Step into the "cave" at the Utah Museum of Natural History. Watch petroglyph images come alive and leap from rock walls. Listen to the sounds of birds, crickets and coyotes. Suddenly you find yourself transported back in time some 500 years.
"Catch Something Running," an intriguing environmental installation of Anasazi rock art, is the creation of sculptor Joe Pachak. It opens Feb. 4 at the museum on the University of Utah campus.Pachak began this ambitious project several years ago. First, he made careful sketches of authentic pictographs. Then he painted fabric walls to look like massive rocks. He added painted images of elk, bighorn sheep, quail, turkey men and much more. Then, with wire and styrofoam, concrete and other materials, he created about 18 three-dimensional images and placed them in a natural setting.
You'll spot one sheep in the process of liberating himself from his rock prison; it's back half is a 2-D drawing, while its front half is 3-D. You'll see another sheep jump back onto the wall, its front end returning to its original form.
Pachak has successfully captured this transition from to-to three-dimensional images by making all surfaces look like the stone from the rock walls.
"It was an important connection that they look like sandstone," he said.
But the sculptor's creativity doesn't end here. To make the scene even more believable, he adds cactus, clumps pf grass, artifacts-and sound effects.
Pachak, 37, received an undergraduate degree in art at the University of Southern Colorado; he later earned a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
While taking part in a White Mesa Institute trek some five years ago, he found himself standing in front of his first set of Anasazi pictographs.
"I looked at this place, at those drawings, and they screamed at me 'Hey you!' I knew this was where I was supposed to be."
Pachak is now a full-time staff member at the White Mesa Institute of Southwest Studies at the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Blanding.
When first confronted with the exhibit, viewers will think that the title, "Catch Something Running," has to do with catching the 3-D creatures as they romp about. But the title encompasses a deeper, more urgent concern.
"Culture is running away from us," Pachak said. "It's like the sand slipping through the hourglass."
He added, "It's important to try to not take away what we find at these sites. We have to find ways to experience these places without destroying them. Sometimes the 'scientists' can't see that; they just want to scoop it all up and place it in glass boxes."
Interwoven through the exhibit is Pachak's plea-catch something that's running pout; turn the tide and preserve this vanishing culture.
Along with the artist's goal of preservation is his desire to educate. He has tried hard to make this installation an effective teaching tool geared to everyone, particularly to children.
Pachak confesses that teaching children is another obsession of his. As a result, he participates in a number of artist-in-residency programs in Utah and neighboring states.
He enjoys showing the children how he makes his 3-D Anasazi sculptures-bending and welding wire, stuffing forms with styrofoam and then covering the outside with a gray cement compound.
"I try to keep it as practical as possible," he said. "I show them that I'm working with line, shape and form so they can make the connection between what I do and what they learn in the classroom."
And the sculptor is anxious to share his rock art techniques with local children. In fact, on Feb. 11, children 3 and a half-8 years old are invited to participate in UMNH's Science and Creativity Day, where Pachak will demonstrate his methods and supervise children as they create a rock art mural.
He is also conducting workshops for teachers in Salt Lake City.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, Pachak will lecture at 6:15 p.m. on "Prehistoric Abstraction, Expressions for Survival." This lecture is part of the opening reception to be held that night from 6-8.
Later in the year, he will conduct a field experience entitled "Rock Art for Artists," in Upper Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. Fee for this May 14-18 workshop is $380. Interested parties should contact Deedee O'Brien at the UMNH (581-6927).
Cost of the "Catch Something Running" exhibit is included in the museum's admission-$2 for adults and $1 for senior citizens and children 4-12.
Utah Museum of Natural History hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays and holidays.