Elizabeth Haidle believes that illustration provided form for our earliest perceptions and imaginings before we had the words for them, and thus is the medium of storytelling. This can be seen in the exploration of both the scientific world and the made-up imaginary one. In the unknown world, there are endless sights to be seen within our own minds. This is the spirit from which Haidle’s “Hypothetical Creatures” are born.
Haidle was inspired to dream up a set of imaginary animals when she first read the Book of Beasts, a medieval bestiary translated into modern English in the 1950s by the author and scholar T. H. White. A bestiary is a medieval collection of descriptions and fables concerning the animal kingdom. In addition to recording natural history, such stories almost invariably contained a moral or religious lesson. The beasts described therein ranged from the common to the fantastical.
Like White, Haidle was moved by the care and effort involved in recording and maintaining these tales, particularly as they were written in a time of uncertainty and upheaval. As White kept the wonder of the Book of Beasts alive in his translation, Haidle does so in her own way, by playfully re-translating its spirit.
These are the Hypothetical Creatures: imaginary animals assembled from the appendages of both extant creatures and some that Haidle dreams up herself. They have names like “Poisonous Omnisnail” and “Chimpankeet,” unabashedly absurd names that call attention to critters’ hodge-podge manner of creation.
This is mixed with a professionalism that, if it doesn’t quite make the animals seem realistic, at least lends plausibility to our mock study of them. In addition to the Book of Beasts, Haidle is inspired by the journals of explorers like Sir Francis Drake. This influence appears in the presentation of her creatures. She exhibits them in immaculate pencil, stranded specimen-like on a sea of white. Her immaculate grasp of the conventions of scientific drawing is as meaningful to her the project as the strange bodies of the creatures themselves.
Haidle gravitated towards illustration early, publishing her first book at the age of 13. Her work since then has varied greatly, with commissions coming and going as she has moved from city to city. Her commercial work has included a number of posters for Philadelphia’s Pig Iron Theatre Company, as well as an album cover for the solo release of Pearl Jam’s rhythm guitarist. Haidle also has experience in cartooning and stop-motion animation. Her work encompasses many different media and styles, but though diverse it is connected by a fascination with those moments when research and fantasy meet.
Haidle pines for the spirit of observing and collecting that which we leave behind, collectively as a culture, and individually when we grow out of childhood. Additionally, she knows that one doesn’t have to believe in the Book’s beasts to believe in scientific fascination and the wonder of the new. Haidle’s drawings remind us that there is still so much we do not know, and that we must never stop searching both the world outside and the one within for new discoveries.