Monthly Archives: April 2010

Out of This World

Out of This World

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“Grissom and Young” (1965), by Norman Rockwell. (click for larger version)




April 29, 2010

NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration
By James Dean and Bertram Ulrich
Abrams, 176 pages, $40.

Few spectacles are more spine-tingling than a rocket illuminated by floodlights at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) the night before a launch. The drama is gloriously captured in “T-Minus 3 Hours 30 Minutes and Counting,” Jamie Wyeth’s magnificent watercolor rendering of a Saturn V rocket bathed in searchlight beams hours before blasting the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon. Wyeth began his sketch of the 363-foot-tall Saturn V just before dawn, finishing the painting less than an hour before liftoff. The image is among more than 150 paintings, drawings, and an occasional odd sculpture in NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration.

In 1962, NASA administrator James Webb thought it wise to document the space agency’s history through a wider spectrum of art than simple portraits. Webb appointed NASA employee and artist James Dean to take charge of the project. A year later, the agency asked the National Gallery of Art to recruit eight artists to commemorate the final Mercury mission. Seven artists were assigned to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral; another was waiting on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean to depict the recovery of astronaut Gordon Cooper. Initially, the artists were confined to designated locations, but NASA soon allowed them unfettered access to the KSC grounds. Artists were given no guidelines; they were allowed to focus on any person or object. The only requirement was that every drawing sketched on site, regardless of how insignificant, be added to the NASA archive. NASA reasoned that “on-the-spot sketches often have an impact and immediacy which finished works of art lack.”

Norman Rockwell contributed the stirring “Behind Apollo 11,” which captured the Apollo 11 crew, the astronauts’ wives, Wernher von Braun, and other NASA personnel staring into the distance, their faces illuminated by what is presumably the Moon. James Dean captured a field of blossoms with a space shuttle on the launch pad in the distance. Others focused on the fiery explosions of liftoff. Depictions of space shuttles launched in daylight and at night offer fascinating contrast. The local tourism boom is reflected in sketches of the Satellite Motel and the Moon Hut Diner, where patrons chowed on Moon Burgers. (A replica of Earth in front of the motel features a pair of UFOs orbiting the planet.) William Wegman posed his famous Weimaraners in spacesuits. In Andy Warhol’s depiction of the first moon landing, Buzz Aldrin is wearing a neon pink spacesuit.

NASA | ART includes a brief history of America’s role in space exploration, including a foreword written by Apollo 11 pilot Michael Collins. Text accompanying each work often tells the story behind its creation. It is fitting that science fiction writer Ray Bradbury closes the book with a handful of thoughts pondering the universe: “Without us human beings, without NASA, the Universe would be unseen, unknown, untouched. A mindless abyss of stars ask to be discovered.”

Through June 27, a corresponding exhibition at The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi, features 72 works from “NASA | ART: 50 Years of Exploration” as part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The museum is located at 565 North 5th Avenue, Laurel, Mississippi. Details: (606) 649-6374;


“Gemini Launch Pad” (1964), by James Wyeth (click for larger version)










“Sunrise Suit-up” (1988), by Martin Hoffman (click for larger version)









“Titan” (2006), by Daniel Zeller (click for larger version)

Let Freedom Ride, and Ring

Let Freedom Ride, and Ring

A Freedom Ride passenger, still overcome by shock and smoke, remains near the burning bus near Anniston. (Photograph by Joseph Postiglione, courtesy Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.) (click for larger version)



April 28, 2011

In May of 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality, a civil rights organization, sponsored buses carrying interracial passengers on journeys into the South to determine if Southern states were complying with federal interstate transportation laws (earlier Supreme Court decisions ordered the desegregation of interstate travel facilities). Dubbed the Freedom Riders, the trips met with opposition in South Carolina and Georgia, but it was Alabama where the resistance turned particularly violent, with passengers beaten by segregationists in both Birmingham and Anniston. The images of brutality propelled our state into notoriety as a primary battleground where black Americans sought equal rights.

More than 400 black and white Americans suffered violent threats and beatings on their forays into the Deep South during a six-month stretch of southbound journeys. Award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Wounded Knee; Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple; The Murder of Emmett Till) has filmed a documentary called Freedom Riders, which includes interviews with the brave riders as well as comments from government officials and reporters from that era. Nelson’s documentary is based on Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. The documentary will premier nationally on PBS as part of the “American Experience” series on Monday, May 16. For more information, visit:

Other events occurring in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders include an exhibit of photographs taken by Anniston Star reporter Joseph Postiglione of the beatings that took place in Anniston. That exhibit will run through May 22 at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (520 16th Street North) in the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery. Details: 328-9696; In addition, 40 students from 33 states, China, and Tajikistan will participate in the 2011 Student Freedom Ride—a re-creation of the Freedom Riders’ expeditions. &



Alabama’s Sight Savers America is on a mission to spread the gift of sight to the nation’s disadvantaged children.

