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Monday, Nov. 9, 2015

Art That Adds Up

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Creative works inspired by mathematics

With textbooks full of formulas, numbers, geometric shapes it’s hard to imagine a softer side of math – one where the complexities of mathematical elements take friendly shapes.

But that is exactly where Harriet Stone Evans has made a career: math’s artistic side.

Evans works are on display through Dec. 17 at artspace, located at 710 Texas Street in Shreveport. Her exhibit is named “From Flowers to Form: Art inspired by Mathematics.”

Evans math-based exhibit is the fruit of her time as a teacher at Shreveport’s private Southfield School and abroad. While at Southfield, she taught calculus and geometry but got her start as an art teacher.

She recalled an administrator at the school telling her, “If you will teach math, I will double your salary.”

Evans, a math major, said that experience showed her how little art was valued in the school setting. It wasn’t until the late 1980s Evans began planning and designing her art as inspired by mathematics. “I’ve always been an artist,” Evans, who also counts dancing and writing among her strengths, said. “It’s been the fine arts all of my life.”

Evans further refined her artistic-math plans while working with Don Cohen, aka the Mathman, in Champaign, Ill. During that time, she recalled, Cohen made use of every hands-on math learning item to illustrate his lessons.“It was my same approach. Cohen was wonderful,” Evans said.

Not long after working with Cohen, Evans embarked on creating an immersive mathematics program. Her aim was to “make [mathematics] fun and interactive” for all ages. She contacted other teaching professionals and recruited them to talk on mathematical principles, too.

One of those people was Conway Link. “Harriet did a wonderful job with the program at Southfield,” recalled Link.

He was recruited to talk on the Fibonacci Sequence, a sequence of numbers that occurs in nature, geometry, architecture and music.

At that time, Link was a mathematics professor at Louisiana State University in Shreveport. He’s still involved with education as a site director at Centenary College of Louisiana and he’s a part-time math teacher with Louisiana Tech University-Barksdale.

“In the mid-80s, we realized students had a problem understanding why they needed math,” Link said. “So we had to find ways to show the application of math.”

For Link, that meant doing away with “painter problems”: If Jack can paint a room in eight hours and Jill can paint a room in five, how long will it take them to finish? “Nobody cares about stuff like that,” he said.

It’s a mathematical disconnect that continues, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Just last month, the Education Department announced students’ math abilities were slipping based on recent testing data. It’s the first slip in U.S. mathematic skills since 1990, per the report. Add to it the fact that U.S. students rank 27th in math out of 34 countries, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the problem continues to grow. But that is where qualified educators like Evans and Link come in. By bringing math to life, their goal is to bridge the intangible with the tangible.

For Link, the Fibonacci Sequence shows off math’s work in the everyday – pineapples, pine cones. And that’s what he impressed upon audiences as part of Evans interactive math presentations. For Evans, it’s the use of geometric shapes and puzzles. Many of her displays encourage students to build and solve, in order, to discover the true function of math within the world.

Evans hands-on math presentations at Southfield lasted three years, from 1988- 90. After that, she took her show on the road, getting exhibit space at the Museum of Science in Boston and the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans.

Those same pieces that educated far-andwide are what will be on display at artspace.

Evans will lead some tours of her work throughout the exhibition’s run time.

–RT Morgan

WANT TO GO?

For more information on “From Flowers to Form: Art Inspired by Math,” go to www.artspaceshreveport.com.

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