Skip to content

Artistic Approach        

Cabinet, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, 2004, wood, glass, brass, copper, bird carcasses, paper, pigments.
Show a larger view of this picture

Martha Glowacki is interested in illuminating ways that artists synthesize information as they create works of art. When viewers encounter her sculptures, which distill information from such fields as astronomy, metallurgy, zoology, or anthropology, they undergo a process of linking and connecting not unlike that of a scientist and of an artist herself. While it often appears that Glowacki has grouped together actual ancient scientific instruments, she in fact uses artistic techniques of woodworking, metalworking, etching, painting and taxidermy to create assemblages that have the look of antique objects. She collects old metal pieces (cast iron, bronze, brass) and old furniture parts from flea markets, along with objects from nature such as bones, branches, and plant parts. She manipulates and joins them using techniques that deliberately blur lines between what is found and what is fabricated.

Glowacki happily discovered a nineteenth century wood and glass display case in an antique store, and placed it atop a specially constructed mahogany table with three drawers to create a kind of cabinet of curiosities, Starry Transit. Using her lathe she fashioned wood columns, onto which she attached soldered armatures and tiny wooden balls, for a tableau of eight star constellations. Etched copper banners naming the constellations simulate taxonomic labels in eighteenth century botanical drawings. Glowacki also used etching skills to reproduce celestial maps from images in nineteenth century astronomical atlases.

Planisphere, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Planisphere for Washburn Observatory, 2005, cast iron, cast bronze, brass, wood, paper, 49-1/2 inches high x 40 inches long x 15 inches deep.
[ View More Images ]
Show a larger view of this picture

Glowacki constructed Planisphere from various found objects and specially built metal parts. Onto an old sewing machine table she attached curving bronze armatures, for which she had designed molds that were cast at a foundry. The armatures were joined to two moveable discs imprinted with maps of spring and autumn skies drawn from an 1865 Black's Atlas. Attached to the discs are curving metal strips that reveal only the part of the sky map visible at a selected point in time. Visitors may turn a large, creaking flywheel attached to an elaborate gearing mechanism, revealing stars that are visible during different months in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

The artist created her version of a Phenakistoscope, an 1830's invention, using a notched disc she imprinted with images of a bird in various stages of flight. She attached it to a rod on which it spins in front of a mirror. Viewed from behind, through slits in the disc, the bird in the mirror appears to be flapping its wings in flight.

Natural Philosophies, Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Natural Philosophies, 2005, five panels, each 39 inches high x 23-1/2 inches long x 3-1/4 inches deep, wood, paper, copper, brass, pigments, bird bones.
Show a larger view of this picture

Glowacki employed her computer and photo process skills in creating an assemblage of images and text for Natural Philosophies, five shallow boxes containing large-scale giclee (laser) prints that hang on the observatory wall. Astronomical grid maps from the 1859 Academische Sternkarten were superimposed with segments of text representing different ways humans annotate their observations of nature, including descriptions of star positions as they rise in the sky, drawings of bird flight physiology, stanzas of a poem composed by Mary Mercier for the installation, and segments of text from an ornithologist's accidental telescope sighting of migrating birds during an 1880 observation of the moon.

Washburn Observatory, UW Madison
Washburn Observatory, 1880 (ca.), Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID 26709.
Show a larger view of this picture

Martha Glowacki uses artistry to interpret her fascination with natural history models and collections, as well as to share with art audiences the joy of discovery. She takes pleasure in collaborating with other artists and professionals who have skills that extend her knowledge and inventiveness. For Starry Transit, Glawacki engaged the expertise of James Lattis, University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Astronomy; Ken Frazier, Robin Rider, Elsa Althen and Sandra Paske, University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries; Michael Edmund, Wisconsin Historical Society; Wisconsin poet Mary Mercier; sound engineer John Feith, graphic designer John Huston, photographer Eric Ferguson, metalsmith Tom Pankratz, cabinetmaker Dietmar Olesch, and taxidermist Richard Berndt.