In 2011 Professor Brian P. Schmidt was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics (with Professor Saul Perlmutter and Professor Adam G. Reiss) “for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observation of distant supernovae”. Soon after I received a phone call from the Master, University House, ANU asking me to weave a tapestry to celebrate the award and add to their collection of four tapestries I have previously woven marking the achievements of the university’s most recognised scientists.
My first meeting with Brian Schmidt was in his office at the top of Mount Stromlo where the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Observatory is located, just outside of Canberra. We discussed his work and I tried to learn about the complexity of his project, what was important to him and what the tapestry image should project. It was an awkward meeting as I felt out of my depth in the physics and astronomy realm and Brian commented that he did not know anything about tapestry. I reassured him that he did not need to be familiar with tapestry – I needed to understand his work. He gave me over 300 pages of his PowerPoint and I took this back to the studio to absorb. There were many pages of text, diagrams, charts and an occasional picture of scientists doing funny things, but no visual material I could work with. I tried to work creatively with the ideas we had discussed but felt the results were disappointing and unconvincing so I set up another meeting. This time I went armed with a set of questions and the answer to each had to be an image.
VK “Is there an image that sums up your project?”
BS “Yes”, he turns to the computer and brings up an image of the universe from the Hubble telescope.
VK “Was there an image where you knew you were on to something – an ah-ha moment?”
BS “Yes”, more searching on the computer to locate 4 images of his first discovery, Supernova 1995k.
After more questions and image answers I was satisfied that I had enough material to work with and returned to the design process.
The final image incorporates an ultra-deep-field, high-resolution digital image of the cosmos which was printed out to scale for the tapestry cartoon. This has a red grid superimposed to represent the advancement in digital photography which was vital to the discoveries. An area of coloured squares drawn in watercolour reflects the light colours in the picture of the universe and has the key images of Supernova 1995k embedded in it. At the bottom right there is a sliver of the earth with equations capturing the thinking that goes on in Brian’s head.
The tapestry was woven (on its side for technical reasons) over a three month period. The complexity and depth of the cosmos is achieved by plying up to 12 strands of weft together to mix colours and a black novelty yarn with tiny flecks of colour was added in to create the illusion of infinite space.
Professor Brian Schmidt unveiled the tapestry on 14 June 2013 saying in his speech that if he was to conjure up an image in his mind to represent his work, this would be it.
Valerie Kirk 2013