Striking Iron: A New Exhibition at the National Museum of African Art

One of the current exhibits at the National Museum of African Art is “Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths”. It focuses on blacksmithing in sub-Saharan Africa and features works dating from the 17th century to recent times: not just weapons, but other tools and implements such as musical instruments.

The range and design of shapes is truly impressive. Below are just some of the examples.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Ceremonial Knives

I wasn’t familiar with the concept of rain wands (image below) before. They were planted in the earth with the intention of drawing the life force of the Earth up toward the heavens in order to bring down rain.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Rain Wands

Various kinds of sound instruments are also displayed, including lamellophones.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Lamellophone

And, since it’s ironworking, there are weapons.

Smithsonian African Art Iron Exhibit Double-bladed Dagger

I’m especially struck by the multiple elaborate curls of the ceremonial knives and the rain wand in the shape of a three-headed snake. Simply stunning.

The exhibition runs until October 20, 2019.

Found via NPR—make sure to visit the article for more photos!

Images: Ceremonial knives by Olivia Sun for NPR (Democratic Republic of the Congo; 19th century; iron). Rain wands by Olivia Sun for NPR (Nigeria; iron). Lamellophone (chisanji) via Smithsonian (Chokwe artist, Angola; late 19th century; wood and iron). Double-bladed dagger by Olivia Sun for NPR (late 19th-century Sudan; iron, bone, and crocodile skin).

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The Graceful Curves of the Vogelherd Horse

Like the Stone Age twig horse I blogged about a few years ago, this ivory horse is rather magnificent:

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:4_Pferd_Vogelherd_Kopie.jpg

Found in the Vogelherd cave in south-western Germany, it’s carved from woolly mammoth ivory with flint tools in the Aurignacian period, from 40,000 to 28,000 BCE.

Like other animal figurines found in the same layers, the horse appears astonighingly lively and graceful. I’ve done a little bit of wood carving in my life, and—like all sculpting—it definitely takes not just skill but also pre-planning. I can’t imagine what carving ivory with flint would be like, but I’ve no doubt there are quite a few tricks that go into it.

Whatever the use of the Vogelherd horse was, it’s clear that the maker(s) invested time and significant effort into making their art—a good indication that the creativity, dedication, and determination of the modern human do have deep roots.

Found via The Ice Age (@Jamie_Woodward_) on Twitter.

Image: horse figurine from the Vogelherd cave via Wikipedia (Baden-Württemberg, Germany; c. 32,000-35,000 BCE; ivory)

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Traditional Andean Design Finds New Life in Architectural Details

The city of El Alto in Bolivia, high up in the Andes, is the country’s second largest city and right next to the third largest one, La Paz. Something that El Alto beats its richer neighbor in is unique eye candy right on the building facades.

That’s because an architect, Freddy Mamani Silvestre, is slowly working bright colors into El Alto’s red-brick and concrete scenery.

Wikipedia Mamani Cholet1

Information on Silvestre seems scant in English. A member of the indigenous Aymara, he apparently started working on buildings as a bricklayer. There’s a feature on El Alto in The New York Times in 2013 and in The Washington Post in 2014. He’s referred to in a 2014 BBC News article on president Evo Morales. The Architectural Association, Inc., still has their exhibition info Salones de Eventos from 2015 available online. I also found two articles via the German Wikipedia entry for Silvestri: one in The Architectural Review and the other in Quartz, both from 2015. The best bet at the moment might be the 2017 book El Alto by Silvestre and Peter Granser. For Spanish readers there’s more, including the 2014 book La arquitectura de Freddy Mamani Silvestre.

Quartz Mamani Salon Montecarlo

Silvestri draws on traditional shapes and colors in his designs. Some of the detailing reminds me of jugend (I believe the phrase art deco is used in the U.S. instead), but Silvestri’s work is clearly not derivative of it.

Architectural Association Mamani Green Building

If the exteriors seem colorful and detailed, just wait until you see the interiors!

Colossal Mamani Green Interior

Wow! His style has been described as Neo-Andean, new Andean, space-ship architecture or, plainly, kitch. However you may want to describe it, the word colorful will have to be there!

Found via Colossal.

