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New Public Art Finds Inspiration in the Anaphoric Clock

KANSAS CITY.-It is likely the largest, and most accurate, modern recreation of an anaphoric clock in the world. The Star Disk (2008), a new public art sculpture located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, was created by Kansas City artist, Laura DeAngelis with Davison Architecture + Urban Design. The new sculpture brings a creative and interactive approach to learning about science and astronomy to an urban park setting.

Measuring ten feet in diameter, the Star Disk was inspired by the ancient anaphoric clock, one of the earliest astronomical machines, and a predecessor to the astrolabe, the most widely used astronomical instrument before the invention of the telescope. The artist collaborated with internationally renowned astronomy historian James E. Morrison of Delaware, who created a unique computer program to orient the Star Disk and map the stars’ positions and constellation asterisms precisely from the perspective of the park.

Visitors to the park simply push a button to rotate the Star Disk and “set” the rotating disk to the current date and time. Once set, the Star Disk reveals the exact position of over 450 stars as they appear directly overhead. The Star Disk’s surface is covered with acid-etched drawings of fifty constellation drawings, allowing park visitors a beautiful guide to locate their favorite constellations in the sky above. At night the sculpture is illuminated with LED lights inside the base.

Careful attention to detail ensured this sculpture was scientifically correct. The meridian is accurately oriented and the horizon line corresponds to the latitude of the park at 39° 6′ North. Visitors with an understanding of the sun’s annual path can set the Star Disk to determine the time of celestial events, such as the time of sunset and sunrise.

Anaphoric Clock History The Star Disk is based on the science of the anaphoric clock which dates from before 50 BC. Such devices were particularly useful in the ancient world, especially as much folk astronomy is related to seasons defined by the rising of certain stars to define the agricultural calendar.

James E. Morrison, author of The Astrolabe, explains the profound historical influence of the anaphoric clock: “The anaphoric clock was probably not the first astronomical machine, but it was surely one of the earliest and had enduring influence as a direct precursor of the astrolabe, and possibly the most influential one. The astrolabe was by far the most widely used astronomical instrument before the invention of the telescope.

The earliest surviving description of a machine of this type is found in the writing of the Roman author and architect, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (ca. 88 - ca. 26 BC), who in de architectura [Book IX, Chap. 8, 8-15] describes a clock, a clepsydra or water clock, in this form. Fragments of similar constructions dated from the first to third century have been found in Salzburg and Grand (Vosges) in northeastern France, so such mechanisms were apparently fairly widespread among Romans...”

Public Art Transforms Downtown KC Park The Star Disk was commissioned as part of a nearly half-million dollar public art and urban design project, titled Celestial Flyways. The project successfully transformed Oppenstein Brothers Memorial Park, a pocket park in the heart of the Central Business District. Commissioned by the Art in the Loop Foundation and funded with public and private funds, the project adds to the excitement of major development and downtown revitalization, while reflecting the energy and high quality of Kansas City’s vibrant arts scene.

There are many art elements in the park. Surrounding the outer edge of the Star Disk’s drum-like base, DeAngelis installed a series of meticulous hand-carved large-scale ceramic tiles. The tiles reference Missouri native birds, plants and fish, encouraging the contemplation of nature’s impact and role in an urban setting. The artistic process was challenging and time consuming. DeAngelis used more than 3000 pounds of clay to make her ceramic tiles, and spent more than 900 hours to hand carve, hand press, and glaze the tiles. Celestial Flyways also includes fifteen stainless steel bird sculptures embedded along dyed lines in new concrete pavement. The lines reference Kansas City’s position along the Mississippi flyway, a major route for migrating birds.

The project, which included new native landscaping, paving, and seating, also incorporated two rain gardens designed as green solutions to water drainage issues-- each harness, slowly filter, and clean water runoff.

Lead Artist Laura DeAngelis, is a 1995 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute, where she currently teaches ceramics. Her large scaled figurative ceramic sculptures have been exhibited at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, Kansas City; The Stray Show, Chicago; SOFA, Chicago and New York; and by the Leslie Ferrin Gallery, Lenox, Mass. In 2004, DeAngelis completed an international artist residency at Nemzetkozi Keramica Studio in Hungary.

DeAngelis’ vision for Celestial Flyways was to address the park’s ecosystem, weaving together references to the solar system, water, flora, and fauna, a site-specific approach that reflects Kansas City’s relationship with the earth and heavens. DeAngelis’ public art draws visitors in to the park’s tranquil and aesthetic green park space, while also providing the opportunity for visitor’s to engage with interactive art that encourages creative thinking.

“I wanted to bring the absolute beauty of the natural world to a city park,” DeAngelis stated. “This installation reminds visitors to slow down enough to observe and find comfort in the eternal order of the universe and the role it plays in our own lives and all the life around us.”

As part of project, DeAngelis interviewed several architecture teams, and selected to collaborate with Davison Architecture + Urban Design. Dominique Davison, principal of the Crossroads-based firm Davison Architecture + Urban Design, worked with DeAngelis on the urban park design of the project, including managing input from a team that included Hoffman Cortes Construction, Genus Landscape Architects, Antella Consulting Engineers, SK Design Group, Inc., and Thorton Tomasetti.

The Star Disk was fabricated by A.Zahner Co. of Kansas City, and the constellation drawings were created by DeAngelis in collaboration with local artist Peregrine Honig. Astronomy and science consulting provided by James E. Morrison of Delaware.

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