Invented Futures: Chesley Bonestell and Beyond Lamont Gallery - July 6, - October 2, 2021

Welcome to the Lamont Gallery’s virtual exhibition, Invented Futures: Chesley Bonestell and Beyond. More information about the in-person exhibition and events can be found on the Lamont Gallery website.

Invented Futures: Chesley Bonestell and Beyond

“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere.” - Carl Sagan

Chesley Bonestell (1888-1986) was an enthusiastic, visionary artist and architect who imagined what space flight – and the worlds it would make accessible – would look like; would be like. Enthralled upon seeing the rings of Saturn through a telescope when he was a teenager, he began an unsurpassed artistic and intellectual journey that was a major influence on his generation. His was the first generation to have the means to understand – scientifically, structurally, and economically – how to go where no one had gone before.

The timing was auspicious. Rocket power was a burgeoning industry at the end of World War II. He had remarkable people to work with who were interested in the same questions: rocket scientists like Wernher von Braun, for instance; inquisitive science writers like Willy Ley, with whom Bonestell co-authored and illustrated a pivotal book, The Conquest of Space, in 1949. This book inspired its many readers to begin to feel the possibility of going to Space – what it would take, and what it would mean.

Right: Chesley Bonestell, Copernicus (figures on lunarscape), n.d, Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51

Today, some 70 years later, we’ve stood on the Moon -- and Mars is next. We have visited, with probes, each of the planets in our solar system, and many of their moons, at least once. With the aid of modern telescopes and technology, we have reckoned our way across billions of light years of the Cosmos. It is fascinating, decades later, to compare what Bonestell envisioned we might find with what we’ve actually discovered – not to judge where he was correct, or inaccurate, but rather to celebrate where he arrived in his imagery given the information with which he had to work. His scientific research and adroit brushwork are up to the task of his imagination and the knowledge of the time.

Chesley Bonestell, Explorers Crossing a Natural Bridge on the Moon, 1961 Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51

In addition to Chesley Bonestell’s trailblazing vision, this exhibition includes work by artists who were inspired by him. The work of contemporary artist and author Ron Miller speaks to the early influence of Mr. Bonestell, as does Miller’s professional ‘origin story.’

Indirectly, Bonestell’s influence can be seen in the multi-generational artwork by students, faculty, and staff at Exeter featured in this exhibition. Local artist and gallery staff Jennifer Benn expands space history with noteworthy herstory, such as Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova, who preceded American women into space by 20 years. Ursula Wise ’21 exhibits a portrait that salutes all women in STEM by honoring the first woman of color to travel in space, Kalpana Chawla. Science instructor John Blackwell teamed up with several of his students to create the galactic photographs that appear in this exhibition.

This exhibition originated from the collection of Jay Whipple, Class of ’51, and has been made possible through the generosity of the Whipple Family.

Wes LaFountain ‘69, Guest Curator

Right: Chesley Bonestell, Eclipse of the Sun by Earth as Seen from the Moon, 1961, Oil on board, From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51

Chesley Bonestell, Rings of Saturn Seen from a Position on the Planet, 1944 Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51
Chesley Bonestell, Sunset on the Moon, 1961 Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51

This photo of Ring Nebula, Messier 57 is by science instructor John Blackwell and his Astronomy students. It was taken with a 0.70m telescope and is a luminance, red, green, blue composite image.

M-57 is a planetary nebula, the result of a sun-like star ending its cycle by forming a white dwarf and a symmetric nebula of gasses thrown out by the star as it collapses. It is relatively compact, with well-defined boundaries, which suggests it’s a relatively young nebula. M-57 lies 2567 light-years distant from Earth.

The fascinating distribution of color in this nebula transitions from a deep red color on the barrier between its gas and the interstellar medium, into a much cooler blue color. This nebula is commonly referred to as the Ring Nebula, in recognition of the striking red color of its barrier ring.

(Photograph courtesy Grainger Observatory, PEA)

Left: Chesley Bonestell, U Sagittae, ca. 1962, Oil on canvas. From the collection of Jay Whipple ‘51

The variable binary star U Sagittae, is located in the Milky Way, within the confines of the Sagitta constellation, but not part of it. A variable star is one whose intensity fluctuates as seen from Earth, such as from one star eclipsing the other. A binary is a star system comprised of two stars, one that orbits around another, or both of which revolve around a common center. In this case, it’s the latter.

