The Art of Man-Made Creatures

The music is Khachaturian’s Spartacus Suite No. 2. Yuri Temirkanov and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

For thirty years, inventor Theo Jansen has created strandbeests (Dutch for “beach animals”). They are mostly PVC tubes.

As they step and slither on the flat beaches of the Netherlands, they avoid inland dunes and shy away from the sea. They have water feelers, tubes suspended inches above the flat sand, that suck in air. Once the strandbeest sucks in water, it can feel the difference — water has more resistance than air — causing it to backtrack to the sand.

They keep moving, temporarily, after the wind dies down. Wind pushes their sails, which move parts that pump air into soda bottles. This is saved for when the wind stops.

The movement starts with a loosely-jointed square, as shown in the following 50-second video. The caterpillar is different, a later invention.

Jansen’s formal education was in applied physics, and he has been an artist and writer. He visited Pasadena when NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) invited his advice on designing a Venus rover. Venus has a steady wind. It is so hot there that computers won’t work, so the JPL engineers are interested in Jansen’s creations and their sensors which are mechanical, not electronic. More here.

These seem more than mere machines. I see art, grace, and a pioneer’s vision. Jansen uses words like “evolution” and “genealogy” when writing about his strandbeests. He calls them “new forms of life.” He dreams of wild herds that will outlive him.

The Heavenly Scientific Art of Astronomer E. L. Trouvelot

Even before photography, astronomy yielded beautiful images. At the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, I popped into the library to see the universe. The exhibition is titled Radiant Beauty:  E.L. Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings. They were published in 1881 and 1882.

The title is from Trouvelot’s own words:  “No human skill can reproduce upon paper the majestic beauty and radiance of the celestial objects.”


“Mare Humorum,” above, shows the surface of the moon, both in sunlight and the darkness of the lunar night.

Trouvelot was a self-taught astronomer. He immigrated from France to Massachusetts as a young man and established a silk-producing farm. He made astronomical drawings, often in pastel, with the aid of telescopes at Harvard and the U.S. Naval Observatory, the latter the world’s largest telescope at twenty-six inches.


He travelled to see total eclipses of the sun, one in Wyoming Territory (shown above, with solar storms), and another in the South Pacific.


There is a lunar eclipse this week! This is one drawn by Trouvelot.


I love his drawing of Jupiter, above. Two white moons on the left cast shadows, one on the Great Red Spot.

These are from a published set of fifteen lithographs of his drawings. The Huntington displayed their complete set. There’s a reason it is very rare, and that’s only one thing covered in the following four-minute video, also available on YouTube:

Click here to see all fifteen lithographs in the set.

That’s the New York Public Library website. Click on each image to enlarge.

The lunar eclipse is July 27-28, 2018. Tell us about it, if you like.

I travelled halfway across the country to see the Great American Eclipse of 2017. It was amazing! I wrote a description of what I saw and heard on Facebook: