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August 31, 2013

LV Sketchbook Page 059

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The central element of my new sketchbook page is an abstraction of the constellation Pavo. Visible from Antarctica in the austral winter, Pavo is the 44th largest constellation in the sky and contains five stars with confirmed planets. It is named for Argos of Greek mythology who was transformed into a peacock by the goddess Juno upon his death to be eternally honored as a constellation. Pavo was first depicted in a star atlas in 1603 as part of Uranometria by German celestial cartographer Johann Bayer.

In my image, Pavo is flanked by neighboring constellations Triangulus Australe (originally called Triangulus Antarcticus) on the left and Indus on the right, over which a comet passes.

The zippered border represents the lifespan of our universe with a defined beginning and end. Astrophysicists at places such as the South Pole’s IceCube Neutrino Observatory have long gathered data that adds to our knowledge about the birth and expansion of the universe. But what of its long-term stability? Recent studies of the mass of the Higgs boson subatomic particle, whose discovery was announced at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider last year, suggest that the universe may in fact be fundamentally unstable and destined for a catastrophic end.

Should this be so, there is no need for immediate concern. The termination of our cosmos is projected to take place tens of billions of years in the future, well after our own sun burns out in 4.5 billion years.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 3:30 am

July 30, 2013

LV Sketchbook Page 060

2013-07-30 LV Sketchbook Page 060-Black Hole + Hydra Const-500x333

My interest in space, time, and the ‘fabric of the cosmos’ has given rise to some new sketchbook pieces — in fabric. This image takes the skies of the southern hemisphere for its subject, depicting an abstraction of the constellation Hydra. It is the largest of the 88 modern constellations, having been listed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd century.

Hydra’s brightest star is Alphard (Alpha Hydrae), an orange giant represented by the shining orb on the right. Another of the constellation’s notable features is NGC 3314, a pair of galaxies that appear superimposed from Earth yet are separated from each other by millions of light years. NGC 3314 is pictured in the blue field on the upper left.

The centerpiece of my composition shows Hydra A, a galaxy cluster about 840 million light years from Earth. At the center of one of its galaxies lies a supermassive black hole that, while swallowing matter from its host galaxy, also generates large jets of material extending outward for hundreds of thousands of light years. These emissions, believed to be enriched by chemicals produced in galactic supernovae, contain significant amounts of iron and other elements, offering clues to where the complex chemicals that make up our world come from.

In my assemblage, the black hole is nestled securely in its galactic pocket, tethered to the fearful water-serpent.


Filed under: Sketchbook Pages — mbartalos @ 11:50 pm

June 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 056

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This item is made of two large pieces of fabric. An orange field meets a black field in what feels like waterproof material. Whatever it is, it is incomplete. At some point the orange area was cut into with pinking shears, reducing its size. The excised segment, which might have provided clues to the item’s function, was lost by the time I acquired the remaining fabric.

What could this missing section have been? I imagine it was the bottom portion of a high-visibility tent cover which, once the tent was pitched, came into contact with the frosty Antarctic terrain. When the time came to strike the tent, the bottom edge of the cover was encased in layers of ice which had built up over a week of strong gales. The shelter’s occupants had no choice but to cut the protective cover free from its mooring, which they did with pinking shears as not to dull their more essential blades. With the tent cover remnant in tow, they continued hurriedly towards their destination ahead of the next impending storm.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:35 pm

May 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 055

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I’m continuing to post items by theme that I acquired in Antarctica for my project. Having recently posted a sequence of round metal objects, I’ll be focusing on folded fabric in the coming weeks.

Most of these pieces are mysteries; remnants of larger material which in turn comprised larger objects. Marks, colors, and textures provide clues to their function, but their exact age and history are up for speculation.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:25 pm

April 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 7: Aurora Australis edited by Ernest Shackleton, 1986 Reissue

In 1908 the crew of Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition occupied themselves over the dark Antarctic winter in part by producing Aurora Australis, the first book written, printed, illustrated, and bound on the frozen continent. Printed on a letterpress and bound in wooden covers fashioned from provisions cases, less than 70 copies are believed to exist. As a result the book fell into relative obscurity until it saw reissue as a trade edition nearly eight decades later, allowing the general public to experience the text and artwork in its entirety.

