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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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?

Chance to Watch Coverage of InSight’s Mars Landing

On Monday, November 26, 2018, NASA Television is bringing coverage of InSight’s Mars landing to a website or social media near you!

NASA JPL-Caltech Simulated InSight Landing on Mars

From NASA’s press release:

“NASA’s Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at approximately 3 p.m. EST Nov. 26, and viewers everywhere can watch coverage of the event live on NASA Television, the agency’s website and social media platforms.”

There are a few pre-landing broadcasts, and on the landing day, coverage will start early in the morning. The landing itself is expected to take place from 2 to 3:30 p.m. EST, with post-landing news conference to wrap up the event.

Wow, sounds incredible. Even though the cameras are “only” inside JPL Mission Control and the mission itself will be covered by audio “only”, it’s the closest I can get to experiencing touching down on another celestial object. I will have to make time for this!

Found via File 770.

Image by NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Visual Inspiration: Photovoltaic Facades

Solar power technologies are advanced enough that they are increasingly being integrated into buildings during construction, not just added onto existing ones. For example, there’s a way to make thin enough, light-weight enough, and transparent enough solar cells to embed them into windows. Some cells even have color, which makes inventive facades a definite possibility!

Below are some colorful glass facades and/or windows, some actually photovoltaic, others made from regular glass or other sun control materials, to illustrate just a few possibilities SFF creators might want to consider.

 

SwissTech Convention Center in Ecublens, Switzerland

Using dye-sensitized solar cells or DSSC (also known as Grätzel cells), the world’s first multicolored solar facade was built at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. Although the technology is 30 years old already, the building is only from 2014.

EPLF Chris Blaser Facade External

EPLF Chris Blaser Facade Internal

 

Biochemistry building at The University of Oxford in Oxford, UK

The facade is made up of glass fins that emulate the colors of the historic buildings surrounding it.

Flickr Andy Matthews UOxford Biochemistry

 

Clapham Manor Primary School in London, UK

A new wing added to an existing Victorian school. No solar glass as far as I can tell, but the combinations of solid and fritted, on one hand, and clear and colored glass, on the other, allow for some environmental control.

de Rijke Marsh Morgan Clapham-Manor-Primary_04

 

Environmental education center El Captivador in Alicante, Spain

Designed by CrystalZoo, the roof tiles of the sustainably built environmental education center flow from bright reds via oranges to yellows.

Twitter CrystalZoo El Captivador

 

Xicui entertainment complex in Beijing, China

GreenPix, a photovoltaic Zero Energy Media Wall, built for the Xicui entertainment center before the 2008 Beijing olympics, was the largest color LED display in the world at the time.

GreenPix 00_08(c)SimoneGiostra-ARUP-Ruogu

 

Gare de Perpignan in Perpignan, France

An atrium with semi-translucent photovoltaic ceiling panels plus regular colorful glass (as far as I can tell).

Wikipedia Projet_BIPV_-_Gare_TGV_de_Perpignan

 

Kuggen building, Chalmers tekniska högskola in Gothenburg, Sweden

Designed by Winngårdh Arkitektkontor for the Chalmers University of Technology, Kuggen has a movable sunscreen and six floors, each shielding the floor below.

Flickr magro_kr Chalmers Kuggen

 

At the moment, it seems that next to cost, fairly low efficiency is the biggest problem with building-integrated photovoltaics. (Although, the efficiency problem might soon be solved.) Fortunately, both are something that SFF writers can easily deal with. 🙂

Images: External EPLF facade by Chris Blaser via Flickr, internal EPLF facade by RDR_FernandoGuerra via Flickr. Biochemistry building at U of Oxford by Andy Matthews on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Clapham Manor school by Jonas Lencer / Philip Marsh Alex de Rijke via de Rijke Marsh Morgan. El Captivador by CrystalZoo on Twitter. GreenPix by Simone Giostra & Partners. Gare de Perpignan by Laurent Lacombe / Issolsa via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0). Kuggen by magro_kr on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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?

National Museums Scotland Online

National Museums Scotland have made their collections available online.

First, you can tour the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh through Google street view. Around 20,000 objects on display at the permanent galleries can be seen this way.

Google Arts National Museums Scotland Screencap

In addition, over 1,000 objects from the National Museums have been added to the Google Arts & Culture online collection. They are arranged in groups that work much like online photo albums. Clicking on an image opens a detailed view of that item with additional information.

Four separate museums form the National Museums Scotland: in Edinburgh, the National Museum of Scotland and the National War Museum, plus the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian and the National Museum of Rural Life in East Kilbride.

