In 1985 Ellery Kurtz and Howard Wishnow founded Vertical Horizons. Its mission purpose lay in the belief that items of cultural value would play an important role when manned, long-term space flight became a reality. The centuries old traditional media of oil painted on canvas seemed a perfect marriage with the futuristic idea of manned space travel. We therefore felt it fitting that oil paintings be used for this first extra-terrestrial conservation experiment.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (N.A.S.A.) was contacted to discuss the possibilities and a short time later a proposal to participate in N.A.S.A.’s Get Away Special (G.A.S.) program was submitted and accepted.
The idea of art going into space intrigued the press and the story was referenced in several newspaper articles:
“Ellery Kurtz paintings will orbit Earth”, Art People, The New York Times, Friday, November 22, 1985, p.c28 Weekend section
“Canvases on the Columbia”, Arts Beat, The Washington Post, Monday, November 25, 1985, p. C7 The Arts/Leisure
“Spaced – Out Artwork Adds Allure to Flights of NASA’s Shuttles, The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, December 10,1985, p.1 & p. 15
The Vertical Horizons experiment represents an initial investigation into the transportation of fine arts materials aboard a Space Shuttle. Within the confines of a G.A.S. canister, artist quality fine arts materials were packaged and exposed to the rigors of space flight in an attempt to identify factors which may have an adverse effect.
Currently, little experimentation has been done in assessing transportation hazards of fine arts materials aboard a Space Shuttle. This initial experiment will provide a foundation upon which additional data may be compiled in order to safely transport objects of visual art into space.
Our intention was to identify any accelerated degradation in the experimental samples caused by the cumulative effects of vibration, extreme temperature changes, zero gravity and G-force stress resulting from Space Shuttle flight.
When fine arts materials are transported in the method adhered to in this experiment, no sign of degradation is apparent. We may therefore conclude that fine arts materials can be transported for limited periods of time into space and returned safely.
Several companies donated materials to the experiment. Artist supply manufacturers Winsor & NewtonTM donated artist oil paints and medium; Martin/F. Weber art manufacturer donated artist oil paint and the Onset Computer Corporation in Massachusetts loaned a “TattletaleTM thermograph to record the extreme temperatures within the G.A.S. canister loaded into the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Columbia for the STS-61 (Space Transportation System) scheduled flight on December 12, 1985 which was delayed until January 12, 1986.
Samples of unprimed, single primed and double primed canvas were concentrically rolled and packed into the G.A.S. canister at Cape Canaveral. The samples were both painted and unpainted. Control samples remained on the ground which were also evaluated using the same methods as the flown materials.
Four original works of art painted by Ellery Kurtz were packed into the G.A.S. canister. Both pre-flight and post-flight, the artworks were inspected by the conservation department of Julius Lowy Frame & Restoration Company in New York City who graciously donated their time, staff and any materials required, such as X-rays of the paintings.