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The trade edition is not a strict facsimile of the original book. Besides obviously lacking wooden boards, it has two notable additions. One is a preface by Lord [Baron] Edward Shackleton, the younger son of Sir Ernest. He comments on the original edition: “Edited by my father, painstakingly printed by [Ernest] Joyce, [Frank] Wild, and [George] Marston, and bound by [Bernard] Day in Venesta packing case boards, it has become a thing of legend. It seems that no copies were sold to the general public and with so few having been produced in the first place many Antarctic collectors have never had the opportunity even to see a copy. It contains no very important information about the success or otherwise of expedition affairs but it does show imagination, ingenuity and a surprising degree of professionalism in the difficult circumstances.”

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The other addition is a valuable introduction by John Millard, an Antarctic scholar with a special interest in Aurora Australis. From Millard we learn that Sir Ernest Shackleton, a lover of poetry and literature, took great pleasure in polar publishing. He had served as editor of The South Polar Times and The Blizzard magazines on Robert F. Scott’s Discovery Expedition of 1901-1903, and recognized the benefits of such projects to his men’s well-being, creativity, and morale.

In 1981 Millard initiated a worldwide search of all extant copies of Aurora Australis, hoping to catalog the history of each one’s ownership. “To add to the useful information of the survey I also sought any information about inscriptions, signatures or other annotations of interest to historians, bibliophiles, book collectors and book sellers. To date (Spring 1985) with the help of many correspondents, I have located 56 copies. There is also some evidence for a further number of copies as yet untraced.”

Millard collected data from auction records, booksellers’ catalogs, institutional archives, and private libraries. In the process, he learned that some of the copies vary slightly in content and arrangement. For instance there are two versions of a particular article, ‘An Ancient Manuscript’ by Shellback (Frank Wild), one in which an illustration replaces text and another in which text replaces illustration. Other variants throughout the books have to do with ink color, cover sheet placement, and missing leaves.

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Millard concludes by speculating on how the 60 or so copies were distributed: “It seems that one original intention was to sell copies of the Aurora Australis to the general public for the benefit of Expedition funds. This would have been a logical idea after the success of the facsimile editions of the South Polar Times. Margery and James Fisher, in their biography of Shackleton, suggested that this was not done because difficulties arose over the compensation to be given to Joyce, Wild, Marston & Day. A more likely reason would seem to be insufficient paper, ink, and available time to produce a sufficient quantity to make this a viable proposition. It seems likely that each member of the overwintering party received at least one copy of the book and other copies were given to friends and benefactors of the Expedition.”

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Technology has come a long way since Millard conducted his research nearly 30 years ago. An increasing number of museums and collections are posting their archives online where several presentations of Aurora Australis can already be found. Two of the more impressive showcases as of this writing are by the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Museum Victoria, Melbourne and the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. The momentum of the internet and global communication may well bring all copies online with time, enabling comparison and study with increased ease.

The “First Public Edition” of Aurora Australis was published in 1986 by Bluntisham Books and The Paradigm Press of Arlburgh, Harleston, Norfolk UK. This book itself is now out of print and relatively hard to find.


March 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 018

Antarctic Item 018-bottom+top-CC-Sat-500x253

These are two sides of the same dented lid. Its weathered surfaces suggest that it was exposed to the elements for many years. Otherwise, the lid’s story remains something of a mystery.

I’ll venture a guess, though. I imagine that the lid sealed a can of rations that Robert F. Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition took to the South Pole. Upon reaching their destination on 17 January 1912, they pitched tent and popped open the can. The lid, tossed to the side, rolled out of the shelter’s unsecured entryway onto the polar plateau. Propelled by frigid gusts, the disc raced across the ice for days, following the landscape’s contours and glaciers. Navigating the Trans-Antarctic mountain range and the Dry Valleys in a final descent towards the open sea, the lid suddenly encountered a fierce blizzard that drove it into a shallow pond, abruptly ending its voyage. For decades it hung suspended in the watery void, surrounded by microscopic creatures. The organisms on one side of the disc increasingly came to regard it as the sun, while the microbes on the other side increasingly saw it as the moon. Eventually it ceased to be an object at all; it was simply two ideas.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.

