The Age of Bears and Other Self Portraits is a "collection of non-representational self-portraits" by Rebecca Strzelec, associate professor of visual arts and program coordinator of Visual Art Studies at Penn State Altoona. Strzelec creates "wearable objects" using a digital process known as Computer Aided Design (CAD), in which designs, initially created on a computer, are then turned into 3D objects, built layer by layer in plastic resins through a technique known as rapid prototyping. Some of Strzelec's self-portraits, such as the neckpieces in the "Layers" series, reflect on the process of using a machine to depict time, while others are related to the artist's child/teen years. These all served as research, experimentation and preparation for the Age of Bears series, inspired by a 2005 camping trip in Central Pennsylvania during which she learned about the local black bear population. Strzelec was intrigued by the way scientists analyze bear teeth by looking at the pattern of "rings" that form on a bear's tooth over time, much like those formed in the wood of trees; Strzelec saw immediate parallels with the "layering" processes of CAD. The works on display in this exhibition thus explore the connections between science, time, nature and art; between the microscopic layers and repetitive patterns found in nature, and the visible layers and forms of the art created through the rapid prototyping process. The work reflects, says the artist, "the merging of science, technology, design and personal history."

Image: Rebecca Strzelec, Age of Bears 1 (left) and Age of Bears 2 (right), clip-on brooches, fused deposition modeled ABS plastic, 2010, each 6 3/4 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/2". Image courtesy of the artist.