Argon


I love archives. I  love the smell of old paper and the thrill of going through old documents and stumbling on a treasure trove of information. I love to look at old photographs and what they tell us about the way people lived and how they thought. And it breaks my heart when I see these wonderful pieces of our history crumbling away through the ravages of pollution, time, and damaging storage environments. An archivist once told me that one day, as he worked among the stacks of an old film collection, he could literally hear the films flaking apart all around him. He said it sounded like it was raining.

Argon is one of the noble gases. As with most noble gases, it is chemically inert and does not form bonds with other elements which makes it an ideal medium in preservation efforts because it refuses to react with any other substance. When the National Archives and Records Administration built the Charters of Freedom display for the  Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in the new rotunda at the National Archives Building in Washington DC, it built argon-filled titanium cases to display these pricelss pieces of our history.

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Helium

I pouted when I got helium. Balloons – boring. Blimps – yawn. What else could I use as an image to communicate the properties of helium? Lighter than air is tough as a visual image. So I did a little digging. Helium heads up the noble gas group on the table. It has the lowest boiling and melting points of any element. While rare on earth, it makes up 24% of the mass in our galaxy, second only to hydrogen – bingo! There’s my image. The idea that space is full of helium triggered my love of the enhanced space images from the Hubble telescope.

This close-up shows the design created by first discharging, then painting, dyeing, and embellishing what was originally a solid navy fabric. As the image grew, I loved it more and more. The last step after quilting was to throw a spangle of sparkling sequin stars across the firmament.