The men who sailed on Cruiser Olympia did so for many reasons: to serve their country, to lead other men, to travel the world, for adventure, to test their limits, to leave their past behind or simply for the thrill of being at sea, in the grip of mighty nature herself.
Members of Rattus norvegicus (brown rat), on the other hand, learned that life was easier for them if they kept close to human beings. Scavenging for food dropped, spilled, carelessly stored or discarded increased their life span. Rats rarely survive in the wild for over a year. Originating in northern China, the species of Rattus traveled throughout the world wherever men sailed. It’s quite likely that several stowed away on Olympia, hitching a secret ride inside the mountains of stores which fed the over 396 enlisted men and 33 officers.
Harmful or Helpful?
Rats are most often fearfully regarded as disease-carrying vermin. They do carry viruses, such as streptobacillosis, which can be deadly if undiagnosed, as well as other diseases. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the bubonic plague from the bite of plague-infected fleas hosted by Rattus rattus (black rat). It has been said that there are 1.3 rats for every person living in the U.K.
Paradoxically, rats play a huge part in the ongoing health of humankind. In 1906, during Olympia’scommission, the Wistar rat was developed here in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. That strain has been helpful in cancer and genetics research.
And let’s not forget the interesting and entertaining pleasures of keeping gentler rats as pets. Noted for their intelligence they can be trained as working animals, helping lay computer cable in small spaces, for example.
About the Artist
Joan Menapace works in the arena of relational aesthetics, which involves a social encounter with an artwork and others in the space. She wants the viewer to be personally involved with a work, including being able to touch and manipulate it. One form her sculpture has taken is that of non-competitive games, with the outcomes intended for individuals to learn about themselves.
After receiving her BFA, Menapace became an art educator in upper Bucks County, PA. While teaching and earning an MAH at Arcadia University (then known as Beaver College) she developed a special interest in play theory, especially relating to creativity. When humans play they are at their most creative. For almost 20 years she observed this truth on a daily basis in her classroom.
During that time Menapace founded The Day Circle Project with the composer/musician Bob Berry with whom she did installation and street performance, always with an active role for the viewer-participant. She is also a mail artist, an early user of image-editing software and home computing to create “artistamps” and postcards having commemorative or political content. Her latest work, figurative soft sculpture installation and objects using yarn, most often invites viewer participation, as does her work in Artship Olympia.