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Lichens create one-of-a-kind nature art

In aqua blue, lime green, brown or rusty red, lichens bring color to rocks, trees and old wood. Now, they are the stars in a free art exhibit at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center that is open through September.

Lichens are composite, symbiotic organisms, usually a dominant fungus paired with algae or bacteria, and sometimes all three. Together they share the abilities to absorb nutrients from the host, utilize light for energy or convert air into a nutrient. Lichens grow where many other things cannot, such as on bare rock.

The art is part of artist Sarah Hearn’s exhibition, Invisible Landscapes.

“[Lichens] are all around us but we hardly notice them,” Hearn said. “But once you pay attention to them, you realize how strange and beautiful they are, and how prevalent they are in our everyday surroundings.”

Hearn uses lichen shapes and colors to create one-of-a kind artworks made out of cut photographs, drawings and vinyl. Some are in color and others in black and white. At times, she mixes lichen species together to create new artistic forms. Her goal is to reveal the shifting boundaries between science and science fiction, art and artifice. She’s also simply fascinated with lichens.

Hearn’s exhibition, Invisible Landscapes, is on display in the north wing of the Discovery Center through September. The exhibit is part of a hide-and-seek exhibit with 12 hidden-in-plain-sight lichen colonies of her creation at the Discovery Center, Science City at Union Station, The Mid-America Arts Alliance and PLUG Projects. The first 100 people to discover all 12 colonies using her app will receive an artist photograph and a special surprise through September 1.

The Discovery Center will host a chance for visitors to meet Hearn from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1. Also, Hearn will host Art + Lichen: A Symbiotic Workshop, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 5, at the Discovery Center. Topics in the workshop will include the role of symbiosis in ecology, varieties of lichens, and hands-on artwork with a focus on lichens.

The art is on display at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center, 4750 Troost Ave., Kansas City, MO. For information, visit More information about lichens in Missouri is available at Missouri Department of Conservation.

Visit Sarah Hearn at To participate in the hide-and-seek contest, visit to download the app on a mobile device.

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