International Association of Astronomical Artists
  The History of the IAAA

In 1981 a group of dedicated yet independent astronomical artists met in comprehensive space art show sponsored by the Planetary Society for the Society's Planetfest, held during the live transmission of close-up photos of Saturn by Voyager II. A mixture of art styles was exhibited, from science fiction to representational realism.

Planetfest Workshop

The artists all got along famously, and for the first time were able to "talk shop" with others who understood their art. It was here that a trial balloon was first floated with the idea for a space art workshop. A year later, Dr. William K. (Bill) Hartmann organized the first Space Art workshop held on the island of Hawaii in 1982. This group had a common sympathetic appreciation for the accuracy of science in their art work. The volcanic landscapes of the Big Island were perfect analogues for the planetary geologies found on the Moon, Mars, and Jupiters volcanic moon Io. By experiencing the harsh landscape together, the artists were able to create more believable landscapes of those distant Jovian satellites as well as the newly discovered Saturnian worlds.

Towards the end of 1983, Michael Carroll organized a second, larger workshop held in Death Valley, California. Again the primary focus of the workshop was to travel together to remote sites to draw and to paint the landscapes with the hope of inspiring a feeling of being explorers of the new worlds of the solar system. Nineteen artists attended and simultaneously discovered their common passion for space visions of the universe. The large body of classic works generated from these first two workshops toured the US and Canada for the next three years as the Other Worlds show, appearing in many natural science museums in North America.
It was at the Death Valley workshop that the initial idea sparked a discussion about forming a space art guild, electing officers, a steering committee and launching a newsletter in order to formalize and perpetuate the group. With a mandate voiced for such an organization, Michael Carroll, Don Dixon, Joel Hagen, Kim Poor and Rick Sternbach set the wheels in motion for the International Association of Astronomical Artists. After this declaration each attendee began to spread the word of the new genre based on the art of Naysmith, Rudaux, Bonestell, McCall and Sokolov.

At the end of 1984, Kim Poor organized a much smaller workshop in the south-west American Canyonlands. Although the spirit and the intent of the group was open ended, the focus was to establish a continuance of the previous workshop themes of joint intellectual and emotional exploration of solar system geological analogues.

The 4th IAAA workshop returned to the Big Island in Hawaii in the spring of 1986. Coupled with an exhibition at the Volcano Art Center, the workshop's primary concern was to paint geological analogues of the Moon, Mars, and Venus as well as the ice worlds of the gaseous giants during the return of Comet Haley. A third wave of new artists joined the ranks of a growing IAAA. During this session, the proposal was made to conduct workshops at Johnson Space Center in Houston for 1987 and Iceland for 1988.

With the successes of the previous workshops and the rapidly growing membership, the IAAA was formally registered as an association of astronomical artists in 1986. The steering committee moved to elect its first president - Kim Poor. Pulsar was launched as a means to keep the membership informed of what was happening at the organizational level. Parallax, the initial newsletter, was to be reserved for publication of technical knowledge of the guild essential for rendering space art landscapes.

NASA received the IAAA at Johnson Space Center for the 5th workshop, in the summer of 1987, with the theme: Space Hardware. The exposure of current space hardware to IAAA artists was intended to help foster a rekindling of the public interest in the realism of space travel through the exploration of landscapes in the Solar System.

The JSC Workshop being hardware-centric, in August 1987 (oof) the PBS crew that filmed the JSC Workshop requested that a small group return to Death Valley in order to cover the natural planetary analogue type of workshops that are more the norm for our locations.

In the autumn (fall) of 1987, seven space artists, Michael Carroll, Don Davis, Pamela Lee, Jon Lomberg, Robert McCall, Ron Miller and Kim Poor, were invited to attend the Space Future Forum in Moscow at the USSR Academy of Sciences along with a contingent of astronauts and scientists. The artists were to bring some of their artwork to participate in a joint exhibition with their Soviet counterparts in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Sputnik. During their stay, the Planetary Society initiated the concept of an artistic collaboration between American and Soviet astronomical artists, by inviting the Cosmic Group of the Soviet Union of Artists to attend an IAAA workshop in Iceland in the summer of 1988. Such a joint venture in the exotic landscape of fire and ice, the volcanism and the glacial ice fields of Iceland, would certainly appeal to all astronomical artists rendering the planets and the moons of the solar system.

