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Beautiful and Historic Glass Models of Sea Creatures Are on Display in New Exhibit

In the early 1850s, a young Czech craftsman named Leopold Blaschka lost both his wife and father in quick succession. In an attempt to find some relief for his grief, Blaschka set out on a year-long journey to the United States, hoping to indulge some of his passion for natural history. When winds becalmed his ship in the Azores for two weeks, he became fascinated with the bioluminescent jellyfish in the waters, the likes of which he had never seen before. A member of a family of glassmakers going back to 15th century Venice, it wasn’t long before he imagined creating these creatures—and other marine invertebrates that had fascinated him in the waters—out of glass.

By the end of the 19th century, Leopold and his son Rudolf had created a thriving business in Dresden, Germany, manufacturing at least 700 types of models of marine creatures in glass, with touches of enamel, paper, and paint. The models (father and son are said to have produced over 10,000 total) served as teaching aids and often-affordable decorative curios all around the world, ending up as far away as New Zealand and India. They played into the era’s fascination with natural history, and provided a way to see forms of life impossible to preserve in taxidermy, tricky to capture as wet specimens, and generally inaccessible at the time in their natural habitat.

As lifelike as they were, the models were eventually forgotten after photography and video came on the scene, as Allison Meier notes for Hyperallergic. Many languished in storage, including 500 that Cornell University purchased in 1885. After being rescued from storage in the 1960s, the Cornell models were painstakingly restored, a process that took decades. Now, about 70 of them, alongside intricate preparatory drawing and original tools, are on display at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

The models in Fragile Legacy: The Marine Invertebrate Glass Models of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka serve multiple purposes: they are objects of beauty, testament to incredible craftsmanship, and a time capsule of marine diversity now in peril. On the latter note, the exhibit also includes a documentary by filmmaker David Owen Brown (narrated by Ted Danson) that tells the story of the models and ties them to the urgent need for ocean conservation. It’s also an excellent chance to gaze at some of the rippling, translucent, glowing creatures that first enchanted Leopold Blaschka. You can watch a trailer for the film below; the exhibit at the Corning Museum of Glass is on view until January 8, 2017.

Fragile Legacy from David O. Brown on Vimeo.

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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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