This and the last three Antarctic Items I featured were generously donated to the Long View project by “Crunch” Noring, the Marble Point camp manager. He retrieved them from the grounds of his Dry Valleys camp, home to numerous remnants from the pre-Code of Conduct era.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:20 pm

February 25, 2013

Antarctic Bookshelf 6: The Heart of the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton

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“Men go out into the void spaces of the world for various reasons. Some are actuated simply by a love of adventure, some have a keen thirst for scientific knowledge, and others again are drawn away from the trodden paths by the ‘lure of little voices,’ the mysterious fascination of the unknown. I think that in my own case it was a combination of these factors that determined me to try my fortune once again in the frozen south… The Discovery expedition [1901-1903] had brought back a great store of information, and had performed splendid service in several important branches of science. I believed that a second expedition could carry the work still further.”

These are the opening lines of The Heart of the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s chronicle of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. The Nimrod Expedition, as it is commonly called, was Shackleton’s second of four voyages to Antarctica and his first as Commander. Unlike the more famous Endurance Expedition to follow, the Nimrod endeavor was never novelized. Its descriptions remain penned solely by Shackleton and his crew who kept daily diaries throughout the journey, recording everything from scientific surveys and food consumption to their states of mind and the weather. The Heart of the Antarctic is informed by these writings, providing a thorough account of the voyage and great insight into the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

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Shackleton arranges the book in chronological order. The trip begins with its inception and funding in England, the securing of supplies in Norway, and the vessel Nimrod‘s transit to Lyttelton, New Zealand where dogs, ponies, and final provisions are brought on board. On arriving off Antarctica’s shores in January 1908, the company of fifteen men established their winter quarters at the nearest suitable landing site, Cape Royds on McMurdo Sound.

The team’s hut, a prefabricated structure measuring 627 square feet, was constructed shortly upon arrival. It included a kitchen area, darkroom, laboratory, storage section, and living space consisting of several two-person cubicles that acquired addresses such as “No. 1 Park Lane,” “The Gables,” and “The Rogue’s Retreat.” It was in the cramped quarters of the “The Rogue’s Retreat” that crew members Ernest Joyce and Frank Wild oversaw the production of Aurora Australis, the “first book ever written, printed, illustrated and bound in the Antarctic,” as Shackleton writes. (More about Aurora Australis in my next Antarctic Bookshelf post.)

heartoftheantarctic_erebusphoto-500x762

In early March 1908, six of the team members undertook the first ever ascent of Mount Erebus, the world’s southernmost active volcano. At 12,450 feet in elevation, the climb took seven days to complete. The group braved gales, injuries, and shortages, calling for resourcefulness and improvisation. “They were now very thirsty,” Shackleton writes, “but they found that if they gathered a little snow, squeezed it into a ball and placed it on the surface of a piece of rock, it melted at once almost on account of the heat of the sun and thus they obtained a makeshift drink.” Eventually five of the men attained the summit, the sixth having been incapacitated by frostbite.

At the crater’s edge, meteorological experiments were carried out, surveys were made, and geological specimens were retrieved. The photo above was taken by Douglas Mawson, the expedition’s physicist. The trek report describes the scene: “We stood on the verge of a vast abyss, and at first could see neither to the bottom nor across it on account of the huge mass of steam filling the crater and soaring aloft in a column 500 to 1000 ft. high. After a continuous loud hissing sound, lasting for some minutes, there would come from below a big dull boom, and immediately great globular masses of steam would rush upwards to swell the volume of the snow-white cloud which ever sways over the crater. This phenomenon recurred at intervals during the whole of our stay at the crater. Meanwhile, the air around us was extremely redolent of burning sulphur. Presently a pleasant northerly breeze fanned away the steam cloud, and at once the whole crater stood revealed to us in all its vast extent and depth. Mawson’s angular measurement made the depth 900 ft. and the greatest width about half a mile.”

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Erebus, however, was a light jog compared to the real work that lay ahead. (The ascent was in fact an unscheduled endeavor, proposed by Shackleton during a period of down-time “to seek some outlet for our energies that would be useful in advancing the cause of science, and the work of the expedition.”) Shackleton’s three major objectives were attempted by organizing the company into three sledging parties. The first of these, the Southern Party, set their sights on reaching the Geographic South Pole. Led by ‘The Boss’ himself, this group set off in October 1908, trekking to within 100 miles of their destination. Along the way they crossed and charted much new terrain, notably that of the Great Ice Barrier (now known as the Ross Ice Shelf), the Trans-Antarctic mountain range, the mighty Beardmore glacier which they named after their principal benefactor, and the central polar plateau. The 73-day march was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole, a feat for which Shackleton was knighted. The return voyage was no less challenging, beset by dwindling rations, severe weather conditions and the need to man-haul after losing all the ponies. Altogether the Southern Party travelled over 1,750 miles by foot and sledge.

The second team, the Northern Party, was tasked with reaching the South Magnetic Pole. The three-man group departed winter quarters in September 1908, arriving at their destination in January 1909 to claim it for the British Empire. This return hike too was marred by fatigue, food shortages and severe weather, threatening to delay them from a planned rendezvous with the vessel Nimrod which had returned from New Zealand to pick the parties up. Having missed the ship’s first pass of the shore, the group was spotted and retrieved by the vessel two days later. The Northern Party’s mission was achieved entirely by man-hauling without dogs or ponies, led by Welsh Australian geology professor T. W. Edgeworth David who Shackleton had appointed as the Nimrod expedition’s scientific director.

The third lot, the Western Party, were dispatched twice. Their first job was to plant stores along the Northern Party’s return path from the South Magnetic Pole. Their second operation was to explore the Ferrar Glacier, flowing from the plateau of Victoria Land across 35 miles (56 km) to McMurdo Sound. In doing so, they carried out a full geological survey in the Dry Valleys region and explored new expanses of Victoria Land. Their closest call occurred when they were back on the coast awaiting the Nimrod‘s arrival. The sea ice they were camping on broke loose and nearly took them out of McMurdo Sound save for a momentary brush against the shore, enabling the men to escape. After three weeks of frigid coast-side camping, they were found, rescued, and returned to New Zealand along with the rest of the company to great acclaim.

In the last pages of the book, Shackleton writes about encountering the milder latitudes once more: “That was a wonderful day to all of us. For over a year we had seen nothing but rocks, ice, snow, and sea. There had been no colour and no softness in the scenery of the Antarctic; no green growth had gladdened our eyes, no musical notes of birds had come to our ears. We had had our work, but we had been cut off from most of the lesser things that go to make life worth while. No person who has not spent a period of his life in those ‘stark and sullen solitudes that sentinel the Pole’ will understand fully what trees and flowers, sun-flecked turf and running streams mean to the soul of a man.”

I can attest to that euphoric sensation following even a scant month in Antarctica. Yet if there’s anything to match the experience of flora after the Ice, it is surely the experience of the Ice after flora. Shackleton likely agreed, for in five years’ time he was sailing for the southern continent once more, this time at the helm of the Endurance.

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The Heart of the Antarctic, Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 was first published in two volumes by William Heinemann, London, in November 1909. Heinemann also issued a three-volume deluxe edition of 300 numbered vellum-bound copies that year. This scarce set’s third volume, titled The Antarctic Book, includes Shackleton’s poem “Erebus” and Mawson’s fiction piece “Bathybia,” drawn from the pages of the expedition’s home-grown Aurora Australis. It also includes etchings by expedition artist George Marston. Significantly, this third volume features on two leaves the hand-written signatures of all fifteen shore party members; the British participants on one side and the Australian participants on the other.

Pictured in the photos above is the New Popular Edition published by Heinemann in May 1932. It condensed Shackleton’s text into a single volume, offering the book to a larger public at an affordable price.


Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf,Antarctic History and Exploration — mbartalos @ 10:37 pm

January 30, 2013

Antarctic Item 017

Antarctic Item 017-CC-500x431

This is yet another Antarctic artifact in my collection that resembles a makeshift ashtray. Its uneven cut suggests that it too was cut from a can. Unlike the previous ones however, it has no ash marks embedded in the base.

Why would this be? Well, I imagine it was fashioned by the the Nimrod Expedition as a back-up ashtray to replace their principal one should it ever be lost. The principal receptacle was slow to be lost however since it was dearly treasured by the party. As a result, the back-up became a gas tank cap for their motorcar. There it toiled until the beloved principal ashtray was finally misplaced. The back-up was ecstatic (to the extent that ashtrays can be) for it could finally show what it was cut out to be. However the team observed that by this time the back-up ashtray’s inner surface was saturated with all manners of petroleum and combustible by-products, eliminating any possibility of safe contact with live embers. In despair, the back-up released its grip on the gas tank, tossing itself into deep snow. This might have been a sad ending were it not for that it lay undisturbed for a full century, enabling it to harvest one of the more remarkably handsome coats of Antarctic rust. By the time it was unearthed in 2009, it was the envy of its oxidized peers across the continent.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:16 pm

December 23, 2012

Antarctic Bookshelf 5: Letters from a Lost Uncle by Mervyn Peake

lostuncle_cover-500x379

Several polar explorers have penned memorable firsthand accounts of their adventures; Ernest Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic and Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World come to mind as classics (both of which I’ll cover in future posts). In 1948, Letters from a Lost Uncle, written and illustrated by Mervyn Peake, took its place in the polar journey canon. Unlike Shackleton’s and Cherry-Garrard’s accounts however, Peake’s is pure fiction. It is funny and wildly imaginative, treading fairly absurd territory. Yet in bringing its characters to life and satirizing the adventure genre so well, the book carries emotion and plausibility, conveying a saga about human perseverance and triumph against all odds — the stuff that successful adventure tales are made of.

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Letters from a Lost Uncle recounts the exploits of a shipwrecked explorer through the letters he writes to his nephew in England. We read the peg-legged adventurer’s missives in typewritten form, combined with explanatory drawings to create a wonderfully messy, energetically collaged journal of dispatches. The uncle’s subservient travel companion is a large turtle-like creature called Jackson who proves to be simultaneously exasperating and indispensable. Together they navigate the polar wastelands in quest of the awesome and mythic White Lion — Emperor of the Snows.

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Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) was an English storyteller, artist, poet, and illustrator. He is known for his surreal fiction, notably his Gormenghast books, one of which earned him the Royal Society of Literature prize. He also illustrated classic writings such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark. His estate maintains a website about his works at mervynpeake.org.

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Letters from a Lost Uncle was created in 1945 and first published in 1948 by Eyre & Spottiswood Publishers Ltd. in Great Britain. Peake requested the book’s withdrawal shortly after publication due its poor printing quality. It was later reissued at a reduced price, with the original price overprinted. The newest edition, pictured here, marvelously reproduces Peake’s artwork for the first time in four colors. It was published in 2001 by Methuen Publishing Ltd. of London, which issued the book in 1977 as well.

Many thanks to my friend and world traveler Donald Fortescue for sending this entertaining yarn my way.


Filed under: Antarctic Bookshelf — mbartalos @ 10:44 pm

November 30, 2012

Antarctic Item 016

Antarctic Item 016-CC-500x376

Like the previous object, Antarctic Item 016 lends itself to functioning as an ashtray. In all likelihood, it was.

Who used it? Well, I imagine Shackleton tapping his pipe into it at Cape Royds, splitting the rim at the upper left as he strategized his march to the Pole in 1909. The crack reminded him of ruptured ice, and being a touch superstitious, he brought the ashtray along on the journey to ward off such dangers. Nevertheless, ice crevasses continually hindered his team’s progress, swallowing one of their sledge-hauling ponies and nearly two of their men. Eventually Shackleton came to regard the split ashtray as a bad luck omen, discarding it on the return trek in the Dry Valleys. It was a wise move, assuring his team safe passage from there back to Cape Royds.

Or at least that’s the way I imagine it.


Filed under: Items Reclaimed from the Ice — mbartalos @ 8:13 pm
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