Iceland, the 8th IAAA workshop, was billed as the first International Space Art Workshop. Thirty artists had gathered from the USA, the USSR, Canada and Great Britain to launch a joint five year project. An agreement, in principle, between the Planetary Society, the IAAA and the Soviet Cosmic Group would have reciprocal workshops in Senezh-Moscow (Spring 1989), Utah (Summer 1989), and Gurzuf-Crimea (Fall 1990). These workshops would also be associated with exhibitions. Beginning in Moscow (Spring 1989) during the USSR Mars Phobos Mission, the workshops and related art shows traveled to Pasadena (Summer 1989) during Planetfest and the Voyager 2 encounter with Neptune, followed by San Diego's Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater (Fall 1989), before arriving for a year sojourn at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 1991. The intent of the project was to demonstrate the common ideal of international cooperation, dialogue for the better understanding of ourselves which ultimately would soothe the differences between the nations of the world as mankind prepares to step from ancestral Earth with a cooperative spirit.

In Iceland, Kara Szathmary, a Canadian artist, was elected as the first international President of the IAAA along with a newly created Board of Trustees. Their mandate was to incorporate the IAAA as a public benefit, educational, non-profit corporation and to see to it that the contracts with the Planetary Society and the Soviet Cosmic Group were established on a legal foundation.

By the end of 1988 the IAAA was incorporated and the five year project Dialogues: Communication through the Art of the Cosmos was secured, positioning astronomical art as an international genre. The attraction of international artists to the IAAA helped bloom vital links to parallel organizations of related art shows in Europe with the OURS Foundation and contacts with the MIR Space Station, Case for Mars and NASA affiliates.

To better gauge the aspirations of all astronomical artists around the globe, the IAAA produced a Manifesto and engaged in a period of reflection through a dialogue with the membership to define astronomical art and to establish the direction our collective interest in space art in general at the threshold of the 21st century. The central and main tenant of the genre is to produce art works having a solid basis in scientific fact or theory that would depict realistic landscapes of other worlds, planets, space scenes and the human exploration of space settings in whatever style or medium the artist chooses, yet, distinct from fantasy, scientific illustration and science fiction. In short, an art form that is inspired by the astronomical sciences and the exploration of space and that renders the aesthetic beauty of the heavens.

The book Visions of Space: Artists Journey through the Cosmos was published by David A Hardy in 1989. It was followed in 1992 by In the Stream of Stars by William K Hartmann, Ron Miller, Andrei Sokolov and Vitali Myagkov, which documented the history and the evolution of astronomical art.

Meanwhile, Beth Avary, IAAA director of exhibitions continued to navigate the Art of the Cosmos exhibition throughout the USA with stops at the Hayden Planetarium (late Fall 1991), Discovery Museum in Bridgeport Connecticut (Summer 1992), Alabama Rocket and Space Center (Fall 1992), Arts and Science Center in Statesville North Carolina (Jan/Feb 1993), Bergen Museum in New Jersey (May/Sept 1993) and Maryland Science Center in Baltimore (Feb/Sept 1994).

In 1992, the Tenth anniversary of the IAAA, Dennis Davidson, Hayden Planetarium artist in NYC, was elected President. The Board was expanded to a roster of 15. The dialogue and discussions continued in the refinement of the definition of astronomical and space art in general. IAAA workshops continued to flourish at sites rich in Earth analogues of the moons and planets of the solar system, particularly Mars. A return to Hawaii in summer of 1991 for the solar eclipse was followed by Ghost Ranch in New Mexico (Fall 1992), a technical workshop at Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center in San Diego (Winter 1993), Mt. Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles (late Summer 1993), and in Arches National Park, Utah (Fall 1995).

By 1994, the Board initiated the process to bring an easier mode of communication to the membership by going to e-mail and the internet. For several years Kim Poor managed an IAAA website, as a link from his own Novagraphics Gallery. Meanwhile, IAAA artists continued to participate, in cooperative spirit, with parallel space art groups in Europe. The OURS Foundation invited astronomical artists to participate in the historic EuroMIR (1995) "The 1st Art Exhibition in Earth Orbit" on the MIR Space Station and subsequent world tour. A year later, invitations were sent to the IAAA to participate in Ars Astronautica Forums (1997) in concert with Leonardo - the Journal of the International Society of Art Sciences and Technology and the International Academy of Astronautics. The IAAA continues to be an international guild in the genre of astronomical art whose artworks and visions of the cosmos respect admiration, inspiration and artistic craftsmanship.

