Sunday, April 11, 2010


"Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o'clock is a scoundrel."

Samuel Johnson

The inside of the SKY cabinet's doors also have drawings - which will seldom be seen. I forget they are there and am usually surprised when I open the doors. The cabinet will function as a bookshelf like the piece of furniture it has replaced. I am starting a collection of things for the cabinet should there come a time when it no longer needs to hold books.

There is a small drawer which has begun to collect objects that relate to the night sky -
a small box of antique buttons that have images of the moon, a beautiful star ornament from India, a copper star-shaped cookie cutter and a rock with a natural image of a star.
Presently I am producing an artist's book that will reproduce images from the doors of the cabinet paired with poems and prose by writers I know.

The drawing in the top door is a combination of the Milky Way and a group of "migrating" birds. All the birds are from the collection of the Cranbrook Science Museum.

Several years ago while on a quest with my brother John to see the Tecumseh slab, a war stick in the museum collection, I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Kelly who is in charge of the collections. In a bold moment I asked if I might be allowed to draw from specimens in the drawers of birds. Not only have I been allowed to draw but I have been allowed to check out birds the way one would check out books from a library. It is a unique opportunity for me to draw birds under the conditions that best suit my own desk, with good light, an excellent pencil sharpener at my elbow and, most important, at the times that are good for me. My studio doesn't close and is often in operation until 1:30 am.

Migration is a fascinating concept and one I hope to learn more about. The few facts that I have learned are amazing. For instance, a bird can continue to fly while half of its brain is asleep. When that half wakes up the alternate side rests.

The bottom door of the cabinet features the Eastern Screech Owl, Strigidae Megascops asio.
The specimen I drew from is in the collection of the Cranbrook Science Museum.
This small owl is very common even in urban areas. One would, however, never see so many stars in the sky over the Detroit area where I live. I have been witness to that kind of display only when camping out west. Sleeping under the stars is one of the greatest pleasures I have experienced.

The comet is in honor of Caroline Herschel, a remarkable woman who assisted her more famous brother Sir William Herschel. On her own she discovered nine comets.


"How lovely are the portals of the night, when stars come out to watch the daylight die."

Thomas Cole

Our planet, Earth, is represented here by a number of plants and animals named for stars. We seem to accept the shape of the star as having points when what we see in the heavens are just pin points of light - oblate spheroids of hot gas. The points are probably references to the emission of light and appear in very early images.

SUGAR STARFISH resting on top of a WHITE FINGER STARFISH; both are very common and belong to the family Asteriidae, with Supernova remnant, SN1987a

SUNFLOWER STARFISH, Asteriidae Pycnopodia helianthoides, with Star cluster Hodge 301.

STAR FRUIT, Averrhoa carambola, with reflection Nebula Chameleon complex.

The spice STAR ANISE, Illiceae Verium, with the Star forming region DR21.

LONG- SPINED STAR SHELL, Asteriidae Astraea phoebia, with Emission nebula NGC346

The wildflower SHOOTING STARS, Primulaceae Dadecatheon medadia , with Supermassive black hole Sagittarius A.


"In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true."


The constellation HERCULES with the Hercules beetle, Scarabaeidae Dynastes Hercules and the starburst galaxy NGC 4214.

Hercules is one of the oldest of the sky figures. It has been of importance in so many cultures that no other constellation has so many different names. We know him in mythology as the Roman half god/half man who was so strong that he was able to perform the 12 labors set for him by King Eurystheus of Mycenea. In the sky he is depicted resting on one knee with his left foot on the head of Draco, the beast he has just slain as one of the labors.

Likewise, his namesake, the Hercules beetle, is immensely strong with the ability to carry 850 times its own body weight, making it the strongest animal for its size in the world. The specimen shown in the drawing is a male of the species. The female has no horn.

The constellation SCORPIO with the emperor scorpion, Scorpionidae Pandinus imperator, and the Starburst galaxy NGC 1569.

The specimen in the drawing was given many years ago to our son Barrett by Bill Peck who found it in Egypt while excavating. Despite the large size and ominous appearance, the sting of this species is mild, so this scorpion is actually not much of a threat.

One of the odd attributes of all scorpions is their ability to fluoresce under black light. They turn greenish yellow and glow like stars.


"Observe how system into system runs,
What other planets circle other suns..."

Alexander Pope

MARS with the Elephant beetle, Scarabaeidae Megasoma mars, and the globular cluster Omega Centauri.

Red and rocky, named for the Roman god of war, Mars looms large in our imagination so it is surprising to note that it is only half the size of our own planet.
Interest in the planet is augmented by the vast number of movies and books about life there and particularly about that "life" coming here. The first movie was actually made by Thomas Edison in 1910. It lasted 4 minutes and included a scientist and a giant. It was not a documentary. Just reading the names of the movies on the list of the Mars Society of San Diego is a treat.

