An iconic Huntsville building with a long history of serving as a home to education has been given new life. The town’s former high school located at 710 University Ave. is now the new location for the Sam Houston Natural Science and Art Research Center. A collaboration between the departments of Art and Biological Sciences, the center aims to foster research across academic disciplines.
Sam Houston State University acquired the 80,000-square-foot structure from renowned artist David Adickes. The SHSU alumnus invested in structural work and converted the gymnasium into art gallery spaces before selling it to the university in 2018. After extensive remodeling over the summer, the revived two-story building is once again accommodating students and instructors on their academic paths.
Will Godwin, curator of the center, oversees the documentation and preservation of over a million specimen that comprise the Natural Science collection. Having played a key role in the transformation of the facility, he is pleased to open the doors with an official public grand opening scheduled for Nov 16 from 9 a.m. to noon.
“I hope the community will come out and see all that we have to explore here at the center and get excited about natural science,” Godwin said. “For the event, visitors can see a variety of unique collections and also meet with the scientists who built them. Our student scientists-in-training will also be on hand to answer questions and share the many exceptional pieces on display.”
With the Department of Art’s plan to launch a new Master of Fine Arts degree in art and social practice, Michael Henderson, department chair, sees the center as a means of connecting further with the Huntsville community in a number of ways.
“The location of the building, off the main campus and in the center of Huntsville, will provide opportunities for graduate students to develop community-based art projects, art education students to interact with students in the public schools, and for the department to have art exhibits that are easily accessible to the community,” Henderson said.
Although the space has been open for only a short time, collaborations and community connections are well underway. The Department of Art’s summer Art Educators Studio Intensive invited public school art teachers to explore artistic inspiration from pieces in the natural science collection.
The center also launched a series of "Look Closer" art and biology workshops involving species of conservation concern in Texas. For the first session on the topic of microscopy, SHSU art instructor Trish Ramsay collaborated with Rajesh Balaraman and Juan Daza in the Department of Biological Sciences.
“We began with a biology component then interpreted the species we studied through art in the making of silk paintings,” Ramsay said. “We've had an enthusiastic participation response from Huntsville High School, Mance Park Middle School and Conroe High School public school teachers and students.”
Prior to the Nov. 16 grand opening, the center will host prominent Texas Hall of Fame Science inductee David Schmidly on Oct. 16. Schmidly is the author of nine books on the natural history of mammals. He will present on the topic of his most recent book - the life of field naturalist, Vernon Bailey. Copies of the book will be available. The event is at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.