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Curtis art show a way to ‘Experience Math’ without numbers

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College students majoring in mathematics typically spend most of their classroom and study time in the Center for Science and Business.

Senior Natalie Curtis certainly spends a lot of time in the CSB. But she is equally at home in McMichael Academic Hall and Wells Theater.

A double major in mathematics and art, Curtis is showing how those two disciplines intersect at her senior art exhibit, “Experience Math.” The exhibit is on display near the central stairwell on the third floor of the Center for Science and Business through Dec. 9, when a reception for Curtis will be held at 1 p.m.

“Most of my artwork is based on math or some kind of abstraction of math,” she said. “I wanted the show to be an outlet for people who don’t necessarily like math or have an interest in math to experience math without having to read it in a textbook or take a class.”

Math as an inspiration for art

Mathematical influences on Curtis’ work include prime numbers, fractals (self-repeating patterns), circular polar graphs and triangles, which she used to create stars in the exhibit.

“The topics vary,” she said. “It’s just about finding cool patterns within them and exploring them visually without all the numbers. ... I like to keep the colors of my work bright and inviting, to keep the idea going that math can be bright and fun and engaging.”

When Curtis arrived as a freshman from Arlington Heights, Ill., she was undecided about a major. She then pursued art and switched to math before ultimately deciding that she could make both work.

“I used to think I either had to be a math major or an art major, or if I wanted to be both I was separately a math major and an art major,” she said. “Now, I’ve done both at the same time and I’m doing work that brings them both together. I don’t think I saw that opportunity at first, but I’m glad I found it.”

One of the reasons behind the creation of Monmouth’s $42 million Center for Science and Business was to help students make connections between the two different areas. Curtis has made interdisciplinary connections, as well.

“Math and art are a lot closer than you might think,” she said. “Most people hear that I’m a math and art major and think ‘Those are the most opposite things you could come up with.’ ... I want to use art to show that math doesn’t have to be scary. This show and the artwork that I make is a way for people to be involved in math without having to feel like it’s scary and a foreign language.”

More than a star student

In addition to math and art, Curtis is also a valued member of the theatre department. A scenic designer, she received the prestigious Don Childs Memorial Scholarship at the Kennedy Center Region 3 American College Theatre Festival. The scholarship paid for her study at the 2017 Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas.

In addition to that cocurricular activity, Curtis has also experienced much of what Monmouth has to offer athletically. A record-setting all-conference goalie in water polo, she also excelled in tennis for the Fighting Scots and played on the women’s soccer team.