Art in focus: July/August 2020
Ellen Harding Baker, wool-fabric applique, silk embroidery
In 1876, the solar system was all the rage. Ellen Harding Baker was an astronomer – an acceptable field of interest for women in the 19th century – and was looking for a way to illustrate the then-known cosmos to her students. She took great pains to make sure that her depiction was accurate, and it took seven years to complete, but the result was this stunning hand-sewn quilt.
The sun is in the centre, and four concentric rings around it represent the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth with its moon, and Mars. The four clumps of dots beyond Mars are asteroids, which had just been discovered. Then comes Jupiter with its four moons, Saturn and its rings, Uranus with six moons and Neptune with one. The large flying object on the upper left, with its orbit around the sun, is Coggia’s Comet of 1874.
In 1847, astronomer Maria Mitchell commented that, while sewing was a bore, and a way to keep women confined to domesticity, it could also be used as an instrument of the mind: ‘The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.’ I agree. Science and art have too long been separated. Here, we have both.
Art in focus is curated by Meryl Doney
This article was published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform