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“What is mathematics? It is only a systematic effort of solving puzzles posed by nature.”*…

 

unicorn-tapestry

 

In 1998, the Cloisters—the museum of medieval art in upper Manhattan—began a renovation of the room where the seven tapestries known as “The Hunt of the Unicorn” hang. The Unicorn tapestries are considered by many to be the most beautiful tapestries in existence. They are also among the great works of art of any kind. In the tapestries, richly dressed noblemen, accompanied by hunters and hounds, pursue a unicorn through forested landscapes. They find the animal, appear to kill it, and bring it back to a castle; in the last and most famous panel, “The Unicorn in Captivity,” the unicorn is shown bloody but alive, chained to a tree surrounded by a circular fence, in a field of flowers. The tapestries are twelve feet tall and up to fourteen feet wide (except for one, which is in fragments). They were woven from threads of dyed wool and silk, some of them gilded or wrapped in silver, around 1500, probably in Brussels or Liège, for an unknown person or persons, and for an unknown reason—possibly to honor a wedding. A monogram made from the letters “A” and “E” is woven into the scenery in many places; no one knows what it stands for. The tapestries’ meaning is mysterious: the unicorn was a symbol of many things in the Middle Ages, including Christianity, immortality, wisdom, lovers, marriage. For centuries, the tapestries were in the possession of the La Rochefoucauld family of France. In 1922, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., bought them for just over a million dollars, and in 1937 he gave them to the Cloisters. Their monetary value today is incalculable…

As the construction work got under way, the tapestries were rolled up and moved, in an unmarked vehicle and under conditions of high security, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which owns the Cloisters. They ended up in a windowless room in the museum’s textile department for cleaning and repair. The room has white walls and a white tiled floor with a drain running along one side. It is exceedingly clean, and looks like an operating room. It is known as the wet lab, and is situated on a basement level below the museum’s central staircase.

In the wet lab, a team of textile conservators led by a woman named Kathrin Colburn unpacked the tapestries and spread them out face down on a large table, one by one. At some point, the backs of the tapestries had been covered with linen. The backings, which protect the tapestries and help to support them when they hang on a wall, were turning brown and brittle, and had to be replaced. Using tweezers and magnifying lenses, Colburn and her team delicately removed the threads that held each backing in place. As the conservators lifted the backing away, inch by inch, they felt a growing sense of awe. The backs were almost perfect mirror images of the fronts, but the colors were different. Compared with the fronts, they were unfaded: incredibly bright, rich, and deep, more subtle and natural-looking. The backs of the tapestries had, after all, been exposed to very little sunlight in five hundred years. Nobody alive at the Met, it seems, had seen them this way…

Philippe de Montebello, the director of the museum, declared that the Unicorn tapestries must be photographed on both sides, to preserve a record of the colors and the mirror images. Colburn and her associates would soon put new backing material on them, made of cotton sateen. Once they were rehung at the Cloisters, it might be a century or more before the true colors of the tapestries would be seen again.

The manager of the photography studio at the Met is a pleasant, lively woman named Barbara Bridgers. Her goal is to make a high-resolution digital image of every work of art in the Met’s collections. The job will take at least twenty-five years; there are between two and two and a half million catalogued objects in the Met—nobody knows the exact number. (One difficulty is that there seems to be an endless quantity of scarab beetles from Egypt.) But, when it’s done and backup files are stored in an image repository somewhere else, then if an asteroid hits New York the Metropolitan Museum may survive in a digital copy.

To make a digital image of the Unicorn tapestries was one of the most difficult assignments that Bridgers had ever had. She put together a team to do it, bringing in two consultants, Scott Geffert and Howard Goldstein, and two of the Met’s photographers, Joseph Coscia, Jr., and Oi-Cheong Lee. They built a giant metal scaffolding inside the wet lab, and mounted on it a Leica digital camera, which looked down at the floor. The photographers were forbidden to touch the tapestries; Kathrin Colburn and her team laid each one down, underneath the scaffold, on a plastic sheet. Then the photographers began shooting. The camera had a narrow view; it could photograph only one three-by-three-foot section of tapestry at a time. The photographers took overlapping pictures, moving the camera on skateboard wheels on the scaffolding. Each photograph was a tile that would be used to make a complete, seamless mosaic of each tapestry…

It took two weeks to photograph the tapestries. When the job was done, every thread in every tile was crystal-clear, and the individual twisted strands that made up individual threads were often visible, too. The data for the digital images, which consisted entirely of numbers, filled more than two hundred CDs. With other, smaller works of art, Bridgers and her team had been able to load digital tiles into a computer’s hard drives and memory, and then manipulate them into a complete mosaic—into a seamless image—using Adobe Photoshop software. But with the tapestries that simply wouldn’t work. When they tried to assemble the tiles, they found that the files were too large and too complex to manage. “We had to lower the resolution of the images in order to fit them into the computers we had, and it degraded the images so much that we just didn’t think it was worth doing,” Bridgers said. Finally, they gave up. Bridgers stored the CDs on a shelf and filed the project away as an unsolved problem…

Enter Gregory and David Chudnovsky, brothers whose work was so intertwined that they considered themselves a single mathematician.  Over four months– and after 30 hours of continuous running– their self-designed supercomputer successfully performed the 7.7 quadrillion calculations needed to produce the image for the Met.