This binary star system has been studied extensively. One of the stars in this pair has been discovered to be a blue/white color; the other, having cooled and expanded, has turned into a yellowish subgiant that is passing material to the hotter, blue/white star. This binary is a little over 780 light-years away from Earth, and is reckoned to be about twice the temperature of our Sun.

Ron Miller, A Plutonian Landscape, 2020, Acrylic on board
Jennifer Benn, Virtuous Order and the Adrenaline of Chaos, Oil on canvas

Jennifer Benn likes to say that creating titles for the artworks is a lot easier when you have poets around. This title of the piece above expresses her observation that the ordered perfection projected onto the computer and the rocket it controls is belied by the chaos created by that many hands involved, and that much awesome power. Benn presents the chaos underlying and within the perceived perfection of the cold technology.

She wishes to remind us that humans, capable of designing and building rockets, space shuttles, and machines that go far beyond our Solar System, create wonder and confusion simultaneously. Her aim is to present technology, geometry and space machines as spellbinding, overwhelming to the imagination, and yet made approachable through its wonderful creation by the human hand. Chaos and order working together.

Chesley Bonestell, Moon Rocket, 1961, Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51
Chesley Bonestell, In Orbit 600 Miles Above Mars – Space Walking Astronauts Prepare Glider for Descent, 1956, Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51
Jennifer Benn, Vostok 6: Valentina, Supernova, Oil on canvas

Vostok 6: Valentina, Supernova is an homage to the first woman in Space, Valentina Tereshkova, who launched in 1963. While not a pilot (her capsule featured an automatic control system), she was an experienced parachutist – a skill even more important, as Soviet cosmonauts were required to bail out of their capsule as part of their return to Earth, ejecting at 20,000 feet during re-entry. She spent just under 3 days, solo, orbiting the Earth – longer than all American astronauts combined at that time. This composition is the artist’s dynamic rendition of Tereshkova’s spacecraft, the Vostok 6. At a time when America’s women astronauts were occupied in making their case to politicians and committees that they could be equally effective astronauts as men, this woman cosmonaut proved the point.

This photograph of the Dumbbell Nebula, Messier 27, by John Blackwell and his Astronomy students was taken with 0.70m telescope and is a luminance, red, green, blue composite image.

M-27 is a relatively young planetary nebula, the result of a sun-like star ending its cycle by forming a white dwarf and a nebula of gasses thrown out by the star as it collapses. This object is 1360 light-years distant. The photo captures the expansion of nebula effectively. In this case, there is a well-defined border between “space” and the nebula itself; we can see where the gaseous part of the nebula is colliding with the interstellar medium.*

The nebula is not expanding in a perfect spherical shape; close looking reveals that it is more oval in shape, common to an aging nebula. M-27 is located near a well-populated area of space, evidenced by the number of stars behind it. Additionally, there are traces of purple gas beginning to glow within this nebula, indicating that there is excited hydrogen present.

*Interstellar medium is the matter and radiation that exist in the space between star systems. It includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, as well as dust and cosmic rays.

(Photograph courtesy Grainger Observatory, PEA)

Chesley Bonestell, Saturn Viewed from Rhea, 1944, Mixed media. From the collection of Jay Whipple ‘51

Bonestell created the moonscape in the foreground of this painting by first creating a 3D model, photographing this model, then painting over his photograph. This painting was published in The Conquest of Space, Plate XXXIV-b, The Viking Press, 1958.

Left: Chesley Bonestell, Saturn Viewed from Dione, 1944, Oil on board. Right: Chesley Bonestell, Saturn Viewed from Mimas, 1944 Oil on board. Both from the collection of Jay Whipple ‘51

Both images above were published in Life Magazine, 29 May 1944 and The Conquest of Space, The Viking Press, 1958. (Click on the images for a larger view)

Left: Chesley Bonestell, Ice Caves, 1961, Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ‘51

Text on the back of this painting reads:

“There is a real possibility that we will discover caves of permanent ice in the many subterranean areas that volcanic action has created. Violent volcanic activity once occurred on the moon and we should not assume that the fantastically high temperatures on the sunlit moon would make impossible the existence of permanent ice.”

Ice was proven to exist on the moon by Apollo 14 in 1971, and in subsequent international space missions.

