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Brenau exhibit unveils life of Fossey, who researched gorillas
'Gorillas in the Mist' author was murdered in Africa in 1985
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Brenau University collection development librarian Lisa Morgan unpacks items that will be used in an exhibit about American zoologist Dian Fossey. The exhibit, which opens today at Brenau’s library, displays the personal items of Fossey, an American zoologist who studied gorillas in Rwanda. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Dian Fossey exhibit
What: A re-creation of the gorilla researcher’s hut in Rwanda
When: Opening 4 p.m. today featuring an African drum exhibition; exhibit runs through Oct. 20; regular hours are 2-5 p.m. Sunday through Friday or by appointment. More info: 770-534-6213

 

Sustainability conference
What: Focusing on global and local sustainability issues; keynote address, "Gorillas in the Crossroads: How Science, Economics and Society Interface to Save a Species," by Dr. Tara Stoinski of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
When: 2:30-7 p.m. Friday
Where: Brenau’s east campus (Communiversity building), 1001 Chestnut St., Gainesville

 

Science symposium
What: A public presentation of Fossey Fund scientists
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 13
Where: Pearce Auditorium at Brenau University, 500 Washington St. SE, Gainesville

It is one thing to read books about the work of researchers in other countries, watching documentaries or even hearing a lecture as part of a classroom experience.

But an exhibit opening today at Brenau University will give both students and members of the public the chance to step inside the world of gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, author of "Gorillas in the Mist" and remembered for her extensive work with the endangered mountain gorillas.

A research room just inside the entrance to Brenau’s library on Academy Street in Gainesville will be set up with chairs, art, recording equipment and other personal items from Fossey, mimicking the way her Rwandan hut was set up before she was murdered on the day after Christmas in 1985. This will also be the first time many of these items, retrieved from storage from the Atlanta-based Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, will be shown to the public.

"I’m trying to recreate the interior of her little hut, her little house in Rwanda," said Helen Ray, who retired from Brenau last December as provost and vice president for academic affairs. "In order to observe and habituate with the gorillas, she had to go up to higher altitudes."

Display cases hold arrows and knives she took from gorilla poachers, a detailed hand-drawn map Fossey made and a 1970s-era reel-to-reel camera she used for her fieldwork. There are intricate pillows and blankets made from animal hides, handmade pottery and even a drum made by a Rwandan craftsman.

Melissa Hozey, special collections librarian and catalog librarian for Brenau who is curating the exhibit, said there were three main things they knew they wanted to find before searching the Fossey Foundation’s storage unit where Fossey’s belongings are kept.

"Her desk — it is where she studied, where she ate," Hozey said. "We have the galley proofs to her book, ‘Gorillas in the Mist,’ and her recording equipment."

It all comes together for a unique learning experience.

"It gives (visitors) a perspective on how one person with real dedication and courage can make a difference, because that’s basically what she did," said Clare Richardson, CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. "She made a major commitment to do this work. ... it was really a major act of courage to go there and do this, and she spent the next 18 years of her life there."

The exhibit is also part of a larger-scale curriculum linking foreign studies and communication tools, plus a lesson in sustainability — another way the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Brenau are coming together.

On Friday, the university will host a conference on sustainability keynoted by Dr. Tara Stoinski, the chairwoman of conservation and research at the Fossey Gorilla Fund. The conference will take place from 2:30 to 7 p.m. at Brenau’s Communiversity on Chestnut Street in Gainesville.

On Oct. 13, a panel of scientists from the Fossey Gorilla Fund will answer questions from the public during the event, "Science Symposium: A Conversation from the Field." The event takes place a 7 p.m. at Pearce Auditorium.

Later that week, on Oct. 17, Brenau will help sponsor a "green carpet" event at the Woodruff Center in Atlanta, where the Fossey Gorilla Fund will show the film version of "Gorillas in the Mist" on the big screen.

Ray said all these events are an illustration of how one idea can spawn numerous teaching opportunities.

"The tagline for the Dian Fossey Fund is ‘Helping people. Saving gorillas.’ The point being that this is not about saving one species — the largest, in many ways closest to our own behavior — but it is also about helping these small countries in Africa which are struggling socioeconomically," said Ray.

"So, everything’s interconnected, and if we can get students to see this interconnectedness, which is really the heart of a liberal arts education, then I think that’s a great lesson."

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