Science and the Artist's Book

An exhibition by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries and the Washington Project for the Arts


Herald of Science

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Christiaan Huygens
Systema Saturnium [The Saturnian system]
The Hague, Netherlands, 1659

    The 17th-century Dutch astronomer Huygens discovered one of the moons of Saturn through a telescope that he built himself. His observations led him to theorize that the planet Saturn was surrounded by a ring, then only dimly visible through the telescopes of the period. Huygens' illustration shows the ring that encircles the planet.

Artist's Book

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Timothy C. Ely
Portland, Oregon, 1994
[wood, handmade paper, aluminum]

    Timothy Ely compares Huygens' exploration of outer space to his own efforts at probing "inner space"--the depths of his fertile imagination. Within the reaches of this internal universe, Ely finds the visions that he translates into paintings for his books. To add an extraterrestrial element to his work, the artist has mixed particles of metal oxide into the cover materials. These came from the dust of a meteor found in Argentina in 1576.

Herald of Science

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Johannes Hevelius
Machinae Coelestis Pars Prior [The celestial machine: The first part]
Danzig, Poland, 1673-1679

    Hevelius, an expert builder of his own "celestial machines," constructed telescopes ranging in size up to 50 meters (150 feet) in length. Yet for charting the position of stars and planets, he trusted more in his own eyesight than in the accuracy of telescopes.

Artist's Book

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David Horton
Celestial Wondering
New Milford, New York: Flying Pyramid Press, 1994
[wood, metal, book board, photographs, electronic and fiber-optic elements]

    Artist David Horton is fascinated by Hevelius' early telescope. He comments, "While the mammoth astronomical telescope was a scientific tool, it also could be thought of as a totem to the heavens and a vehicle for imaginary travel."

Herald of Science

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Tycho Brahe
Epistolarum Astronomicarum Libri [Collected letters on astronomy]
Uraniborg, Denmark, 1596

    In the late 1500s, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe suggested a new model for the universe, in which the Sun circled the Earth while the other planets circled the Sun. Brahe's careful observations eventually helped to confirm the theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Shown here is Brahe's famous astronomical observatory and home, Uraniborg ["Heavenly Castle"], located on an island off the coast of Denmark.

Artist's Book

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Geoffrey Hendricks
QUADRANT / A Meditation on Tycho Brahe
New York, New York, 1994
[wood, brass, watercolor, ceramic, glass, stainless steel, stone, cloth, museum board]

    Geoffrey Hendricks' book is like a game with puzzle pieces. Its elements invite the viewer to contemplate the sky and the workings of the universe as Brahe did, and to reflect on the way our senses perceive the world. Hendricks' interest in Tycho Brahe is heightened by his own Scandinavian ancestry.

Herald of Science

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Roberte Recorde
The Castle of Knowledge, Containing the Explication of the Sphere Bothe Celestiall and Materiall
London, 1556

    Recorde's textbook is written as a dialogue between teacher and student. This technique enables the reader to proceed step by step through the basic principles of the ancient system of astronomy, in which the Sun and planets were thought to revolve around the Earth. Recorde is known as the founder of the English school of mathematical writers.

Artist's Book

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Katherine Ng
A Hypothetical Analysis of the Twinkle in Stars (as told by a child to a teacher)
Los Angeles, California, 1994
[paste paper and letterpress]

    Katherine Ng employs the dialogue format used by Recorde but reverses the roles of the speakers. In her book, the child is the "teacher" who analyzes the stars, and the adult is the "student." The book itself takes the form of a nearly-completed "wishing star." Gentle pressure on each side of the folded paper pentagon would produce a three-dimensional five-pointed star.

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