Category Archives: art

Dreamy musical astronomy show Starball plays Seattle

A dreamy, musical astronomy show will return to its birth town of Seattle next week after more than a decade away. Starball, created by John Kauffman and Dan Dennis, will play at West of Lenin in Fremont from September 7–11.

According to the show’s Facebook page, “Audience members play villagers in a dystopian future in which the global government, or World Regime, has ended the relationship between humanity and the stars. But two Astronomasons, the Conductor (Kaufmann) and the Proxy (Dennis), have rebelled, calling the villagers to a secret clearing for a creative ritual.”

It sounds a little dark, but director Rachel Katz Carey and producer A.J. Epstein call it “giddy fun.”

Carey said Kauffman and Dennis were the perfect people to create this show.

“They’ve got charm and charisma for days and they’ve got improv experience and they’ve got huge, open hearts, so people just want to jump in and work with them,” Carey said. “They also have the hard science. They’re not just theater guys who thought they found a gimmick; they really, truly know their astronomy.”

Both were working at the Willard Smith Planetarium at the Pacific Science Center when they created and first performed Starball in 2002. In 2004 they brought in Carey and Epstein to help take the show to new places.

“What they needed was scaffolding to give some form and structure,” Carey said. “It’s been my experience that improv thrives the best when there is a scaffolding and structure to support it.”

In the intervening years Starball has been performed in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and even Spain. For its return to Seattle it will be performed in an inflatable planetarium on the West of Lenin stage.

Epstein explained that as audience members enter they will be asked to anonymously jot down notes about a recent dream. During the performance dreams will be drawn at random, and the actors and audience will look for parts of the dream in the stars projected on the planetarium dome. The audience and actors together will create stories based on the dreams identified in the sky.

Greg, AJ, and Rachel

L-R: Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer, Starball producer AJ Epstein and director Rachel Katz Carey in front of the inflatable planetarium in which Starball will be performed Sept. 7-11 at West of Lenin. (Photo: Greg Scheiderer)

“By the end of the night we have an entirely new sky mythology, not just individual constellations but a mythology unique to that group of people,” Epstein said. “And then they write a song.”

“An original song for every show based on what’s shown up in the sky,” Carey added.

“A Jungian devotee would have a field day with this show,” Epstein laughed.

He laments that, as a culture, we’ve lost our connection to the night sky.

“Most of us now live in cities where we can maybe see a couple of stars,” he said, “so the show really is very loudly but very elegantly getting people to actually look up at the sky and make a connection.”

At Seattle Astronomy we like to explore the intersections of art and science. Some would set up a divide there, but neither Carey nor Epstein see it.

“That’s sort of a Mac/PC religion question!” Epstein laughed.

“The stars were art before they were science,” Carey said. “We’ve been telling stories about stars long before we had telescopes.”

“The best scientists and the best writers about science that I know absolutely have the connection to art and imagination,” Carey added. “How do you get the big discoveries if you can’t imagine ahead of your data and then do the work to see if it’s there?”

Both admit to bias because of their involvement, but insist that Starball is way different than any planetarium show you’ve ever seen.

“You just have to be there, and when you leave you’re different because you’ve figured some stuff out,” Carey said.

“This one really grabs an audience by the heart and brings them to a place where they get it,” Epstein added.

Starball runs at West of Lenin for seven performances September 7-11. Tickets are $20 and are available online. Early purchase is recommended because the planetarium will only seat around 40 people.

Learn more! Listen to the podcast of our interview with Carey and Epstein:

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Two chicks and a cool eclipse product

An Oregon-based company has created a fun item to commemorate the upcoming total solar eclipse. Two Chicks Conspiracy is selling a fashionable key ring and fob that features an image of a total solar eclipse.

The two chicks are Kimberly Kelly and Joanna Rosinska, who founded Two Chicks Conspiracy, a casual fashion accessory company, back in 2013.

“It actually all started because I needed a new belt,” Kelly said. The company had some stops and starts because it was difficult to find a U.S.-based manufacturer that could do the sublimation—printing on polyester webbing—that was needed to make their creative belts. They finally found a company in Alabama that would work with them at their relatively modest production level.

The bulk of Two Chicks Conspiracy’s products are belts that are really wearable art, with designs based on nature and native culture as well as cityscapes and activities such as cycling. They have several designs that are space themed, which came about because of Rosinska’s personal interest in both astrology and astronomy.

Solar Eclipse key fob“Gazing into the night sky is good for the soul,” she said.

The company is based in Albany, Oregon, which is within the path of totality for the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, and so a product featuring the eclipse seemed a natural. Kelly and Rosinska have used the smartphone app Solar Eclipse Timer to scope out a good nearby viewing spot for eclipse day.

Check out Two Chicks Conspiracy for some cool products made in the USA.


Two Chicks Conspiracy is a Seattle Astronomy advertiser.

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Astro Biz: Neptune Furniture

Neptune FurnitureMany businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Neptune Furniture. The company’s products are handcrafted on Vashon Island by artist Jim Chobot. Each unique piece is puzzled from the intriguing shapes found in the driftwoods of the Pacific Northwest coast. Chabot’s wife Jackie manages their stall in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

We chose Neptune Furniture this week because the ice giant planet appears close to the Moon on Wednesday, We also spotted the booth while wandering the Market last week. Coincidence?

More info:

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Astro Biz: Swimming Stars Plaza

dsc_0081Many businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is the “Swimming Stars Plaza” art installation by Lezlie Jane in West Seattle’s Whale Tail Playground. “Swimming Stars” depicts the constellation Cetus, often called the sea monster or the whale; thus Whale Tail Playground (which is actually at the north end of Alki Playground near the intersection of SW Lander Street and Marine Avenue SW) is a fitting spot. Glass stars in the concrete mark the shape of the constellation, and other marine critters linger about as mosaics or imprints as well, and there’s a big octopus on the scene. Click the photo above to get a bigger version!

Cetus is the vehicle in a great story of mythology, sent by Poseidon in revenge for an insult when Cassiopeia, wife of King Cepheus of Ethiopia, claimed to be more beautiful than the Nereids. An oracle told Cepheus that he could stop the sea monster from ravaging his coast by offering up his daughter Andromeda as a sacrifice. Fortunately for her, the hero Perseus happened by and saved Andromeda in the nick of time!

The constellation Cetus is visible in the sky from the site of the “Swimming Stars” installation just four months out of the year, starting in October when you can see it in the south at around 10 p.m. Show up about an hour earlier each month through January to spot it.

This is the third work of art by Lezlie Jane to be featured on Seattle Astronomy. The others are Constellation Park and Luna Girls.

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AstroBox taking off

A former Seattleite now living in Denver has launched AstroBox, a service that will deliver a curated collection of cool space- and astronomy-themed products to space geeks once a quarter. Sorin Sorin got the idea for AstroBox while participating in outreach events with the Denver Astronomical Society. The group holds monthly open houses at the University of Denver’s Chamberlin Observatory, which boasts an 1894 20-inch Alvan Clark refracting telescope.

“It’s a really beautiful instrument for people to see and take a look through,” Sorin said.

AstroBox“A lot of the people who come out to these events have a casual interest in astronomy, space, and the night sky,” he added, but while they may enjoy a look through a telescope and the latest photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, they may not have the time or inclination to dive deeper into astronomy. Sorin said AstroBox is intended to provide a regular tickler about the night sky, with information about things to see and current space missions.

“The idea with it is including a set of products that are fun, entertaining, and a little educational too,” he said.

The first AstroBox went out earlier this summer under the theme “Exploring the Giants.” The box included a nine-inch plush Jupiter; the book The Interstellar Age (Dutton, 2015) by Jim Bell, who worked on the Voyager missions; a custom-designed Saturn t-shirt; a gallery-quality 8×10 print of “The Ancient Dance of Europa and Jupiter” by artist Lucy West; official mission patches of ISS Expedition 48 and SpaceX SPX-9; a set of five NASA Visions of the Future poster cards; a small meteorite as a preview of the fall box; and a copy of his Astronomy Unboxed newsletter with information about the Cassini and Juno missions and the Perseid meteor shower.

“I try to not only include a set of products, but a set of activities and information about what’s happening to make it an engaging experience,” Sorin said.

AstroBox goes out quarterly

Each AstroBox will be based on a theme, and will include a custom t-shirt, fine-art astronomy print, the newsletter, and other items.

The art print is a natural for Sorin, himself a talented astrophotographer and artist. You can see his work on The Soggy Astronomer and Sorin Space Art websites. He has connected with other artists through the International Association of Astronomical Artists.

“There are quite a number of accomplished astronomical artists out there,” Sorin said. “One of the things that I want to do with this box is always deliver a fine art print from one of these great artists.”

The theme for the fall box, for which Sorin is accepting orders through the end of August, is “Asteroids and Space Rocks.” In addition to the t-shirt, art, and newsletter it will include a piece of a meteorite and a board game that was designed by the lead of the OSIRIS-REx mission that launches next month with the aim of going to an asteroid and getting a rock sample to bring back to Earth.

