Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Finding the Knotty Bits

I hope you can forgive that title--the Washington Post essayist couldn't select between three punning titles for this article on knots in Washington-Baltimore area museums: In the Loop: What Goes Around Comes Around, All Tied Up in Knots By Paul Richard Special to The Washington Post, Monday, March 19, 2007; Page C01. Eight years after leaving their local delivery area, I still miss my hard copy of the Post. Their RSS feeds are working better, and I have broadband now, so I can follow the news on line, but this is the sort of article I used to cut out and paste in my journal. I could have used this wonderful article as a guide on where to visit distinguished knots in area museums.

The Cone sisters of Baltimore, though better known for buying Picassos and Matisses, also brought together the 400-piece collection of Belgian, Parisian and old Venetian lace at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

....At the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, ornately knotted necklaces are draped around the necks of Chinese bodhisattvas. The Japanese tied knots shaped like turtles and like cranes. By how he tied his knots the tea master kept track of whether his containers were full of tea or empty. You can't rightly show a hanging scroll unless you have been taught how to tie the proper knots.

There's a great knot from the Renaissance in the National Gallery of Art. "The Sixth Knot" is a woodcut printed from a block that Durer cut in Venice or in Nuremberg 500 years ago.

Richard also rhapsodizes about knots in books, from the Book of Kells to The Ashley Book of Knots

Bookcover: Ashley Book of Knots

Published in 1944 and still in print, the "Ashley" is a marvel. Its thousands of line drawings are so clear in execution, so mentally demanding, so full of lore and learning and intricate ideas, you would have to say that they qualify as a major piece of early American conceptual art.

Clifford W. Ashley was born in 1881 in New Bedford, Mass., as in "Moby-Dick." Young Ashley served what he would call his "apprenticeship in knots" aboard the whaling bark Sunbeam, "probably the last merchant square-rigger to put to sea with hemp standing rigging." Then he turned to art. He went to school with N.C. Wyeth, studied with Howard Pyle and earned his living painting swashbuckling illustrations (he always got the rigging right) of hard men out at sea.

But then he got consumed by knots.

In the 619 pages of "The Ashley Book of Knots," each knot gets a paragraph, a number and a how-to drawing. Some specialists contend his book has duplications, but I have yet to find them. His black-and-white line drawings number 3,854.

Richard winds up with some interesting mathematical implications of knots, including topics discussed in the annual "Knots in Washington", a conference held every year since 1995 at the George Washington University, and a pdf file of a crocheted Lorenz manifold.

As an additional treat, Richard passes along this link, to the KnotPlot site, where you will find a collection of knots and links, viewed from a (mostly) mathematical perspective. Nearly all of the images here were created with KnotPlot, a fairly elaborate program to visualize and manipulate mathematical knots in three and four dimensions. You can download KnotPlot and try it on your computer (see the link below), but first you may want to look at some of the images in the picture gallery.

No comments: