Women in Science and Art

Women in Science and Art: Rebecca Banasiak, Mammals Collections Assistant and Preparator

In March, many of my colleagues and I, were asked to answer some questions about what it is like to be either a women in science or a women in art.  I am lucky enough to be one of the few who was highlighted as both a women in science and art.  I highlighted some of my answers below and you can read the full blog post here on the Field Museum’s website.

How did you get to where you are?
I received a BA in chemistry and fine art … from Lewis University in Romeoville, IL, in 1997. ….It wasn’t until I went back to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago …. that I was introduced to the vast collection of material and specimens here. While at SAIC, I started at the Museum as an intern with Bill Stanley, … then in 2005, I became a full-time research assistant. In 2015, the collections assistant, mammals preparator position opened up … and that is how I got to where I am now.

A woman in a laboratory-like space, wearing gloves to handle a fox specimen as children observe

Teaching visitors about mammal preparation at Meet a Scientist in the Science Hub.  Photo copyright the Field Museum of Natural History.

What does your job entail? What’s the day-to-day like?

Part of my day-to-day includes working with the dermestid beetle colony that cleans specimens … I also supervise volunteers and interns. I train them on different tasks like skinning, stuffing skins, and cleaning and numbering bones … how to use the camera equipment and the camera lucida for illustration, and help them get involved with different research projects. One of the projects we’re working on now is photographing the skulls of Grammomys (a group of rodents found in Africa). … Other tasks for similar projects have been to photograph or illustrate a specimen or create maps and graphs that my colleagues or Field Museum researchers may need for publications. … Other projects might include processing specimens that a researcher brings back from an expedition. …..

What has been your favorite part of the job, or a memorable moment?

One of my proudest moments was the day that Bill Stanley came down to my office and was holding the new Fieldiana (a scientific journal published by The Field Museum) that had various articles about the small mammals in the East and West Usambara Mountains in Tanzania. ….

The other moment was when one of my colleagues and a researcher at the Smithsonian, Mike Carleton, asked if I wanted to be an author on a paper about a new species of rodent in the Hylomyscus genus. …..

A woman with dark hair and glasses sketching a cougar in a museum gallery, with a specimen of a large cat in the background


What advice do you have for future women scientists?

I’m not a proponent of STEM, I’m a proponent of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). … Like the sciences, the arts also do not have enough representation by women. … Art does help with science; they work together. … Science and art work together.

If I had to go back to myself at the age of nine or 10, I would say, “Stick with science, and stick with art, and don’t worry about anyone making fun of you.” When you look at our Museum, we have a lot of female presence. But we need more female leaders in science as a whole. As we educate a new generation, we want to give them confidence. My message to future female scientists and artists is to have faith in yourself; this is really what it is. If you think you can do it, you can do it. If you do something incorrectly, you’re only human, so get back up and do it again. Learn from your mistakes. All it takes is a little education and practice, and you can do it. Take the criticism, learn from it, and keep improving. You will see that it all pays off in the end.

Full text of the original blog post can be found here at Women in Science and Art: Rebecca Banasiak, Mammals Collections Assistant and Preparator, Original published date: Monday, March 27, 2017, by Rebecca Banasiak, Sciences, Animals, Mammals, Collections, Women in Science

“Yes, I do have another job to pay the bills…”

…is the answer I am constantly telling people when they ask me if I “make lots of money selling my art”.

It has always been a pain in the $%# to describe how many and what types of jobs I have and why I have them.  I actually have two other jobs besides the “full time” job of being an artist.  For this post, however, I will focus on only one of my jobs, the one I spend the most time at outside of my studio.  I’ll tell you more about my other job in a later post.

So, back to the main job.  Well, most people think when they see me on Saturdays in the exhibit halls at the Field Museum or at an opening night event or selling my art in a fine arts fair, that I must get to draw and paint all day and everyday.  Well, hate to tell you all but “I do have another job to pay the bills”.

Drawing a great grey owl portrait in chunky charcoal at The Field Museum.

Drawing a great grey owl portrait in chunky charcoal.

Don’t get me wrong. I would never and do not ever complain about my job because, unlike others, I LOVE and ENJOY what I do and where I work.  I have this job to pay the bills so I can buy more art supplies in order to fulfill “MY CREATIVE PASSION” in the studio.  It amazes me when people tell me to just sell my artwork.  Yeah right. Sorry people, but it is not that easy.  First, you need the audience that likes your work.  Second, and I can’t stress this enough, I will not create something that I do not feel passionate about.  “PHEW”…there, I said it.  I do not think that it is an artists’ “job or responsibility” to create what the masses expect them to do (unless of course it is a contract job).   We artists become artists to express ourselves in what we like to create.

So, back to my main job outside my studio work.  For all those people who ask  “so, what do you do?”.  Well, I usually answer “a research assistant “.  Yeah, I know. Kind of boring, right? WRONG! I usually then get the question of “what kind of research do you do” or “do you get to use your talent as a researcher”. YES! This is the best part of describing what I do at my job to others. For me, this is were the descriptive fun begins.

Most of my day is using my artistic talent. Now, don’t get the wrong idea that this woman gets to draw all day.  Nope, I do not illustrate everyday, but I do get to use my vast knowledge of photography (YEAH!), Photoshop and photo manipulation with many of the images I take myself.  Yes, I do it all at my job (artistic wise).  I photograph specimens, manipulate and prepare those photos, create maps, graphs, and tables for publications and yes, I do illustrate specimens, too.

My Computer and desk where I do all my Photoshop work.  Photo manipulation of a Crocidura skull specimen.

My computer and desk where I do all my Photoshop work. Photo manipulation of a Crocidura skull specimen.

Crocidura monax specimen under a camera lucida microscope with the illustration on the right.

Crocidura monax specimen under a camera lucida microscope with the illustration on the right.

I’m one of the lucky ones in the scientific/natural illustration world to be employed as a research assistant where I work.  I do get to use my artistic talent in some form everyday. Most importantly, as an artist where I work, it is one of the best places to draw and paint because it is a “very artist friendly” environment.  And the best part is, they pay me to use my artistic talent EVERYDAY!  So, yes, it is just “A JOB”, but it is one of the best and most exciting jobs I have ever had were I get to use my artistic talent and knowledge in the creation of images, graphics, and illustrations for publications and websites.  And sometimes, I don’t mind bringing my work home with me.  🙂

Rhinolophus illustration on a light table.  Stipling on vellum from a graphite drawing.

Rhinolophus sp. illustration on a light table. Stippling on vellum from a graphite drawing.