Letters to Mount Wilson Observatory
October 4 - December 20, 2003
An exhibition in collaboration with the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Los Angeles
The Christine Burgin Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of "No OneMay Ever Have This Knowledge Again," an exhibition of letters written toMount Wilson Observatory between the years 1915 and 1935. The letters formthe basis of an installation which also includes recently rediscoveredfootage of the day to day workings of the observatory shot for newreels inthe 1920s, as well as various observation devices in use during these years.This exhibition was conceived of and originally installed at the Museum ofJurassic Technology in Los Angeles. The material exhibited are generouslyon loan from Mount Wilson Observatory and the Carnegie Institute.
Mount Wilson observatory, located a short distance northeast of Pasadena,California, was established by the uniquely brilliant and visionaryastronomer, Dr. George Ellery Hale in the early part of the 20th century.Realizing the enormous potential of the Mount Wison site as both a stellaras well as a solar observatory, Hale enlisted the support of the CarnegieInstitution to make possible the installation of a 60-inch reflector, thelargest actively used telescope in existence at that time.
Beginning in 1905, the observatory regularly published the results of itsresearch in a number of scientific journals. Almost immediately, thisinformation began to trickle down to the lay public through the popularpress. Throughout the teens and especially after the completion of themassive 100-inch telescope in 1918, the information and images madeavailable to the public by the Observatory increased greatly. From the1920s until the beginning of World War II, fuelled by the astonishingdiscoveries made by Hale, Hubble, Michelson and their contemporaries, theobservatory received perhaps its greatest public attention. By thebeginning of the 1930s, some 20,000 people visited the observatory annuallyand tens of thousands of other followed the astronomers' progress from afar.
As early as 1911, the astronomers began receiving letters from people allaround the world -- people from all walks of life -- educated as well asuneducated. Many of the letters were simple expressions of appreciation andawe for the work that the astronomers were accomplishing. There was,however, another class of letter -- communications to the astronomers byindividuals who felt that they had information or understandings that shouldbe given to or shared with the astronomers. The information contained inthis class of letter was typically of astronomical concern. Theseindividuals had gleaned information that they wished to communicate eitherby experimentation, observation or intuition and invariably felt a strongsense of urgency in their need to communicate their observations to theobservers at Mount Wilson. The title for the exhibition is taken from aletter written by Mrs. Alice May Williams of Aukland, New Zealand to Drs.Edison Pettit, and Seth B. Nicholson of the Mount Wilson Observatory. Mrs.Williams, whose include "The climate of the moon… Can life exist on otherPlanets" and "The other live World. Heaven" writes:
"I want to tell you I am not after money & I am not a fraud. I believe Ihave some knowledge which you gentleman should have. If I die my knowledgemay die with me & no one may ever have the same knowledge again."