This is so great! I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the National Museum of Scotland in person, but that was years ago and I couldn’t get to everything I wanted to see. Now I can patch those holes in my not-quite-a-bucket-list. 🙂

Image: screencap from National Museums Scotland Google Arts & Culture webpage

Gleaned from Bodleian Libraries Workshop on Ultramarine Blue

Did you know that the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford have a Tumblr micro blog? I didn’t until just recently. And oh my, it’s a treasure trove!

Bodleian Libraries Ultramarine Young Man Blue Rock Bodl MS Elliott 287 fol34a

A short post gives a few tantalising details on lapis lazuli, the mineral that was ground down to get bright blue pigment for example for illuminating Medieval manuscripts:

“In his travels Marco Polo vividly described the cold province of Badakhshan, a prosperous land where horses that descended from Alexander’s horse Bucephalus were once bred and where priceless rubies and the finest lapis lazuli were found.

“Since ancient times lapis lazuli has been sourced in this remote region, north-east of modern Afghanistan, and exported over vast distances. Its mines on the steep Hindu Kush Mountains, above the Valley of the Kokcha River, can only be reached through a tortuous and dangerous route.

“Lapis lazuli consists of a large number of minerals, including the blue mineral lazurite, the white mineral calcite and golden specks of iron pyrites.

“A laborious process transforms this composite mineral into the pigment ultramarine; various grades of ultramarine can be obtained, from the purest extremely expensive deep blue, composed mostly of lazurite particles to the pale grey so-called ultramarine ash.”

 

Tumblr Bodleian Libraries Ultramarine Workshop Screencap

The conservators at Bodleian (Anita Chowdry, David Margulies and Marinita Stiglitz) learned how to make pigment from scratch in a two-day workshop, and shared their notes in a longer post.

Bodleian Libraries Ultramarine Detail Bodl MS Arab d98 fol1b

Both the historical process and conservators’ efforts are fascinating! Did you know, for instance, that before explosives were developed, lapis lazuli was mined with the help of large fires and cold water?

Visit the Tumblr post for more photos, and read more in the Bodleian blog post “Exploring Ultramarine”.

Found via MedievalPOC on Tumblr.

Images via Bodleian Libraries: Young man picks a blue rock, Bodleian Library, MS. Elliott 287, fol. 34a. Workshop image collage screencapped from Tumblr. Detail of Bodleian Library, MS. Arab. d. 98, fol. 1B.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

An Extant Map as Evidence of Native American Cartography

In the U.S., and indeed more widely in the Anglo-American world, Meriwether Lewis and William Clarke are known for their two-year expedition of the Louisiana territory (purchased from France in 1803) and the land beyond the “great rock mountains” in the west.

Less commonly remembered in cursory mentions is the extent of Lewis and Clarke’s interactions with local Native Americans. (Apart from Sacagawea, who is known at least in the U.S.) The whites didn’t just exchange gifts or talk about trade or clash with the local population; they received invaluable help and information (like when the expedition wintered with the Mandan people in present-day North Dakota).

Now it seems that western historians need to re-evaluate that extent.

According to The Jefferson Watch, cartographers have identified at least ten places in the journals of Lewis and Clarke where the captains talk about the maps by Native American hosts to help them figure out the lay of the land.

Christopher Steinke, at the time a graduate student at the University of New Mexico, found one of those maps at the archives of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris. It was drawn by Inquidanécharo, a chief of the Arikara (in French, Ricara), who was apparently also known as Too Né.

LudditeLabs on Twitter did some of the heavy lifting and linked to the BnF digital copy of the map:

BnF Gallica Inquidanecharo Map Missouri Valley

An article by Steinke is available at JSTOR, where this abstract comes from:

“The Bibliothèque nationale de France contains a hitherto unnoticed map attributed to Inquidanécharo, a Ricara chief. Lewis and Clark knew him as Too Né, an Arikara village leader who accompanied them upriver to the Mandan and Hidatsa villages in 1804. The map, which Too Né showed to playwright and artist William Dunlap when he visited Washington in 1806, is the most detailed surviving Indian representation of the Great Plains from this period. It invites scholars to reorient early American exploration and cartography from indigenous perspectives. Too Né interpreted his map as a work of history and cartography and situated the American explorers in the historical and religious landscape of the Arikara people.”

In “Here is My Country”, Steinke outlines some of the main features of Inquidanécharo’s map, and recounts some history surrounding it. He also lists a few other Native American maps from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

What most struck me, though, is that Native American maps seem to have contained more information than just geographical details—they also depicted cultural connections and ethnographical information.

I knew Native Americans used symbols and pictograms, and had to have—like people everywhere—a way of talking about and remembering locations outside their immediate surroundings. I had no idea, however, that Native American cartography was as polished or wide-reaching as it was (a hint for the Finnish school system), let alone that their maps might still be extant. Fascinating!

Found via bluecorncomics on Twitter.

