Profile | Lucy Spelman

Lucy Spelman




Dr. Lucy Spelman is one of 165 board-certified zoological medicine specialists in the world. She has an undergraduate degree in biology from Brown University and a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of California at Davis. Animals have always been part of her life, and her experiences with them include taking care of giant pandas in China, mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and river otters in Guyana. She has worked as a zoo veterinarian, zoo director, wildlife veterinarian, media consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator.

Dr. Spelman currently practices veterinary medicine in Rhode Island and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design. In TEDx Providence: Art Can Save a Panda | Dr. Lucy Spelman, she makes a case for greater public engagement in conservation through the arts. Her work is based on a one-health approach; she believes the future of all wildlife depends on healthy interactions of animals, humans, and the environment. In 2015, she founded Creature Conserve, a non-profit organization bringing artists and scientists together to study and respond to the problems facing animals today.

Dr. Spelman views her teaching at RISD as an example of the type of art/science collaboration needed to make one-health conservation work. In addition to private practice and teaching at RISD, Dr. Spelman works in the field as a conservationist. She serves on three non-profit boards for organizations that promote healthy interactions between people, animals, and the environment. These include: Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode IslandArt of Conservation, and Karanambu Trust.

Dr. Spelman is the author of numerous scientific articles as well as the National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia and co-editor of a book of short stories, The Rhino with Glue-on Shoes.





Science for Art and Design Education at RISD

Supporting Liberal Arts science electives at RISD


Science literacy is essential for informed decision-making about health, and Dr. Spelman helps coordinate the science electives offered by RISD’s Liberal Arts Division.

There are currently eleven faculty teaching fifteen science courses at RISD. All were developed specifically for student artists and designers interested in biology, ecology, cognitive science, mathematics, physics, geology, and the natural world in general. The Science for Art and Design Education courses emphasize science literacy, and many encourage students to connect the subject matter to their studio work. They are currently taken to fulfill the graduation requirement for: the Liberal Arts Electives (LAEL); the track-specific requirements for HPSS concentrators in the Environmental Studies and Scientific Inquiry tracks; and as part of the Interdisciplinary Nature-Culture-Sustainability Concentration.


Ours/Theirs: Mountain Gorillas

Collaboration with sculptor Natalie Tyler 

In progress 2015

Dr. Spelman is collaborating with sculptor Natalie Tyler (MFA, California College of the Arts) to explore the interconnectedness of human and animal health. Their first piece is about the potentially fatal impact of airborne human viruses on the critically endangered mountain gorilla, a species so rare it has its own veterinary team, the Gorilla Doctors, which Dr. Spelman led for three years while living in Rwanda. Ours/Theirs: Mountain Gorillas will be on exhibit from November 6-16, 2015 at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. The show is part of the “Science in the Studio” symposium hosted by the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design. Spelman and Tyler will also present papers at this meeting.


Creature Conserve

Outreach organization featuring art + science collaboration

Launched May 2015

Dr. Spelman founded Creature Conserve in early 2015, inspired by her experience teaching biology at RISD and the need for greater public engagement in conservation.

The website, launched in May, was designed and initially curated by recent RISD graduates Chloe Bulpin (ILL ’15) and Insil Choi (ILL ’14.) There are five online galleries: Biodiversity, Evolution, Saving Species, Health Threats, and Future Projects. Each features work by student artists and designers who have taken one or more of Dr. Spelman’s science elective classes at RISD. A sixth gallery featuring outside submissions is in development. Creature Conserve is also a newly established non-profit that considers conservation a managed health care for the planet, a creative, dynamic, and complex process requiring the informed action of many.



Contact Lucy Spelman