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Scanning the Mysteries of the Heavens (Ode to Mina Fleming)

Scanning the Mysteries of the Heavens (Ode to Mina Fleming)

Inspiration | Williamina Fleming
Year | 2024

Materials | Cyanotype, handmade paper, 24-carat gold leaf 15.2in frame diameter x 1.2in frame depth

This artwork was inspired by Scottish stargazer and Harvard Computer Williamina Fleming. During her career, Fleming pioneered in the classification of stellar spectra. In 1879 Williamina Fleming took her first steps towards shining her own light on the world of astronomy.

Within thirty years of what can only be described as an inauspicious start, Fleming had catalogued over 10,000 stars and had discovered 310 variable stars, 10 novae, 52 nebulae and the hot dense stars known as white dwarfs. Long after her death, when the Hubble Space Telescope unveiled the stunningly beautiful Horsehead Nebula in unprecedented detail, history had already noted that it was Williamina Fleming who had first identified the nebula’s unusual shape.

Her life was a tremendous and unique journey, Fleming left Dundee as a young woman and schoolteacher, survived a broken marriage and, at a time when a woman’s place was in the home, departed the world thousands of miles away as an astronomer at Harvard Observatory. It was a transformation from a housekeeper and maid to being the discoverer of white dwarfs and the recipient of the Astronomical Society of Mexico’s Guadalupe Almendaro medal for her discovery of new stars.

Just over a century ago, in the Harvard Observatory, a team of female star-hunters turned their eyes to a new view of the heavens – an unprecedented collection of glass photographic plates, each capturing a rash of light from the skies, many of the faint pinpricks never before seen by the human eye.

It was the start of a painstaking scientific endeavour that was to reshape our understanding of the cosmos – from the discovery of stars that orbit each other like wary dogs, to a grasp of the breathtaking vastness of the universe. But if the ramifications were extraordinary, so too were the researchers. At a time when men dominated not only astronomy but every branch of science, these industrious star-hunters were women and named ‘The Harvard Computers.” This piece of art pays homage to the original member of The Harvard Computers.

Scanning The Mysteries Of The Heavens (Ode To Mina Fleming) was created by constructing a hand-cut

collage using female photographic portraiture, photograms from antique glass slides of interstellar clouds, a horsehead nebula and hand-printed surface textures of lunar craters.

After coating the handmade paper with light-sensitive chemistry, it is left to dry in a dark room. The large scale negative is contact printed onto the paper by exposure to daylight (UV rays). The print is then processed by thoroughly washing in water to remove any unexposed solution. It can then be hung to dry, developing to full density Prussian blue after 24 hours. Once the image is fixed, the piece is hand finished with 24-carat gold leaf.


Framed: 15.2in frame diameter x 1.2in frame depth


Handmade recycled cotton rag paper:
150gsm / 100% Cotton Rag / Recycled / Acid Free / Medium Rough


We use float mounting for all of our framed cyanotypes. The artwork floats above a snow-white 8001 mount board, to showcase the paper texture and deckled edging.


Framed artwork will arrive ready to hang.
Each frame is handmade by our London based design team.

All frames come with gallery spec, 3mm thick Artglass AR70 / 2mm anti-reflective/ 79% UV protected glazing as standard.

If clients would like a bespoke frame, please let me know as I can have them made in alternative colours, gilding and glazing options.

Regular price $1,050.00
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