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Art Scouting: The Night Sky

May 3, 2013

by Abbey Nova handmade and vintage goods

Abbey Nova lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband and toddler son. She has a master’s degree in the History of Decorative Arts and Design and has worked for museums all over the city, in addition to publishing  on topics ranging from nineteenth-century silversmiths to the artists of the Studio Craft Movement. Her blog, designscouting, explores the role design plays in our daily lives.

The heavens are having a moment. From cosmic trends on the runways to blogosphere DIYs, stars are everywhere. NASA’s decision to make the Hubble Telescope images free online has put thousands of otherwordly and awe-inspiring images of space into the public domain. Every week, there are space-related headlines splashed all over the news (Alien Planets! Super Earth! Pluto isn’t a planet! The end of The Space Program!). But why this intensity around all things celestial?



An original painting of the starry sky.

The simplest answer might be that humans have always looked to the stars. Our earliest recorded histories bear witness to our fascination and superstitions around the night sky. Artists, scientists and philosophers have long struggled to make sense of the cosmos, both seen and unseen. Observation with the naked eye revealed the steady progress of constellations across the sky and matched the progress of the seasons. From these observations sprung artistic and scientific ideas, both religious and secular, about the order of the universe.



Detail of an 1871 celestial constellation map,

Accordingly, fine art and designed objects of all kinds, from Egyptian pyramids to antique star charts to nineteenth-century furniture, reflect the intersections of art and astronomy. One of my favorite objects at the Metropolitan Museum is particularly appropriate example: a rosewood table made for William Henry Vanderbilt in 1882 by the New York firm Herter Brothers. The tabletop, inlaid with mother-of-pearl and brass stars, depicts the northern heavens on the night of Vanderbilt’s birth in 1821. The table communicated Vanderiblt’s wealth and power through superb craftsmanship, expensive materials and the incorporation of the cosmos itself. And lest we think that there is no room for art in the scientific world of the 21st century, even the lauded photographs from the Hubble telescope have been manipulated to be aesthetically pleasing, providing yet another intersection with art in the ongoing visual history of science.

The makers of Etsy aren’t immune to the siren song of the cosmos. As the paintings, prints and photographs featured below show, our collective celestial obsession continues. As I look through this collection of art, it strikes me that our interest in the stars is at its essence profoundly hopeful. Even here in New York City, where the light pollution makes it all but impossible to see the stars, we still clamber to rooftops to wonder at the beauty of the night sky.

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1 Featured Comment

  • PennyBirchWilliams

    Penny Birch-Williams from PennyBirchWilliams said 6 years ago Featured

    How can you look at the stars at night without wondering about the grand scheme of things, about our place in the Universe? It's like a curtain is pulled aside and a window opens when the blue sky fades into the blackness of space. During the day we seem to be in a blue bubble, our little part of the earth feels like all there is. But at night we see and feel how we are actually so very small, floating in the vast sea of space among infinite stars. Humankind has gazed and wondered and imagined throughout history, and now with technology we are discovering the reality of the stars is even more spectacular than we imagined. Art allows us to bring a bit of the wonder into our homes....Thanks for sharing the lovely collection.


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