Tessa Morgan

Tessa Morgan grew up drawing and painting, dreaming of becoming a children's book illustrator. That dream was fulfilled several years ago when Woods Hole scientist/author Nathalie Ward asked her to illustrate a field guide to marine life in Stellwagen Bank for Down East Press. That collaboration was the first of many joint publications for children and adults.

Word travels fast in a science town, and when Morgan brought one of her children's books to aerobics class, a classmate, marine biologist and science educator Michael DiSpezio, approached her about doing marine invertebrate illustrations for a Woods Hole Sea Grant-funded educational project.

That project, just published as Beachcomber's Companion©, a fun twist on a field guide to Atlantic coast marine invertebrates, was Morgan's first try at scientific illustration. "It was totally serendipitous,' recalls Morgan. "Michael wanted 100 animals and, even though the other illustrations I'd done were less scientific, I knew I had to say 'yes'."

Though the first few drawings were challenging, Morgan says that living in Woods Hole made working on the field guide easier. "I'd get talking to people [about the project] and they would bring me things or put me in touch with people who could help.' Through her local contacts, Morgan received sea scallops from former Sea Grant extension agent Dale Leavitt, a microscope and worm collecting field trip from neighbor Bob Josephson, a summer scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), ("He took me to Naushon Island with all of his grand-kids and I was blown away by the number of worms we found. I had worms in my refrigerator for days!"), and a few visits to MBL's Marine Resources Facility with Bill Mebane, courtesy of neighbor and former MBL collector John Valois.

"I put in a lot of research time,' says Morgan. "Each illustration took between a couple of hours and a couple of days [to complete]. I remember being in Eel Pond with my net catching shrimp and finding a lady crab on Fay Beach with Nicky [Morgan's son, Nicholas, now 10]. I loved it; it was really fun.' Now that Beachcomber's Companion© is published, Morgan's illustrations are receiving accolades from beachcombers of all ages. But Morgan credits Tamara Clark, a scientific illustrator who does work for the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and MBL, for boosting her confidence early on. "I had several pieces in a science-in-art show over at the MBL,' recalls Morgan. One of the illustrations I had done for the Beachcomber's project, tiny snails on a piece of seaweed, was on display. Tamara asked me how I [had achieved] a certain effect. A lot of it,' she says modestly, "is just playing with paint.'

Though never formally trained as a painter, Morgan clearly has an artist's eye and natural abilities. She majored in ceramics at Connecticut College and later earned a degree in graphic design at Massachusetts College of Art. Morgan's pottery, whimsically adorned with pigs and fish and mermaids, has earned her a loyal following throughout New England and especially in Woods Hole, where she exhibits and teaches classes from her home-based studio, Flying Pig Pottery.

Tracey Crago, WHOI Sea Grant