My upcycling project, as you may have guessed from my previous post, will be that of 19th century science graphics; in specific, a constellation / star chart. Star charts and atlases of that era are a particular favorite of mine within the larger aesthetic, and I’ve had the idea for this project in the back of my head for a while now, so it made sense to go with this for my first artifact.

Winter-spring northern hemisphere star chart from Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy, 1849. [1]

My current plan is to take a piece of scrap wood, cut it to a rectangle to mimic the papers these charts were printed on, and then engrave it with the pattern of a constellation and a caption beneath, using the pointed star and dashed line pattern common in star charts of the time such as above. This engraved piece will be the final product, unlike the engravings that made many actual prints by being an inverse guide for a painter to quickly color paper placed on top (to learn a bit more about engravings for prints, check out this article by the Met: https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/collection-areas/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking/engraving) [2].

Chart of nebulae, Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy, 1849. [1]

There are two designs I’m considering; one with Orion and the caption ‘HOME.’, and one with Ursa Major and the caption ‘AWAY.’ or ‘YONDER.’ Both have meaning to me, though I will admit that the Orion design’s is stronger – I am not terribly superstitious, but about 80% of the time that I notice Orion in the sky, it is pointing me toward home. Further, calling the constellation ‘home’ has an interesting juxtaposition. Our solar system sits within the Milky Way’s Orion Arm, which also houses the stars of the constellation and the nebula it is named after. Yet, anybody in the 19th century couldn’t have known this, as we did not yet know that separate galaxies existed, let alone the spiral structure of our own.

I could either engrave the wood by hand or use a laser cutter. I think I’ll do it manually, as it’s more in the style of the originals (which were cut directly by the artist) and allows much-needed depth in the face. I suppose, also, that I could make it mirrored, as the templates would have been. While visually interesting, I am not sure if I can find artistic meaning or rationale in flipping it.

I was a bit worried about this concept, as in order to fit its aesthetic, it is necessarily two dimensional. Professor Hertzberg assures me that this still falls under the umbrella of ‘design,’ so I’m likely going to go ahead with this. There are a few other ideas floating in my mind, but none take to being made of upcycled materials quite as well.

Sources:

[1] Smith, Asa. Smith’s Illustrated Astronomy. Cady & Burgess, New York, 1849. https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/smithquotsillus00smit.

[2] “Engraving” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/collection-areas/drawings-and-prints/materials-and-techniques/printmaking/engraving. Accessed 31 January 2024.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Lavender, I love this idea! I will be very curious to see how you decide to implement this idea. How do you plan to do the colors? Would you do an inverted color scheme where the wood is light and the stars are engraved black? At an initial glance, it seems it would be difficult to cause the stars to be white and the background be black simply because you are engraving the wood which inherently turns it black. Alternatively you could go through after and paint it, but that would cover up the engraved aspect. I’m excited to see what you decide to go with.

    Reply
  • Alex Fitzgerald
    February 1, 2024 2:36 pm

    Hey Lavender! This seems like a really cool idea! I appreciated that you added background on why you were choosing this project and specific constellation. Do you have an idea for how large you are going to make it?

    Reply

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