Images: Cholet (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikipedia. Salón Montecarlo by Alfredo Zeballos / The Architecture of Freddy Mamani Silvestre via Quartz. Green exterior via The Architectural Association, Inc. Green interior via Colossal.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Turning Vinegar and Lobster Shells into Sustainable Bioplastic

Four Master’s students from the Royal College of Art and Imperial College, London, UK, have created a bioplastic from chitin combined with vinegar. This sustainable plastic can be manipulated to produce items of varying stiffness, flexibility, thickness, and translucence by adjusting the ratios of the base ingredients.

Instagram Shellworks Variety of Material Properties

Instagram Shellworks Bags Bubblewrap

Apparently, the material can also be turned back into the original bioplastic solution.

Shellworks is Ed Jones, Insiya Jafferjee, Amir Afshar, and Andrew Edwards. Their work is still at prototype stage, but it sounds like there is a potential for increasingly (if not utterly and entirely) recyclable, non-toxic plastic here. Sounds awesome!

Visit the Shellworks website or Instagram for more.

Found via Colossal.

Images: Variety of Material Properties by Shellworks on Instagram. Bags and bubblewrap by Shellworks on Instagram.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

An Example of the Infinite Possibilities of Writing Systems: Mandombe

I recently came across Endangered Alphabets, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization engaged in “preserving endangered cultures by using their writing systems to create artwork and educational materials”.

An article in Colossal pulled several examples from the Endangered database. The most striking of them, I thought, was Mandombe. It was created about 40 years ago by David Wabeladio Payi. His work was influenced by the look of a brick wall and a wish to connect the direction a shape pointed with pronunciation.

Endangered Alphabets Mandombe-script-example Sm

Apparently, Mandombe is based on consonant and vowel graphemes, but they are organized into syllabic blocks (like written Korean) instead of word-length units.

Endangered Alphabets Mandombe Script Table Sm

Today, Mandombe is taught in Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, and Brussels.

Wikipedia Mandombe Book Sm

Isn’t it fascinating?

P.S. Did you know that the United Nations declared 2019 The Year of Indigenous Languages (IY2019) in order to raise awareness of the thousands of languages that are in danger of disappearing? Also, go ahead and visit the gallery or atlas at Endangered Alphabets for even more eye candy!

Images: script sample and table via Endangered Alphabets. Mandombe book via Wikipedia.

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

The Staffordshire Helmet Reconstructed

The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest and perhaps the most magnificent find from Anglo-Saxon England. The hoard dates from the 7th century and comes from the Kingdom of Mercia. It was found in 2009 by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector, and is now owned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils on behalf of the nation.

The vast majority of items in the hoard are war gear, especially sword fittings. Among the items, all of which are of exceptionally high quality, is a helmet. Two copies of a reconstruction completed in 2018 are now available for public viewing, one in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Birmingham, England) and the other in The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England).

And it’s utterly breathtaking!

Twitter Staffordshire Hoard Helmet on Model Sm

Potteries Museum Staffordshire Helmet Sm

The so-called Staffordshire Helmet is very rare—only five other Anglo-Saxon helmets are known—and looks exquisite: the gold filigree with red accents make an arresting combination, and the dyed crest adds to the wearer’s height.

Birmingham Museum Staffordshire Helmet Sm

As Erik pointed out, ancient Greeks and Romans portrayed northwestern barbarians as violent, ignorant, savage, and lacking in technology and social organization. On the basis of the Staffordshire Hoard alone, whatever else they were, there’s absolutely no basis in calling Anglo-Saxons technologically unskilled!

Visit The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery or Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for more.

Found via Express & Star on Twitter.

Images: Staffordshire Helmet worn by model via Staffordshire Hoard on Twitter. Side view via Staffordshire Hoard. Front view via Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Medieval Realism: Holding a Distaff Under One Arm While Feeding Chickens

As usual, some days ago while doing something quite different I found an intriguing detail I wanted to look into. Finally I had the time to chase it down.

So: I was struck by this scene from an English illuminated manuscript.

