Science Through an Artist's Eye

Kenneth S. Norris image

Science Through an Artist's Eye: The Visionary World of Kenneth S. Norris
McHenry and Science & Engineering Libraries
University of California, Santa Cruz
Winter 2000

"I was captured by the ethereal beauty of the crystals in a newly opened rock cavity, of the pure sweep of dunes, peach-colored sand against the cobalt sky, sun falling past purest curves of dark shadow. The juxtaposition of art and science. That has always been with me."

Kenneth S. Norris, Beyond Mountain Time (Introduction)

The University Library's Regional History Project presented this exhibit to highlight some of the facets of the late Kenneth S. Norris's rich scientific and conservation legacy. Norris (1924-1998) a UCSC Professor Emeritus of Natural History, was one of this campus's most extraordinary professors for eighteen years, until his retirement in 1990. While at UCSC he founded Long Marine Lab and the Institute of Marine Sciences. He also conducted for many years the legendary Natural History Field Quarter class, a 6000-mile odyssey around California, where each spring, 23 students traveled together and studied the state's diverse natural habitats. The two upright cases at McHenry are devoted to the Natural History Field Quarter.

Two cases feature Norris's teaching career, a collection of "Kenisms," which express his humor and unique slang and vernacular; memorabilia including a tribute book produced after his death; and items from the Norris Memorial, held at UCSC on October 24, 1998.

Norris was a natural historian of incredible breadth; he studied the lives of fishes, turtles, lizards, iguanas, bats, dolphins, and whales, and how they adapted to their environments. His work as a desert ecologist led to discoveries of circadian rhythms in snakes and the function of color changes in amphibians and reptiles. One case at McHenry is devoted to Norris's research in desert ecology and herpetology.

As the acclaimed father of marine mammalogy, Norris proved echolocation in dolphins and did pioneering work in discovering the complex social and familial relations among dolphins and whales. His expertise also enabled Norris to influence the crafting of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and led to a national campaign to reduce the dolphin kill in tuna fishing nets. These aspects of Norris's work are featured in the case at the Science Library.

Norris was also the founder in 1965, under UC President Clark Kerr, of UC's Natural Reserve System, envisioned as "living laboratories," representing 30 diverse habitats up and down the state. The two cases by the library entrance are devoted to the Natural Reserve System.

The Regional History Project has recently published Norris's oral history biography, Kenneth S. Norris: Naturalist, Cetologist & Conservationist, 1924-1998, which includes interviews with Norris and his colleagues and former students, documenting the history of Long Marine Lab, the Natural History Field Quarter class, the founding of the Natural Reserve System, and Norris's scientific legacy.

We would like to express our appreciation to Norman Locks, UCSC Professor of Photography, for lending us his exquisite photographs of Big Creek Reserve; to Susan Rumsey, Principal Publications Coordinator of the Natural Reserve System for lending us the images of Big Creek, the Granite Mountains and the Natural History Field Quarter; to Professor of Environmental Studies and Natural Reserve Coordinator Maggie Fusari for her information on the recent fire at Big Creek Reserve; to Bryn Kanar and Ian Lawless for their assistance with the portion of the exhibit at the Science Library; and most of all to Phylly Norris, for her warm and generous spirit in lending us items from Ken Norris's personal collection and library in the magical house in Bonny Doon.

--Irene Reti and Randall Jarrell