Design for a Living World, an exhibit that opened at the Coral Gables Museum on July 26, 2012, is a stunning showcase for The Nature Conservancy’s strategy of protecting natural areas and then managing them sustainably in collaboration with indigenous peoples.
The exhibit presents a diversity of protected locales: the bamboo forest of China’s Yunnan Province; the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia; an Idaho sheep ranch; the salmon rivers of southwest Alaska; the deep woods along the Upper St. John River in northern Maine; and tropical forests in Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
For each locale, The Nature Conservancy invited a prominent designer to visit and create new objects from locally available sustainable materials, building on traditional ways in which the local inhabitants use those materials.
Salmon, chocolate, and chewing gum
For example, New York fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi created a dress decorated with leather paillettes made of salmon skin.
Local women who harvest cocoa in the forests of La Amistad International Park in Costa Rica make cocoa patties for local use. Swiss industrial designer Yves Béhar created a tool that shaves cocoa off the patties and drops the shavings into a cup to make a traditional hot chocolate drink.
Dutch designer Hella Jongerius explored a variety of industrial uses for chicle latex (the source of natural chewing gum) from the Maya forest in southeastern Mexico. She tried to melt, mold, stretch, wind, and shape the material. Although she did succeed in using it to add tactile surfaces to ceramic vases, she concluded that chicle’s properties make it ill-suited for most industrial purposes.
Theme and variations
Before coming to the Coral Gables Museum, the exhibit was shown in Chicago in 2011 and in Phoenix earlier in 2012.
The Coral Gables Museum is the last stop on its journey. The exhibit will close on Oct. 25 with a party and a live auction, an opportunity to purchase the one-of-a-kind products on display.
It also exists as a Web site and a book that you can purchase from The Nature Conservancy’s online store.
The Coral Gables Museum’s main promotional brochure for the exhibit proclaims “10 Designers, 10 Places,” but don’t count to nine and then wander around looking for the tenth. It isn’t there. “We didn’t have enough room,” admits Christine Rupp, the museum’s acting director.
In fact, two additional places are missing. You’ll find information on the Gondwana Link in southwestern Australia on the Web site. A separate threefold brochure available at the museum mentions the Nachusa Grasslands, a tract of native prairie near Franklin Grove, Illinois. As a native Chicagoan, I have a special interest in prairie ecosystems, so I was disappointed not to be able to see information on that project – until I found a detailed account of it on The Nature Conservancy’s Web site.
The Coral Gables Museum, at 285 Aragon Ave. in downtown Coral Gables, is open from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
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