November 6, 2016

Artist Event at James Webb Space Telescope - Part 1

JWSTArt Event, Visitor Center, Sue Reno
I had the unique experience of being selected, along with a diverse group of 22 other artists from across the US, to attend the James Webb Space Telescope Artist Event at the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, MD, on 11/2/2106.  You can read about the call for artists and the event here.

I was a bit early for the meetup, and had time to look around the Visitor Center (above).  Once the group was assembled and cleared security, we were shuttled through the vast Goddard campus to the building complex housing the telescope.
JWSTArt Event, Artists entering
I had of course reviewed a lot of material about the telescope online, but it didn't come close to preparing me for how astonishing it was to see it in on site.
JWSTArt Event, First look at James Webb Space Telescope

The telescope was built in a large clean room facility.  For most of the process, the literally-gold-plated mirrors were tilted away from the viewing room.  This was a brief opportunity to see it from the ideal vantage point. Obviously, I am thrilled!
JWSTArt Event, First look at James Webb Space Telescope, Sue Reno
The telescope had just passed a critical juncture in production and testing, and the morning had been dedicated to a media event.  At 2:00, the room was transformed into a space for artists to create. The diversity of artists and artistic media represented was unparalleled in my experience. While the artists got busy recording images and impressions, and starting on artwork, we were treated to a variety of knowledgeable speakers who explained the telescope's mission and construction, and took questions.
JWSTArt Event, Expert talks
By an astonishing coincidence, two of the other attendees accepted for the event are friends of mine and also members of the PA Arts Experience.  We had applied independently, and saw notices of our acceptances as we posted them on Facebook. Here's Ophelia Chambliss with her paintings in progress.  Ophelia and I were both plein air artists at the PA Governor's Mansion in September.
JWSTArt Event, Ophelia Chambliss
Here's Jessica Lee, working on her experimental poured paint canvases:
JWSTArt Event, Jessica Lee
After the speakers, artists continued working and socializing while small groups were taken out for facility tours. I soaked in as much information as possible and took a lot of pictures. I hope they can give you some sense of the scale and complexity of operations.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 1

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 2
Below is the view through a small window of the reverse of the telescope in the clean room:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 3

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 4
This is an area for audio testing:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 5
A picture to prove I was there!
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 6, Sue Reno

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 7
A view from a cat walk:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 8

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 9

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 10

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 11

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 12
A temporary clean room space:
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 13

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 14
The thermal vacuum chamber looks like something from every science fiction book I've ever read.  The "muffin top" slides to one side so the chamber can be loaded from the other side.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 15

JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 16
It was a peak life experience for me, but for these guys it was another Wednesday afternoon in the office. It was inspiring to be around so many smart and talented people.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 17
These next images are from the centrifuge testing room.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 18
Obviously I am not trained to identify and understand everything I was able to view.  But our tour guide made a comment that put it all in perspective for me.  She said that after a particular project or test, the engineers will disassemble the equipment and store the components.  They seldom discard anything, but instead pile it up off to the side for possible reuse.  There are people there who have a mental inventory of these components, so those messy looking stacks are actually a very controlled bit of chaos.  This is exactly analogous to every artist I have ever known and every fine craftsman's workspace.  Once I realized I was touring through a giant workroom of sorts, I felt right at home.
JWSTArt Event, Facility Tour, Image 19
Back at the viewing room, we had time for further work and networking before the event closed at 5:00. Crew began arriving to prepare the the telescope to be rotated.
JWSTArt Event, End of day
This brief opportunity to view the telescope in its golden glory also drew a lot of staff to the room.  Someone set up a bright light and a box to stand on that provided just the right angle to take a selfie with your face looming large in the surface of the telescope.  This is hands down the coolest selfie I have ever taken or will take:
JWSTArt Event, mirror selfie, Sue Reno
I had a lot of information and images to share, so I've broken this experience down into two parts.  Follow through to Part 2 to see how I handled the artist endeavor aspect of my visit.

This experience will stay with me and the other artists for a long time to come, and will affect and drive my artwork in ways I'm just beginning to imagine.  Plans at this point are for an online exhibit of the work we all produce, and hopefully a physical exhibit in the spring as well.  Many, many sincere thanks to Maggie Masetti for conceiving of the event, and to everyone who worked to make it happen on such short notice.

You can follow @NASAWebb on Twitter and Instagram, and use the hashtag #JWSTArt to see updates as they happen from the artists.  Follow on Facebook at
 There's an unofficial storify at

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