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From the Studio to the Smithsonian

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Glass artist and UW professor Mark Zirpel spends much of his time creating art. But for two months in 2013, he will immerse himself in existing art rather than creating new work, as a recipient of a research fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution.

Mark Zirpel

Mark Zirpel demonstrates lamp working, a technique in which a torch is used to manipulate glass, during HuskyFest 2012. Media credit: Jacob Lambert

Zirpel, assistant professor of art and the Dale Chihuly Endowed Chair in Glass, is one of 15 visual artists from the U.S. and abroad chosen for a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship. As a fellow, he will spend April and May 2013 in Washington, DC, studying the Smithsonian’s collections of scientific apparati related to observation and measurement, time keeping, terrestrial and celestial navigation, electricity, and magnetism.

“My work often has an art-science bridge,” explains Zirpel. “This is an opportunity to run through the museum’s collection for a couple of months.” 

Zirpel is particularly interested in orreries, which are models that illustrate the relative positions and rotations of planets and moons in our solar system. He looks forward to studying orreries in the Smithsonian collection.

“I’ve been making solar-powered orreries of my own design, but I’ve never seen real ones,” says Zirpel. “I like to make things where I don’t see the solution until I’ve worked on solving the problem myself.” 

The one downside of the fellowship for Zirpel? Being away from his studio. “The challenge will be not to make anything for those two months,” he says.