The panic caused by Orson Welles' radio broadcast of War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938 and the continuing belief in the events at Roswell NM in June or July of 1947 point out the deepseated fears that many people harbor regarding the possibilities of invasion from outer space.

Invasion by the Megasoma beetle that is pictured with the planet is unlikely in most neighborhoods, although it is fairly common in South America.

with the Madagascar sunset moth, Uraniidae Chrysiridia riphearia, and local universal map 2 Mass.

Uranus is a modern planet, unknown to the ancient astronomers. Using a telescope, Sir William Herschel discovered the dim, distant planet in 1781. It was eventually named for the ancient Greek god of the sky.
It is almost featureless, primarily made up of helium & hydrogen gas, a blue-green "ice-giant" with 20 known moons.

While the planet may be featureless, the day flying Uraniid moths are spectacularly beautiful and often mistaken for butterflies.

SATURN with the moth Saturniidae Eacles imperialis and the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A.

The famed rings of Saturn were first seen by Galileo through the new invention of the telescope, but they were originally misinterpreted as moons.
The image of Saturn is so beautiful that it is hard to reconcile its relation to the unrelentingly dreary reputation of the Roman god it is named for.

The Saturniidae moths have eye spots that are reminiscent of Saturn's concentric rings.


"I often think the night is more active and alive than the day."

Vincent van Gogh

The idea for the second cabinet in the Room of Curiosities was triggered by the theme year at the University of Michigan in 2009 which honored the 400th anniversary of the invention of the telescope. One of the main organizers of the exhibitions and lectures was Amy Harris, director of the Exhibit Museum where I go to draw. I met Amy when I had a show of my drawings in the building's rotunda in 2001 and am honored to call her a friend. Her enthusiasm for the year of astronomy project was infectious. It made me want to do something of my own to honor the sky.

I decided to do drawings for the doors of a cabinet using objects on earth named for something in the sky, then couple them with their astral partners. The background of each drawing, with the exception of the sun, is based on photos from the Hubble telescope.

The cabinet on which the drawings are mounted was built by Oscar Hoff, a carpenter and photographer who came highly recommended by several other artists. He suggested using ebonized walnut for a beautiful dark effect and he inlaid the many little abalone beads in the door frames that I wanted to emulate stars. When the cabinet was delivered it was one of the only times that I have not had to get accustomed to something before I liked it. I was thrilled immediately.

The following posts will document the individual drawings in the project.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


"If the sun & moon should doubt,
they'd immediately Go out."

William Blake

In ancient Egypt the sun, or solar ball, was thought to be rolled across the sky by Khepri, a self-created deity, the god of the rising sun. It did its course from east to west ending in darkness and then being recreated by the deity each morning.

The scarab beetle, while performing the very useful task of getting rid of dung, seemed to emulate Khepri when it would roll the excrement, preferably from herbivores, into balls and move it with great determination, regardless of obstacles in its path. The beetle is capable of moving 50 times its own weight, so the size of the ball compared with the beetle can be impressive.

Another connection for the beetle with Khepri and the sun is the idea of resurrection. The beetle lays her eggs in the dung balls she creates and when her eggs hatch they appear to be born spontaneously. Plutarch declared there was no female and after the male injected his semen into the dung the new beetle created itself. The hieroglyphic image of the scarab beetle translates as "to come into being" or "to transform".

The scarab beetles I have drawn are all dung-rollers in the collection of the University of Michigan. The large central black beetle is Scarabaeus sacer, the sacred scarab. The others show how wonderfully colorful and beautiful these insects can be.

The moon is portrayed with a galactic star cluster, four of its phases, American elm leaves, my hand and one of the beautiful wild silk moths, Actias luna. The luna moth lives in deciduous hardwood forests and is one of the largest moths in North America, with a wing span of about 4 1/2 ". Its name may come from the moon-like eye spots on its wings.

There is a story that goes with this image:

When I was out west acting as a cook for a field biology group, I would try to absorb as much science as I could when I wasn't chopping vegetables. I followed students and the instructor when they went out collecting and observing. At night mist-nets (which resemble badminton nets) would be set up over available water sources which lured bats. The bats would become tangled in the nets. Late at night the nets would be checked and bats would be gently removed, identified, examined and released.

One night at the Lytel Ranch in southwest corner of Utah a magnificent moth also got caught. I insisted that it be removed carefully or I might just cut it lose. Dr. Tom Tomasi of Missouri State University spent a very long time extricating the moth. When it was free he put it in my hand and told me now it was my problem.

The moth sat very still.
It was sitting still while all of the bat work was accomplished.
It remained still while we made our journey back to the campsite.

It was clear that I was not going to be able to put on my pajamas or brush my teeth while it remained in my hand. I struggled into my sleeping bag and the two of us lay there for a long time under the beautiful stars, surrounded by desert willows. Eventually I felt the most wonderful sensation. It was as if someone had breathed gently on my hand. The moth had lifted into the night air.