This post has been edited to correct a typo.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

A Science-Fictional Personal Transportation Drone Is Almost a Reality

On Twitter, CNET shared a video of test flight footage of an apparently functional, autonomous passenger drone. Take a look at it here:

The model is called Ehang 184. There’s a longer test flight video on EHANG’s YouTube channel:

EHANG 184 AAV Manned Flight Tests by EHANG on YouTube

There’s been some buzz—quite understandably, too, for the drone looks pretty neat—but the vehicle doesn’t seem to have been ready for the international market quite as soon as some western news outlets have reported. It sounds like the battery life is still rather limited, too. Fortunately the limitations of the current tech do not have to restrain a science fiction writer—just think of how much cell phone batteries have improved in the last ten years alone.

My goodness, it’s exciting to be living now! 🙂

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?

Some Interesting Early Photo Portraits

I’m not a fan of the Victorian age per se, but watching Murdoch Mysteries has piqued my interest somewhat. Here are some intriguing photographs from the later 1800s to early 1900s.

From a set of unscripted photos taken in the streets of 1890s Norway by Carl Størmer, a young woman with books:

Imgur Carl Stromer Young Woman w Books 1890s
Young woman with books, photograph by Carl Størmer via Imgur (Oslo, Norway, 1890s)

All of the subjects in this set are remarkably relaxed. Love the contrast to the stiff studio portraits of the era!

(I’ve had trouble finding a more detailed source, unfortunately. Possibly Størmer’s photos are gleaned from the 2008 book 80 millioner bilder: Norsk kulturhistorisk fotografi 1855-2005 [’80 Million Pictures: Norwegian Culture-Historical Photography 1855-2005′], edited by Jonas Ekeberg and Harald Østgaard Lund.)

Finnish ladies and gentlemen on a ski trip in the 1890s:

Helsinki City Museum N252030 Hiihtoretkelaiset
Hiihtoretkeläiset ryhmäkuvassa (‘ski trip participants in a portrait’), photograph via Helsinki City Museum (Helsinki, Finland, 1890s, image number N252030, CC BY 4.0)

Judging by their attire, they are indeed ladies and gentlemen. What struck me is that, apparently, it wasn’t at all odd for the upper class to go skiing in their regular daywear.

Speaking of sports and Victorians, from 1891, here is high school dressage equestrian Selika Lazevski by Félix Nadar:

Black Female Equestrians Felix Nadar Selika Lazevski
Selika Lazevski, photograph by Félix Nadar courtesy of Ministère de la Culture, France, via Black Female Equestrians (Paris, France, 1891)

What an arresting portait!

A Victorian couple from Leeds trying not to laugh while getting their portraits done in the 1890s:

Twitter Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies Couple Trying Not to Laugh
Victorian couple trying not to laugh while getting their portraits done, photograph via Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies on Twitter (Leeds, England, 1890s)

It’s like a photo version of a blooper reel! 🙂

Two Victorian ladies making a life-sized snow lady, also from Leeds in the 1890s:

Twitter Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies Making Snow Lady
Two Victorian ladies making a snow lady, photograph via Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies on Twitter (Leeds, England, c. 1890s)

With the correct corseted posture, dress ruffles, and hairdo. Wow, ladies, what a great job!

Nellie Franklin photographed holding a parasol in Tallahassee, Florida, between 1885 and 1910:

Florida Memory Nellie Franklin with Parasol HA00227
Nellie Franklin with parasol, photograph by Alvan S. Harper via Florida Memory (State Library & Archives of Florida) (Tallahassee, Florida, between 1885 and 1910, image number HA00227, public domain)

This photo clearly references painted portraits as ancestors of photographic ones.

A young man in a wheelchair:

Yale Robert Bogdan Disability Collection Wheelchair
Young man in a wheelchair, photograph via the Robert Bogdan Disability Collection at Yale University’s Medical Historical Library

Victorians certainly loved their wheels! I wonder exactly how one would’ve operated this chair—there’s clearly a handle bar connected to the front wheel, but if grabbing it with both hands, where does the propelling force come from?

A Sami woman from Finland photographed at Ellis Island in the U.S., so presumably immigrating, around 1905-1914:

NYPL Digital Augustus Sherman Sami Woman 418041
Laplander / Sami woman from Finland, photograph by Augustus F. Sherman via New York Public Library digital collections (Ellis Island, New York, NY, c. 1905-1914, image ID 418041, public domain)

I wish the portrait hadn’t cut off at the waist; I would’ve liked to see the rest of the details of her dress (the belt looks especially interesting). I know that nowadays Sami outfits (gákti) are unique. Each is made for its wearer to reflect the personal / family history and area (and possibly the people as a whole?). I don’t know, however, how far back in time that practice goes.

Anyway. These old photos give fascinating glimpses of western life only about 100 years ago. So similar and yet so, so different.

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