Strength, fragility, balance

MANCHESTER - Earth Day, 1990, at the U.N. building in New York: 40 former space travelers from six different nations gathered to take part in ceremonies to celebrate the event.

One of them was astronaut Jerry Carr, who had commanded the Skylab 4 space flight in 1973-4. Six of the former astronauts and cosmonauts were invited to address the audience. Among those was Pat Musick, Carr's wife, listening to the simultaneous translation through a headset.

As each of the six finished talking, she was struck by the commonality of the words and terms they used to describe their reaction to the view of the Earth from space. Fragile. Beauty. Sustain. Protect. Nurture. Each was struck by how a thin layer of atmosphere kept the blue-green sphere a place suitable to nurture human life.

The seed of an idea was planted, but it took 20 years to germinate, Musick said.

"I knew I wanted to do something with this artistically, but I could not come up with the images so it just stayed in the back of my brain for 20 years," she said. "Finally, four years ago. I 'saw' the first image and began to design the show."

Carr and Musick of Manchester collaborate together, from a workshop and studio in Sunderland, where they construct the pieces for shows such as "Our Fragile Home."

Now the show, "Our Fragile Home," is set to open this Saturday, May 18, as part of the first round of exhibits launching the Southern Vermont Arts Centers 2013 season. The show will be on view locally until July 14, when it will begin a tour of three other art museums in Bridgeport, Conn., Brattleboro and Worcester , Mass.

There are 41 separate elements in the show, which form parts of several distinct pieces of art. Some are sculptures, others wallhangings. One group of eight small steel tables holds layers of wood, lexan - a plastic compound - and a piece of slate, topped by alabaster shaped like a stick along with two egg shaped pieces..

The ensemble is the title centerpiece of the show, and each table is stamped with one of the main theme words of the exhibit, such as fragile, beauty, harmony, balance or steward.

The pieces trace the evolution of the Earth. The lexan represents water, out of which eventually come the biological life of Earth, represented by the eggs and twig-shaped objects.

Then there's a nine-foot long quilt, titled "Comfort," made from Japanese mulberry paper.

"I was about through with (designing) the exhibit when it suddenly struck me that all of the words and phrases were in English," Musick said. "I decided I wanted to have the words in the actual language."

Therefore the eight words were translated into their native languages and appear that way on the quilt.

Additionally, there are six other nine-foot long wallhanging panels called "Thought Streams," made from kozo paper, acrylic and beeswax, with intricate designs worked into them. Another striking piece is a 12-foot long wallhanging, also made from kozo paper, acrylic and beeswax, called "Raindrops Keep Falling on my Soul." A set of framed images known collectively as "Rain Song" rounds out the exhibit.

The theme of fragility runs through the exhibit. The Earth, Musick and Carr are saying, despite its seeming enormity and astonishing variety of human experience, productivity and endeavor, is a finely balanced organism. The interplay and counterpoint between its strength and fragility is most clearly expressed in the eight units that make up "Our Fragile Home," where the steel tables are topped by the alabaster twigs and eggs.

"It's the responsibility of all of us, every nation, every race and religion, to protect and take care of it," Musick said, summing up the theme of their exhibit. "If we don't, we'll see the end of it."


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