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Artist Martha Glowacki is deeply interested in the history of science and in scientific equipment people have created to study movements of planets and stars, growth of plants, cycles of seasons, and other patterns in nature. When she immerses herself in old books that depict intricate scientific tools, she is captivated by evidence of the age-old human desire for understanding and controlling natural forces. She translates her research and wonder into artworks that look like relics from early scientific exploration that might have been collected by natural history museums.

Cabinet, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, 2004, wood, glass, brass, copper, bird carcasses, paper, pigments.
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For this installation, Glowacki was inspired by planetarium experiments demonstrating that birds orient themselves for migration by star positions. She created freestanding sculptures that engage Washburn Observatory visitors in discovery processes regarding bird flight, migratory flyways, and seasonal patterns and positions of stars. Glowacki's sculptural assemblages look like scientific implements used during the period when the observatory was built. The observatory site, a hill overlooking Lake Mendota, has long been a place for observation of natural phenomena, as indicated on the landscape by an ancient Woodlands Indian effigy mound in the shape of a bird in flight.

Washburn Observatory, UW Madison
Washburn Observatory, 1880 (ca.), Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID 26709.
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Starry Transit: An Installation by Martha Glowacki, presented by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, invites Washburn Observatory visitors to participate in discovery experiences that simulate some activities of historical scientific endeavor. The exhibition has been made possible by the generous support of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, with additional funds from the Endres Manufacturing Company Foundation and the Overture Foundation; The Evjue Foundation Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times; and the Art League of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Installation View, Washburn Observatory
Installation view, Martha Glowacki, Starry Transit, interior of Washburn Observatory.