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Cabinet, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, 2004, wood, glass, brass, copper, bird carcasses, paper, pigments (detail).
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Visitors to the MMoCA installation Starry Transit: An Installation by Martha Glowacki climb an interior stairway to the Washburn Observatory dome. The 1881 refractor telescope is positioned under a vaulted ceiling, which rotates and partially opens on stargazing evenings. The exhibition is composed of three freestanding sculptural components and six panels of text applied to the curved wall, readily visible during daytime and spotlighted in the dark room during evenings. At sudden intervals the room is filled with sounds of wingbeats and calls of birds in flight.

The sculpture Starry Transit appears to be an old scientific display case on a vintage wood table. It recalls a nineteenth century "cabinet of curiosities" that would have held assortments of wondrous artifacts from the natural and scientific worlds. For the interior of the case, the artist fashioned a tableau of delicately constructed constellation models and preserved bird specimens, inspired by planetarium experiments on nighttime migratory navigation. Visitors are encouraged to open three drawers that contain etched celestial maps and maps of spring and fall constellations, along with bird migration routes through the Mississippi Flyway.

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.
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Planisphere [plan i sphere] is the artist's three-dimensional translation of ancient instruments used to determine locations of stars at different latitudes. A creaky flywheel turns two discs imprinted with celestial maps, revealing changing star patterns in spring and fall.

Phenakistoscope, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Phenakistoscope, 2005, cast iron, brass, wood, paper, 57-1/2 inches high x 19 inches long x 16 inches deep.
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Another sculptural element is the artist's version of a Phenakistoscope [feen a kis toe scope], an 1830's invention that was a precursor to motion photographs devised by Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge. By turning a notched disc that has been imprinted with images of a bird in stages of flight, visitors encounter the wonders of nineteenth century experimentation with motion picture production.

Five shallow boxes on the walls contain astronomical grid maps filled with stars, printed from an 1859 document, the Academische Sternkarten, which astronomers were using during the period in which Washburn Observatory was built. Superimposed on the maps are carefully selected texts and images. A flowing band between the panels contains descriptive words from the astronomical coordinate system that indicates latitude and longitude of stars as they rise in the sky. Drawings of birds' flight physiology share space with stanzas of a poem, Snow Geese, composed for the installation by Wisconsin poet Mary Mercier. Along the top of the panels is a segment of text from an ornithologist's 1880 telescope sighting of migrating birds during an observation of the moon. In a sixth, oval panel on another wall, the skeleton of a wild goose embellishes a Passamaquoddy Indian poem.

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.
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Reflecting GlowackiÕs interest in the phenomenon of nighttime migration, bird sounds fill the room. Recorded vocalizations of night migrating birds were arranged for the exhibition by Wisconsin birdsong recordist John Feith.