British Library Add MS 42130 f166v Feeding Chickens
Add MS 42130, f.166v via British Library (England; 1325-1340; illuminated manuscript)

The way the woman in the image is holding a distaff under one arm while she feeds chickens from a bowl feels incredibly authentic. I may not have to spin my own yarn nor feed chickens in 2018, but I have often held a thing under my arm momentarily while taking care of a small, short task. Such a lovely, realistic detail.

I do have one question for the artist, though: what on earth is that chick doing, standing on top of the hen and pecking her? (“Mom, look, I’m up here! Mom? Mom? Mooom!”) LOL!

The manuscript is from England and known as The Luttrell Psalter. Fortunately for us, British Library has digitized the whole manuscript. In addition to the chicken-feeding one above, the illuminations include a slew of other everyday scenes, like a miller in his windmill, bear-baiting(!), a wattle pen full of sheep, and various stages of tending fields and preparing food.

Being a textile nerd, I enjoyed the image of two women preparing fibers into yarn: one is using a spinning wheel, the other is carding.

British Library Add MS 42130 f193r Spinning Carding
Add MS 42130, f.193r via British Library (England; 1325-1340; illuminated manuscript)

The coloring is quite lovely. I do wonder, however, what’s with the awkward poses. The chicken-feeding image felt much more natural in that respect, too.

Images via British Library

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

A WoW Mole Machine in Murdoch Mysteries?

After months of working on it, we opened up Dark Iron Dwarves last week. Yay! I’ve been leveling my new DI paladin a bit, getting a sense of the new-to-me racial abilities. They include Mole Machine, a way to quickly change locations by tunneling through the earth.

We’ve been rewatcing and rating Murdoch Mysteries for our project for a while now. A seventh-season episode, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto”, has a burrowing or boring machine that should look very familiar to World of Warcraft players.

Murdoch Mysteries s7 e11 Burrowing Machine

It’s a mole machine, right? Right!?!

WoW Westfall Sentinel Hill w Dark Iron Dwarf Mole Machine

The episode doesn’t actually ever call the device mole machine, but some of the characters do talk about hypothetical mole people who live underground. I wonder whether there are any WoWers in the writers’ room? 😀

In any case, even though the series seems to otherwise strive towards reasonable accuracy, now and then they definitely veer into SSFnal or steampunk-ish. I love the tongue-firmly-in-cheek attitude!

Images: screenshot from the tv series Murdoch Mysteries, season 7, episode 11, “Journey to the Centre of Toronto”. World of Warcraft screencap with Dark Iron Dwarf mole machine in Westfall.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Visual Inspiration: Boats Made of Giant Pumpkins

Since 1991, in Gentilly, Quebec, the residents have held an annual giant pumpkin competition—and boat race!—called Potirothon. The name is a portmanteau of potiron and marathon.

After weighing the entrants, some of the giant pumpkins are carved into 1-seater canoes and raced on the Bécancour River.

Tumblr kanbukai Potirothon Canoes

The Potirothon race is so awesome! Although pumpkins aren’t new to me anymore, the giant variety is. This is also the first I hear of carving the giant kind. My mind immediately went to an alternate Shire, or maybe another secondary world where humanoids of a smaller stature might want to use giant hollowed-out gourds / fruit / plants as transport. Or not even necessarily humanoids; intelligent beings of any shape or size.

Found via Good Stuff Happened Today at Tumblr.

Image via kanbukai at Tumblr.

P.S. Scandinavia and the World made a comic about Potirothon!

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

A Lego Porg

Wow – there’s now an official Lego porg.

LEGO Porg Oct 2018

“Features authentic detailing, an opening mouth and flapping wings.

“Also includes a display stand with decorative fact plaque and an extra porg mini build.

“Porg without stand stands over 7” (19cm) high.

“Display stand measures approx. 2” (6cm) high and 1” (3cm) deep, and over 4” (11cm) wide.

“Relive fun porg adventures from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

Otherwise it sounds fine and dandy, but does anyone else get an odd vibe from “fun porg adventures”—like being roasted by Chewbacca?!? The marketing department didn’t quite succeed with this particular copy.

Other than that, this almost makes me wish I’d kept my old Legos. Almost—it’s a little too specialized to use inventively in other builds.

Found via File 770.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.