“The lead for that mission actually designed a space-exploration board game as part of the way for that mission team to fund their own public outreach activites, and we’ll be including a copy of that game with our fall box,” Sorin said.

Order now

Visit the AstroBox website by August 31 to order your “Asteroids and Space Rocks” box. Friends of Seattle Astronomy can receive a $5 discount by using the code “SEATTLEASTRO” at checkout or by ordering through this link.

AstroBox is cool; check it out!

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Astro art and artifacts update

An astronomy device that had been damaged is back in operation, while a city-wide solar system model is, alas, showing signs of decay.

We reported back in August of last year that the Foucault pendulum in the Physics/Astronomy building at the University of Washington was out of commission. While the UW wasn’t saying specifically, we suspected the damage may have been caused by people not well versed in engineering trying to take a ride on the pendulum.

We’d noticed construction happening at the pendulum on some visits to campus in late winter and early spring, and we’re happy to report that it’s back in the swing of things again.

Back in February we told you about a fun project out of Three Dragons Academy, an arts program for elementary-aged children. The students created a scale model of the solar system, a city-wide art installation in which the Sun is an 18-foot circle painted and chalked onto the south plaza of the University Heights Center at NE 50th Street and Brooklyn Avenue NE. Uranus, at this scale, was down on Alki beach, not far from Seattle Astronomy headquarters.

MercuryOn a recent trip to the U-District we stumbled upon Mercury, which is, in an interesting twist, right outside Neptune Music. (Spoiler alert for a possible future Astro Biz.) Since we were so close, we sought out the Sun and found it still as advertised at the center. That’s the University Heights Center, not the center of the universe. As Copernicus discovered, that’s in Fremont.

Mercury is a little worse for wear, given nearly half a year out in the elements. Uranus has vanished from Alki; perhaps it’s moved along in its orbit! You can read about the project (click the “projects” icon at the bottom of the page) on the Three Dragons website.

The Sun The Sun

 

 

 

 

(Photos by Greg Scheiderer.)

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Cool vintage space and sci-fi art at Pivot Art + Culture

Some of the most visionary space and science fiction art from the 1950s and ‘60s is on display at Pivot Art + Culture. The exhibit, Imagined Futures: Science Fiction, Art, and Artifacts from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, will be on view through July 10 at the gallery on the ground level of the Allen Institute Building on Westlake Avenue in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the decades before the exploration of space became a reality, you’ve probably seen a lot of these pieces, which were featured in such magazines as Colliers, The Week, and Life, and often graced the covers of sci-fi books of the time.

The exhibit relies heavily on the works of two giants of the genre, Chesley Bonestell and Fred Freeman, but also features the works of more than two dozen artists from both the early decades and more recent times. Bonestell and Freeman weren’t entirely making up their images. Both worked closely with Wernher von Braun, who had significant input into the future of space and rocketry, and one of the great aspects of the exhibit is that it includes some preliminary artist sketches of the works with handwritten commentary from von Braun.

Separation of the Third Stage

Separation of the Third Stage of the Manned Ferry Rocket 40 Miles Above the Pacific Ocean, a 1952 painting by Chesley Bonestell, is part of the Imagined Futures exhibit on display at Pivot Art + Culture in Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

One of the most iconic pieces in the exhibit is Bonestell’s Separation of the Third Stage of the Manned Ferry Rocket 40 Miles Above the Pacific Ocean, painted in 1952. It’s likely a familiar image to many space cadets. It was used on the posters advertising the exhibit, and was first used as a cover for the series, “Man Will Conquer Space Soon,” published by Colliers in March 1953. While the painting is not precisely prescient, von Braun’s notion of a multi-stage launch vehicle eventually became a reality as the Saturn V, and the reusable space plane was a precursor of the space shuttle. The exhibit includes not just the painting and the sketches that informed it, but a 1:48 scale model of the space vehicle that was produced for a 1955 Disney show Man and the Moon as well.

Movies and TV are represented in the exhibit, which includes vintage movie posters from Destination Moon and War of the Worlds, MGM stills from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a model of the agridome that was used in the film Silent Running as well as in the original 1970s version of the television series Battlestar Gallactica.

With a lot of cool stuff in the gallery, one piece does its darndest to grab all of the attention. That is a huge charcoal sketch of Saturn by Robert Longo that is around five feet tall and ten feet wide.

The exhibit also features an X-15 engine and an IBM System 360 computer.

The exhibit is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and stays open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is just $5. Curator Ben Heywood leads tours of the exhibit beginning at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. It’s cool stuff and well worth a look for space and sci-fi buffs.

Our Flickr slideshow from the exhibit:

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