The Synergy of Craft and Science


Algae specimens dating back to the early 19th century.

Algae specimens dating back to the early 19th century.

A while ago I took my Victorian seaweed collection to the Herbarium at the New York Botanical Gardens to see if I could learn more about it. I met Ken Karol - a research scientist and curator specializing in algae and he kindly showed me the incredible collection of seaweed specimens that the NYBG house in the herbarium.

I noticed that a lot of early specimens were originally collected by women for their craft projects. In the 19th century it was considered improper for women to have an interest in plants because they were too sexy, but seaweed is asexual (we are talking botany here people I promise) so one's reputation could be kept intact while hunting for new types of seaweed down at the beach. It's incredible to think that at the time everything in botany was new and discoveries of unpublished types were frequent.

While I was there Ken made an offhand comment about making quilts in his spare time and this, coupled with the fact that Victorian women were actually contributing to science under the guise of craft, made me start to wonder how much crossover there is between craft and science.

The answer is - a lot!  Following are just a few examples of the extraordinary and beautiful ways people are combining science with craft.

 

Crab Nebula (supernova remnant) / quilt

Jimmy McBride – costume designer, Brooklyn, NY. 

 http://jimmymcbride.com/home.html

Jimmy has a stunning collection of space quilts made out of men’s shirts. On his website he writes a small sci-fi story to go with each one

 
© Image - Jimmy McBride

© Image - Jimmy McBride

The solar system / quilt

Ellen Harding Baker – Cedar County, Iowa, 1876

The design of Ellen’s striking and unusual quilt is based on the illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education. Ellen also had 7 children packing a lot into a short life. she died of TB at the age of 39.

www.americanhistory.si.edu

 
Courtesy of the Smithsonian - National Museum of American History

Courtesy of the Smithsonian - National Museum of American History

Human anatomy / crochet

Anne Mondro – artist, Michigan

Anne Mondro works with thin steel and copper wire which enables her to create structurally strong, yet visually and physically light forms of hearts, lungs, limbs, and even entire bodies. 

www.annemondro.com

 
© Image - Anne Mondro

© Image - Anne Mondro

Historical periods of human instability / quilt

Anna Von Mertens – artist

Anna has produced a series of quilts that uses tree ring data, correlating periods of drought to periods of human instability, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Aztec Conquest, the Black Plague, and the Anasazi migration in the 12th century.

www.annavonmertens.com

 

 

 
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