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Jez Nicholson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Jez Nicholson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

London's Tribute to Tragic Tales of 'Heroic Self-Sacrifice'

Jez Nicholson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Jez Nicholson, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

In the middle of London, right between St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London, is a small public space known as Postman’s Park. Though the park itself is small—less than an acre—it commemorates some immensely heroic deeds.

Its story began in 1887, when painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts wrote to The Times to suggest a unique piece of art to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, stating:

“Among other ways of commemorating this fiftieth year of Her Majesty’s reign, it would surely be of national interest to collect a complete record of the stories of heroism in everyday life. The character of a nation as a people of great deeds is one, it appears to me, that should never be lost sight of. It must surely be a matter of regret when names worthy to be remembered and stories stimulating and instructive are allowed to be forgotten.”

As an example, Watts cited the story of Alice Ayres, a 25-year-old woman who tried to save her three young nieces from a house fire by pushing a featherbed from a window to cushion the fall. By the time it was her turn to jump, she was dizzy from inhaling smoke, and was unable to jump far enough out to clear the shop sign below the window. She hit the sign as she fell, then missed the featherbed and hit the pavement. She died from her injuries several days later. Two of her nieces survived.

Unfortunately, Watts’s idea was nixed. But it caught the attention of Henry Gamble, the vicar of St. Botolph’s Aldersgate church. Gamble was trying to raise funds to purchase a plot of land that neighbored St. Botolph’s, and thought Watts’s memorial would help arouse public interest in the project. The pairing worked and construction began.

Unfortunately, by the time the Watts Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice opened in 1900, Watts himself was too ill to attend and see the four inaugural tablets. When he died in 1904, his wife, Mary, made sure that he, too, was remembered for creating the tribute.

Despite his death, Watts continued to influence the memorial for decades. He had collected a number of newspaper clippings of stories he found worthy of memorializing; Mary and a committee from St. Botolph's chose many of the remaining honorees from his clipping catalog.

The 54 tablets include quite a few heroes who saved people from drowning or fire, but there are also cases that are quite unique, such as that of Samuel Rabbeth.

Rabbeth was tending to a four-year-old diphtheria patient named Leon Jennings, who had just received a tracheotomy to help with breathing problems. Unfortunately, young Leon developed more problems after the surgery when mucus became lodged in the breathing tube and threatened to suffocate him. Aware of the high risk of infection, Rabbeth put his lips to the tube and sucked the mucus out himself. He contracted the disease and died of it later that month—followed, a few days later, by Leon.

The latest addition was installed in 2009 to honor Leigh Pitt, a printworker who saved a nine-year-old boy from drowning, but then disappeared under the water himself. Pitt's addition was the first new tile in 78 years—and it would appear that it's also the last. In 2010, "representatives from all the significant interest groups reached a conclusion that it was no longer appropriate to add further tablets to the memorial."

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Art
The Simple Optical Illusion That Makes an Image Look Like It's Drawing Itself
iStock
iStock

Artist James Nolan Gandy invents robot arms that sketch intricate mathematical shapes with pen and paper. When viewed in real time, the effect is impressive. But it becomes even more so when the videos are sped up in a timelapse. If you look closely in the video below, the illustration appears to materialize faster than the robot can put the design to paper. Gizmodo recently explained how the illusion works to make it look like parts of the sketch are forming before the machine has time to draw them.

The optical illusion isn’t an example of tricky image editing: It’s the result of something called the wagon wheel effect. You can observe this in a car wheel accelerating down the highway or in propeller blades lifting up a helicopter. If an object makes enough rotations per second, it can appear to slow down, move backwards, or even stand still.

This is especially apparent on film. Every “moving image” we see on a screen is an illusion caused by the brain filling in the gaps between a sequence of still images. In the case of the timelapse video below, the camera captured the right amount of images, in the right order, to depict the pen as moving more slowly than it did in real life. But unlike the pen, the drawing formed throughout the video isn't subject to the wagon-wheel effect, so it still appears to move at full speed. This difference makes it look like the sketch is drawing itself, no pen required.

Gandy frequently shares behind-the-scenes videos of his mechanical art on his Instagram page. You can check out some of his non-timelapse clips like the one below to better understand how his machines work, then visit his website to browse and purchase the art made by his 'bots.

And if you think his stuff is impressive, make sure to explore some of the incredible art robots have made in the past.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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Tessa Angus
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Surprising Sculptures Made From Fallen Feathers
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Kate MccGwire, Orchis, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire is a British sculptor with an unusual medium: feathers. Her surreal, undulating works often take the form of installations—the feathers spilling out of a drain, a stove, a crypt wall—or stand-alone sculptures in which antique bell jars, cabinets, or trunks contain otherworldly shapes.

MccGwire developed her obsession with feathers after moving to a studio barge on the Thames in 2006, as she explains in a video from Crane.tv recently spotlighted by Boing Boing. The barge was near a large shed full of feral pigeons, whose feathers she would spot on her way to work. "I started picking them up and laying them out, collecting them," she remembers. "And after about two weeks I had like 300 feathers." At the time, concerns about bird flu were rife, which made the feathers seem "dangerous as well as beautiful."

When not supplied by her own next-door menagerie, the feathers for her artwork come from a network of racing pigeon societies all over the UK, who send her envelopes full every time the birds molt. Farmers and gamekeepers also send her fallen feathers from birds such as magpies, pheasants, and roosters.

The cultural associations around birds are a big part of what inspires MccGwire. “The dove is the symbol of peace, purity, and fertility," she told ArtNews in 2013, "but it’s exactly the same species as a pigeon—which everyone regards as being dirty, foul, a pest.”

The same duality is present in her own work, which she frequently shares on her Instagram account. “I want to seduce by what I do—but revolt in equal measure. It’s really important to me that you’ve got that rejection of things you think you know for sure.”

You can see some pictures of MccGwire's work, and watch the video from Crane.tv, below.

Kate MccGwire's installation "Evacuate"
Evacuate, 2010
J Wilde

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Convolous"
Convolous, 2015
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's installation "Gyre"
Gyre, 2012
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Gag"
Gag, 2009
JP Bland

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Writhe"
Writhe, 2010
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Quell"
Quell, 2011
Tessa Angus

Kate MccGwire's sculpture "Taunt"
Taunt, 2012
Tessa Angus

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