Richard Preston tells the genuinely-fascinating story: “Capturing the Unicorn.”

It was a return of sorts for Preston, who, thirteen years earlier, had profiled the brothers and their successful quest to resolve pi to a record number of decimal places: “The Mountains of Pi.”

More on the Chudnovskys here.

* Shakuntala Devi

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As we muse of the merger of art and science, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that Coca Cola was concocted in an Atlanta, Georgia backyard as a “brain tonic” that could cure hangovers, stomach aches and headaches.  The original formula included caffeine and five ounces of coca leaf (from which cocaine is derived) per gallon.  The creator, pharmacist John Pemberton, took his syrup a few doors down to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where he mixed it with carbonated water and shared it with customers.  The pharmacy began marketing it on May 8 as a patent medicine for 5¢ a glass.  It spread first through the other Jacobs outlets in Atlanta, and then around the world.

“The valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts …”

– John Pemberton

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Pemberton

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“The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders. Many Outsiders unify themselves, realize themselves as poets or saints.”*…

 

 

Gertrude Morgan

Sister Gertrude Morgan in her Everlasting Gospel Revelation Mission; some of her work, hanging behind her.  New Orleans, Louisiana, 1974

 

In a new book, Walks to the Paradise Garden, author Jonathan Williams, editor Phillip March Jones, and photographer Roger Manley gather interviews and encounters with artists they met along their road trips through the American South in the 1970s. Some of the artists they spoke with, like Sister Gertrude Morgan, would eventually be discovered by the art-world establishment, while others they met—like former mechanic Vernon Lee Burwell—continued to labor in obscurity.

Along with a deep sense of religious wonder, there is a sense of urgency to the work featured in Walks to the Paradise Garden, a compulsion to make more and more of it until it covered the walls of their homes, crowded the hallways, and spilled onto the front lawn. As Williams writes in the introduction to the book, “We’re talking about a South that is both celestial and chthonian,” pertaining to both heaven and hell. “They are often one and the same.”…

Outsider artists and their work: “Finding Jesus on the Front Yard.”

* Colin Wilson, The Outsider

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As we see through different eyes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that a different kind of “outsider” made its first appearance: Coca-Cola was first sold to the public at the soda fountain in Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.  It was formulated by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton, who mixed it in a 30-gallon brass kettle hung over a backyard fire.  Pemberton’s recipe, which survived in use until 1905, was marketed as a “brain and nerve tonic,” and contained extracts of cocaine and (caffeine-rich) kola nut. The name, using two C’s from its ingredients, was suggested by his bookkeeper Frank Robinson, whose excellent penmanship provided the famous scripted  “Coca-Cola” logo.

Pemberton’s Palace

 

Written by LW

May 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon”*…

 

 

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U.S. coffee consumption peaked around 1950, then declined dramatically– displaced, largely, by soft drinks, 8 of the top ten selling of which are loaded with caffeine…

With protagonists like Monsanto and Coca Cola, it’s a tale with which to conjure.

Read more at “The buzz(kill) about caffeine.”

* Ronald Reagan

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As we top up our cups, we might recall that it was in this date in 1896 that the first pedestrian was killed by a motor car in Great Britain.  A Benz automobile, being demonstrated on the grounds of the Crystal Place, struck Mrs. Bridgette Driscoll, who died minutes later of head injuries.  Though the driver, Arthur James Edsall, was accused of tampering with the governor (which was meant to hold the car’s top speed to 4 miles per hour) and of being distracted as he drove by conversation with the young woman who was his passenger, a Coroner’s Inquest return a verdict of accidental death.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

August 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy”*…

 

Bio-hazard!  Economic turmoil!  Mass emigration!…  How a tiny insect caused mass migration, the great French wine blight, and almost rid the world of wine forever….

 click here for larger, legible version

[TotH to 10 Zen Monkeys]

Special bonus:  “What does ancient wine taste like?

*Benjamin Franklin

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As we own up to oenophilia, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that Coca Cola was concocted in an Atlanta, Georgia backyard as a “brain tonic” that could cure hangovers, stomach aches and headaches.  The original formula included caffeine and five ounces of coca leaf (from which cocaine is derived) per gallon. The creator, pharmacist John Pemberton, took his syrup a few doors down to Jacobs’ Pharmacy, where he mixed it with carbonated water and shared it with customers. The pharmacy began marketing it on May 8 as a patent medicine for 5¢ a glass. It spread first through the other Jacobs outlets in Atlanta, and then around the world.

“The valuable tonic and nerve stimulant properties of the coca plant and cola nuts . . .”

– John Pemberton

 source

Pemberton

 source

 

Written by LW

March 29, 2014 at 1:01 am

Caution!…

More words of warning at Oddee

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As we say hello and goodbye to the Bard, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the Coca Cola Company introduced New Coke– a reformulation of the storied soft drink that was an epic fail…  that is, until the old formula was reintroduced months later and sales rose to all-time highs, leading some to speculate that New Coke wasn’t a terrible marketing blunder, but a devilishly-clever marketing ploy…

 “smoother, uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, yet bolder… a more harmonious flavor” – Roberto Goizueta, Coca Cola President (source)

Written by LW

April 23, 2012 at 1:01 am

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