When it came to location the IAAA flair to find exotic sites had the tradition continue. The White Moutain workshop (early summer 1996) took place at a 13,000 foot altitude on the east slope of California's Owen Valley. The landscape is similar to Iceland in Mars analogues and is surrounded by the highest human habitation and the oldest living things.

The 16th IAAA workshop took place in September 1996 on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, bringing together astronomical artists from the USA, Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and France. Coupled with an exhibition, the workshop included presentations by members on the American historical roots of space art, previous IAAA workshops, European space art, space art techniques and computer space art using new techniques. The scenery ranged from dry coastal deserts to pine forests at 2000 meters to a barren volcanic summit and lava flows in a national park above the tree line at 3000 - 4000 meters. Near the summit cone the stunning Mars-landscapes of orange sand and scattered boulders cried out for more time to paint.

David A. Hardy was elected President at Tenerife to become the first European head of the IAAA. He was joined by a reduced elected Board of Trustees of seven members in order to make the organization run more efficiently in the management of our legal affairs.

By mid-February of 1997, the number of astronomical artists coming on-line required a list server provider. B.E.Johnson launched the hosting and maintenance of IAAA discussions and debate within our ranks to become another progressive step towards the globalization of our genre. Several IAAA members also found themselves participating in the renditions of astronomical art scenes for the movie Contact, based on Carl Sagan's book, which views our current cultural civilization as a multi-planetary species. Can we say more?

The stunning volcano of Mount St. Helen's in Washington State was the IAAA workshop held in fall, 1997. Exploring the enormous lava tubes, lava forests. wondrous lava flows, scoured out river canyons and, by night, the glorious clear mountain night display of the heavens at the peak of the Perseid meteor shower were elements of the astronomical artists' landscape and pallet for geological and stellar phenomena on planets of distant solar systems. Special permits were obtained by host Joy Alyssa Day, so that members could hike out into the protected blast zone to see its other-worldly landscape first hand and experience the power of the scene as it surrounds the viewer in all directions. A truly sobering expedition.

At the beginning of 1998, the IAAA acquired its own domain, IAAA.ORG. The initial website was transfered here and first administrated by Arthur Woods. Early in 2001, B.E.Johnson assumed the administration duties and continues to propel the IAAA website into the 21st Century. This, along with the now developed listserv, has grown the IAAA into a global community of Space Artists that converse on a daily basis about the art topics of the hour and the paintings of the ages.

September of 2000 marked the last workshop of the 20th Century at Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. With an homage to the Old West, 11 artists gathered with hosts Joy Alyssa Day and B.E.Johnson in the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains to experience and paint the formations and features unique to this area. A long standing heritage of explorers and painters have ventured into these picturesque surroundings to record that which extists only here. Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, two of the Hudson River School painters to whom we owe much of our allegiance and inspiration, were some of the first to paint here. Moran's and Bierstadt's works are preserved, both here and in metropolitan museums, continuing to inspire the artists and explorers of today as much as they did in their time.

Our first workshop of the 21st Century was also the first European workshop, conducted in England. It covered Stonehenge and the Stevenage division of Astrium, one of Europe's foremost spacecraft constructors. Members were afforded the now rare opportunity to walk among the stones on the Salisbury Plain at sunset, recording the experience in paintings. The next day, they were wisked into the future—experiencing the construction of spacecraft destined for other worlds. A truly cosmic journey.

February 2005 marked the 22nd workshop, with our third return to Death Valley, California. The geology was incredible and the camaraderie between the 34 attendees even better. The timing was great because new Moon came in the middle of the workshop and a day either side of that, the zodiacal light was like a searchlight coming up from the horizon. Dark sky location, celestial phenomena going on, a gathering of friends and colleagues... can't beat it!

The 23rd workshop found our members amid the volcanoes and jungles of Nicaragua in 2007 and the story continues with the most recent workshop at Capitol Reef and Bryce National Parks in Utah, June 2008.

What we have is what we strive for in our collective interest in the genré of Astronomical Art. This is our collective legacy and heritage. March on creatively, render and paint the silence and grandeur of the heavens.

Keep the spirit alive!

Membership in the IAAA is not restricted to artists. Many collectors, publishers, editors, and fans are members as well.


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International Association of Astronomical Artists