April 15, 2010

No less an authority than Dr. Lanning B. Kline, chairman of the Eyesight Foundation of Alabama and a UAB Department of Ophthalmology professor, refers to Jeff Haddox as a “visionary.” Haddox, founder and CEO of Sight Savers America, is determined that every child in Alabama have access to affordable vision treatment. Haddox had told Kline of his dream to one day dispatch a mobile vision-testing lab throughout the poverty-plagued Black Belt region of central Alabama to conduct one-day eye examination clinics for underserved children who have little or no access to eyecare. Kline was initially skeptical, assuming that many families would not follow through on addressing a child’s poor eyesight due to financial constraints or a lack of vision specialists in the region. He soon learned that Haddox planned a more comprehensive solution. “Haddox was closing the loop by not only providing the eye exams but also free eyeglasses at the same time. His staff would then follow up every year to make sure the children were getting the care they need,” Kline wrote in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology newsletter Vision.

Sight Savers America founder Jeff Haddox delivers an assistive device to a young girl with vision problems whose family could not otherwise afford such a solution. “I realized that poor vision was adversely affecting tens of thousands of children in our state each year.” (click for larger version)


Originally established as Sight Savers of Alabama, the Pelham-based nonprofit organization served 11 children in 1997, their first year of operation. In 2008, the group branched into Mississippi, prompting the name change to Sight Savers America. In 2010, the organization will serve 30,000 children in Alabama as well as 5,000 in Mississippi, with a staff of 22 case workers. Their staff totals 30, with an additional 350 volunteers.

Before he started Sight Savers, Haddox studied eye diseases. “I had worked for over 20 years doing eye research through grants from the National Eye Institute,” Haddox says. “I realized that poor vision was adversely affecting tens of thousands of children in our state each year. This was largely the result of poor public awareness about the importance of eye care in young children and the inability of children to recognize and articulate their vision needs.”

According to Haddox, many parents are unaware that children should see an eye doctor by age four; some vision problems can be corrected if they are addressed at an early age. Sight Savers offers children from low-income families the opportunity for corrective eyecare. “If they’re low income, then those children are sent to doctors who are in our network, who will give free examinations and a free pair of glasses,” Haddox explains. “If we aren’t able to find a free eye exam or a free pair of glasses, then we pay for it. That happens about 15 percent of the time. We have over 400 optometrists and ophthalmologists in the state of Alabama on our network, and many of them give us a few free eye exams a month. We might have to send a doctor four patients one month, so we would pay for the fourth one.” (The organization is funded by the State of Alabama and private donations.)

Sight Savers began a partnership with the Alabama Department of Education in 2003, implementing the first program in the state dedicated to comprehensive follow-up of individual children with vision problems. Those in kindergarten, second, and fourth grades are vision-screened through the public schools. Each visually impaired student is assigned a Sight Savers case worker who schedules eyecare appointments, makes reminder phone calls, and arranges transportation, if needed. Each case is then added to a database, allowing Sight Savers America and the state to track students’ vision problems and accompanying treatment.

Haddox has also found that many parents of legally blind children are not aware of the current vision technology available. “Children who are legally blind can actually see, but their vision is very, very poor. They might be standing in a room and be looking at two or three people, and they can see that there are people there, but they can’t necessarily distinguish whether they’re male or female, or which person is which. We identify these children (whose families can’t afford expensive vision aids) and we purchase assistive technology for them. That can be anything from a hand-held magnifier to a closed-circuit magnifier called a CCTV. That machine is the gold standard for what we do.”

A CCTV is a device that includes a monitor with either a hand-held camera or camera mounted above a viewing area that allows an object, photo, or page from a book to be magnified up to 75 times. The machines cost as much as $2,500. “The CCTVs really change these children’s lives, from not being able to read any kind of print to being able to put any book or magazine under the camera,” Haddox says. “A girl putting her make-up on can point the camera at her face and she can apply her own make-up for the first time. Or to see a child who takes that device and points it at their mother and sees the details of their mother’s face that they usually can’t. One little girl put her puppy under there, she’d never seen his face.” &

For additional details, visit Donations are also accepted via links at the site.

Indy Racing Arrives

Indy Racing Arrives

April 01, 2010
In the South, any automobile-related competitive sports other than stock car racing are foreign concepts. Alabama is home to Talladega Superspeedway, the largest, fastest oval racetrack in the world. Open-cockpit, open-wheel Indianapolis 500-style “Indy” racing is a sport usually associated with the upper crust, wine-and-cheese crowd that worships drivers with names most Alabamians can’t pronounce.

(click for larger version)



Thanks to local tycoon George Barber, however, racing sophistication is finally coming to the state. Stock car fans can get a view of the faster, technologically superior Indy cars in action at the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park the weekend of April 9 through 11. The Barber track has been praised as one of the most challenging—and aesthetically appealing—racetracks in the world. Manicured shrubbery and surreal metal sculptures of giant insects are scattered throughout the pristine acreage that Barber has boasted is “the Augusta of racetracks.” During pre-season test sessions preparing for the Barber race, however, Indy car drivers complained that there are few areas on the track for passing slower cars, which can make for a dull afternoon. The drivers all agree, though, that the park is one gorgeous place.

Indycar star and pin-up girl Danica Patrick will be in the lineup, and Taylor Hicks will sing the national anthem the day of the race. Single-day tickets range from $15 to $50. Basic weekend passes are $70. Visit for more information. &