Allen Memorial Art Museum opens 'Anna Von Mertens / Henrietta Leavitt: A Life Spent Looking'

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Allen Memorial Art Museum opens 'Anna Von Mertens / Henrietta Leavitt: A Life Spent Looking'
Anna Von Mertens (American, b. 1973), The Stars Fading from View on the Morning of Henrietta Leavitt’s Birth, July 4, 1868, Lancaster, Massachusetts, 2018. The Stars Returning into View on the Evening of Henrietta Leavitt’s Death, December 12, 1921, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2018. Hand-stitched cotton. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by John Seyfried.

OBERLIN, OH.- Contemporary artist Anna Von Mertens works at the intersection of art, history, and science to create textiles and drawings that encourage us to see important events and phenomena in a new light. Patterns, mapping, methods of measurement, and other sources of data are embedded in her practice. Through a rigorous process that involves both digital technology and traditional hand-quilting methods, she creates works that investigate our shared history and environment, inspiring contemplation and reflection on our place in the universe.

Henrietta Leavitt (1868–1921) was an American astronomer who studied at Oberlin College from 1885 to 1888, before leaving for Radcliffe College, from which she graduated in 1892. She worked in the Harvard College Observatory as a “computer,” studying glass plate photographs of the night sky. Her discovery of thousands of variable stars, and her observations and calculations of cycles of brightness inherent to those stars, gave astronomers the first tool to measure the distance to faraway stars. Through her work, astronomers learned that our solar system is not the center of the universe, that galaxies exist beyond our own, and that our universe is expanding. With Leavitt’s discovery, we found our place in the cosmos.

This exhibition comprises the complete works that were sparked by Anna Von Mertens’s research on Leavitt, and is a celebration of her foundational contribution to modern cosmology and the path of her discovery. The act of close looking is implicit in, and intrinsic to, the work of both women. As the city of Oberlin prepares for its own astronomical event—it will be in the path of totality for a total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024—we celebrate through Von Mertens’s efforts the pioneering work of Henrietta Leavitt, and her Oberlin connection.

This exhibition was organized by Andria Derstine John G. W. Cowles Director.

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