“[The Odum] relationship is so beautiful to me because they both were so passionate,” Ramsay said. “They loved this particular thing, just in different mediums.”

Ramsay said the one issue she found in her research of the pair was the marked focus on Eugene instead of Martha Odum.

“It’s kind of sad,” Ramsay said. “Although Eugene was a phenomenal man and loved his wife, there’s just not as much on her as there is on him.”

What she did learn, Ramsay said, was the iinfluence of the pair’s legacy on UGA. Ramsay said without the Odum family, many would not be able to study their field of interest, and Eugene Odum’s contribution is evidence of the growth of the university.

“I would like for students to visit with the idea in mind that this university has been a complex community of scholars, movers and shakers, and has an extremely rich history,” Couch said. “It’s a way of looking at the university’s community history, ecological history and institutional history all in one breath.”


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