An art exhibit I visited a decade ago has an influential role in the events of my story, “Diamond Tear,” now free to read at James Gunn’s Ad Astra magazine.
About ten years ago, in the early 2010s, my wife and I made our second or third visit to the Huntsville Museum of Art. While we’d lived in the Huntsville area for ten years by then, we’d only just started checking out some of the local attractions–downtown Huntsville didn’t have a lot going for it before then…
We visited on a Thursday night, when the Art Museum stays open late and admission is half price. There was an exhibit of art glass, along with works from other artists. The glass came from the studio of Stephen Rolfe Powell, born in Birmingham, Alabama, and then working out of the glass studio he’d founded at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
Powell created glass works in a handful of whimsically named styles: Whackos, Zoomers, Screamers, and…Echoes.
The museum had enclosed a portion of one gallery, leaving it dark but for overhead full spectrum lights projecting straight down onto the Echoes exhibited in the room. Echoes are glass bowls. And they are…stunning.
“Stunning” is the right word because when I stepped into that room I literally (literally literally, not figuratively literally) stopped in my tracks.
There’s an episode of the 90s SF series Babylon 5 where Kosh, the enigmatic Vorlon ambassador, brings B5‘s Commander Sheridan to a place to experience “one moment of perfect beauty.” (There All The Honor Lies, S2 E14.)
That’s what I experienced when I stepped into that room: one moment of perfect beauty.
When I came back to myself I just immersed myself in that exhibit. I don’t recall the names of the pieces I saw, and I didn’t have a camera at the time, so that experiences lives–and is savored–solely within my memory.
There are some **spoilers** for Diamond Tear just ahead, so if you haven’t already, you ought to go read the story.
At the Remembrance service, Jezendra needed to get away from the well-meaning, supportive, and sympathetic crowd, there for her and her lost husband. It can be a bit overwhelming. As I wrote this story I knew that Jez needed to briefly step away, to go somewhere quiet to catch her breath, to regain some stamina before returning to the crowd. She needed…one moment of perfect beauty.
And I had one for her.
I don’t recall if the the piece in the story, Cherry LP Cyclone, was part of that Huntsville Art Museum exhibit all those years ago, but when I went looking for images of Powell’s glass bowls, I spotted it in an art catalog. It had the colors that were deeply meaningful to Jez and Alonde: the dark red for Pluto’s moon Charon, blue for the color of Neptune that hung above Alonde’s birthplace on Triton, and white for the frozen nitrogen plains of Sputnik Planitia, where the two met, fell in love, raced together, and where Alonde all too soon set off on his solo ride with eternity.
This was such a perfect fit for the story–the experience I had at the art museum, the colors of this piece, the story that I was telling, all built on a foundation of the discoveries of the New Horizons spacecraft on its lone journey to the furthest reaches of the solar system.
Stephen Powell himself passed away unexpectedly in 2019, leaving a legacy of art and artists that will forever enrich the beauty of this world.
And perhaps, in two hundred years or so, another…