Chesley Bonestell, The Birth of Mare Imbrium, 1958 Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51

Mare Imbrium, on Earth’s Moon, is one of the largest craters in the Solar System. It was formed by a collision with a proto-planet, estimated to be approximately 155 miles (250 km) in diameter, about 4 billion years ago. Basaltic lava later filled the giant crater to form the volcanic plain we see today. It is roughly 700 miles (1127 km) across.

Chesley Bonestell, Saturn Seen from Titan, Its Largest Moon 760,000 Miles Away, 1961 Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51
Ron Miller, Saturn as Seen from Rhea, 2020, Acrylic on board

“I became aware of Bonestell's work when I was in grade school, in the early 50s. I was fascinated by all things space and sought out every example I could of the ‘good artist.’

After I graduated from art college, I tried my hand at creating my own space art. Around 1973 or thereabouts I saw an ad for two prints of Bonestell paintings. I could afford only one, so I sent off for it. I included a letter, in the hope that Bonestell might be alive. I got a reply from his manager saying that, yes, indeed, Bonestell was still with us and was glad to hear about my admiration for his work ... and that I was working on space art of my own. The manager asked me if I knew that the new National Air & Space Museum in Washington was going to have a planetarium and why didn't I ask if they needed an illustrator? So, I wrote to the museum and asked. They hadn't thought about the need for an illustrator but it sounded like a good idea. So, I got the job.

In real ways, Bonestell led directly to my career as a space artist.” - Ron Miller

This photograph of Orion Nebula, Messier 42 was taken by John Blackwell and his Astronomy students with a 0.70m telescope and is a luminance red, green, blue composite image.

M-42 appears to be an “older” nebula, as its shape is highly dispersed and deformed, indicating that it has been expanding for a very long time. It is a star-forming region comprised of a great deal of excited hydrogen gas, suggested by its glowing purple color due to the many hot, young stars within.

We can see that there is a barrier forming towards the bottom right corner of the image. This is where this nebula is colliding with the interstellar medium. Located in the constellation Orion, this is commonly referred to as the Orion Nebula. It is 1344 light-years distant.

(Photograph courtesy Grainger Observatory, PEA)

Jennifer Benn, Mercury XIII, Mixed media

The “Mercury 13” were 13 American women pilots who could have been America’s first female astronauts. All volunteers, they were selected and tested independently from NASA at essentially the same time America’s male astronauts were. The tests were conducted by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace II, the doctor who had tested the male astronauts in the NASA program. Ultimately, they tested at least as well as their male counterparts. All were pilots, many with World War II flying experience and all with over 1000 flight hours. But because they had no training as jet test pilots, from which women were excluded at the time, they were not selected to go into Space. The women astronaut program was cut in 1962.

American women were not admitted to the Space Program until 1978, and did not go to Space until 1983 – twenty years after Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova’s flight aboard Vostok 6, on June 16, 1963.

Chesley Bonestell, Assembling Mars Space Craft, 1955 Oil on board. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51
Chesley Bonestell, Saturn as Seen from Titan, n.d. Print. From the collection of Jay Whipple ’51

Jay Whipple ’51 bought and shipped the print above to his son, Jay Whipple ’75, while he was attending Phillips Exeter Academy. Mr. Whipple '51 wanted to encourage his son's interest in the scientific and artistic accomplishments of Mr. Bonestell. This print hung in young Jay's dorm room in Main Street Hall.

Ursula Wise ‘21, Interstellar, 2019, Oil on canvas

Familiar with star tracking and planetary viewing, Ursula Wise '21, who graduated from Exeter this past June, has helped with this exhibition since early spring. She wrote the labels for the three photographs that John Blackwell took with his astronomy students, among other tasks. With hopes to become an astrophysicist and maybe even an astronaut, she has been an active young woman in STEM education, the Arts, and athletics.

She painted this large, 60” x 60” piece during her Upper year and in an interview with the Exeter Bulletin she shared the following:

“Kalpana Chawla was the inspiration for this piece. She was the first Indian American woman to go into space… I wanted to paint about women in space… women in STEM are underrepresented. But women of color in STEM are even more underrepresented.”

[Engineer and NASA astronaut Kalpana Chawla (1961-2003) was one of the casualties of the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003, her second space mission.]

Thank you for viewing this virtual exhibition for Invented Futures: Chesley Bonestell and Beyond. You can learn more about this exhibition and the artists in this exhibition on the websites below.