Tracing Luminaries is a new print edition by Houston-based artist Erika Blumenfeld created in close collaboration with Island Press in St. Louis, MO. The project centers on the Women Computers who, beginning in the late 1800s, worked at the Harvard College Observatory with the institution's growing Astronomical Photographic Glass Plate Collection. These women brought their keen attention and passion for discovery to the task of examining and cataloguing hundreds of thousands of stars and deep space objects, revolutionizing astronomy and astrophysics in the process. In their careful examination of the glass plates, the women hand-inked their research directly onto the glassy surface of countless photographic plates, literally drawing connections across the night sky in lyrical gestures .
In an effort to digitize this collection of 500,000 glass plates to benefit time-duration astronomy research efforts, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics initiated what is known as the DASCH project, which, in the process of creating clean scans of the collection, permanently removed the women's marks from the plates. While a group of the Women Computer's marked plates were set aside for posterity, and those markings were documented photographically before being wiped off, the majority of the women's original marks no longer exist. Upon learning of this history, Blumenfeld was moved to artistically intervene. Combing photography, printmaking, and experimental conservation, Blumenfeld worked with Island Press to return the women's marks to the stars through the language of materials. Using theelement of pure gold-which is forged by the stars-and direct sun-exposed cyanotype "lightrecordings," the Tracing Luminaries prints reveal the women's drawn notations as a poetic starfieldamidst a deep blue expanse.