FARMINGTON — Some find the bones sad. Others are intrigued.
Almost all are hesitant to pick up and handle the whale bones at BUMP, an exhibit of bones from three whale skeletons hanging suspended in the Emery Community Arts Center in Farmington. The art is intended to be educational, and visitors are encouraged to handle the displayed bones.
“The kids really go right in and pick up the bones. The seasoned art observer has been trained âDon’t touch the art,'” said project artist Dan DenDanto, a whale researcher who specializes in rearticulating skeletons. “There’s a bit of discovery that has to happen.”
DenDanto has been cleaning, articulating and restoring whale skeletons professionally since 1993, though BUMP is his first exhibit that was fine art and not a traditional assembly. The exhibit was first displayed at the Maine College of Art, and it opened Friday evening at the University of Maine at Farmington with a public reception. The gallery is open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and the exhibit will be displayed until March.
The project was the result of a conversation DenDanto’s brother, Frank, had with a director at the Maine College of Art while Frank DenDanto was working as there a light designer.
After a conversation about Dan and whale skeletons and their potential for art, the brothers were asked to create the exhibit.
Dan DenDanto said he had been interested in creating an installation where the bones were able to move and spin. He was also interested in visitors being able to pick up the bones, which is normally not allowed at fine art galleries or natural history displays.
“At exhibits people are always asking, âAre the bones real?’ and âCan I touch them?'”
DenDanto works with whale bones as a researcher with the College of the Atlantic and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. The organizations determine causes of death of beached whales along the Maine coast.
As an articulation specialist, DenDanto works at his workshop on Mount Desert Island to reassemble the bones for museums and education.
The original bones, he said, are placed in compost to clean away matter on them naturally. He said the bones are often still greasy after the process to the point they might drip.
“There’s a lot stronger odor,” he said.
Not all bones found are in a condition to be displayed in a museum as a skeleton, and he said he tries to find other educational purposes for those bones. At the gallery Friday, some of the vertebrae that hung suspended had moss growing on them or were off color.
“I love that they’re different sizes and textures,” he said.
The 1-ton exhibit took two days to assemble, and it required additional support piping installed in the gallery ceiling to suspend the bones safely.
Conservation issues also are an element to the exhibit, he said. At the gallery, sounds of a Boston shipyard are played along with whale sounds, in connection to shipping accidents that have killed some of the whales he’s studied. The exhibit is also surrounded by netting intended to resemble fishing nets.
“Two of the whales in the exhibit were killed in shipping accidents,” said DenDanto, pointing to a missing piece of the skull of a minke whale near the eye socket.
The gallery’s regular hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Teachers who are interseted in bringing students to see the exhibit can contact Jayne Decker at [email protected] for more information.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252 [email protected]