Learning Livestock Heritage Through Visual Arts
The Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University offers courses about nutrition, breeding and genetics, meat science and physiology to help students learn about the science of animals.
In addition to this curriculum is a class incorporating livestock with art.
This was exactly what Brittany Menke, senior in dairy science, was looking for.
“Most of my classes are science based, so it was fun to switch it up with the history of art and livestock,” she says.
Jodi Sterle, associate professor of animal science, teaches “Art and Heritage of Livestock,” animal science course 207. She uses art to show the heritage of livestock and the contribution livestock has had on civilization. Course enrollment is around 100 students each semester it is offered.
Sterle’s course carries on the tradition of a similar class created by emeritus professor Richard Willham (’55 MS animal science, ’60 PhD) – “Our Livestock Heritage.” Willham, known for his love of history and art, created and taught that course for years at Iowa State, then at Colorado State University after his retirement in 1997.
Like Willham, Sterle wants students to realize the role of livestock in meeting agricultural and social needs throughout history can be identified and appreciated through works of art.
“I want them to understand the feeling that livestock is in art all around them,” she says.
Students begin the semester by learning about when animals were first domesticated as represented in early cave paintings, Sterle says. They discuss changes during warfare, such as when man started riding the horse versus being pulled in a chariot and how weapons had to be modified.
“I think this is one of the guys’ favorite parts,” Sterle says. The students say they also enjoy learning about the art. Works include contemporary and western pieces, art displayed around Iowa State’s campus and art shows. Discussions about the art revolve around interpretation of the
pieces and personal reactions.
“The average person spends less than six seconds looking at a piece of art, and I want students to be able to appreciate it in that time frame,” says Sterle.
Students also play the role of an artist creating a project portraying livestock. Then they share their original creations in an art show in Kildee Hall open to members of the Iowa State University community.
Projects range from sculptures to paintings and everything in between. Recent works included horseshoes welded into scupltures, decorated horse collars and burned wood pieces. Class members vote for their favorite pieces and the best of show are featured the following spring in the department’s display case.
McKenzie Shaffer, senior in animal science, says the art show was her favorite part of the class. Her own project used parts of ribbons she won from years of showing her horse and refashioning them into a bouquet of flowers.