Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Art Meets Science

      While waiting for the Paradise Ballroom to die a natural death I threw myself into the search for a holographer capable of engineering a larger-than-life-sized three-dimensional image. MacDonald Douglas was producing small commercial holograms. Dr. Ralph Wuerker at TRW, a pioneer laser physicist was not interested in breaking away from secure, government funded projects.  Were conventional corporations going to be able to marry art with science? So far, the answer had been No. Enter Lloyd Cross and Jerry Pethick.
      Lloyd (Cross) explained that he and Jerry (Pethick) met in Michigan in 1967. They entertained the notion of combining a scientific process with art - creating a 21st Century art form. Lloyd was tired of inventing for big corporations. He was a physicist and he wanted the freedom to make his wild ideas into practical, commercial products. He wanted to have enough money coming in to pay the overhead: rent, gas, water, power, telephone and transportation. It sounded reasonable. Lasers used a lot of power. Holographic plates cost close to $1 each. Chemicals were expensive. Overhead, no matter how you sliced it was more than the School of Holography was taking in for classes. There just weren't enough students to keep the place going.
      But then, hard times were not unusual in the late sixties/early seventies. Every new technique, every technological advance was met with resistance. Lack of funds, suffering, long hours and lots of junk food were taken in stride. They constituted a common denominator - everybody was 'broke', never poor. Poor meant you were born into poverty and couldn't get out. Broke meant you were temporarily down on your luck. Today you were paying your dues so that tomorrow you could cash in on this great new field called holography.
      Holography was going to change the world. In the future everything would be pictured in 3-D, every picture in a book, every x-ray, every family portrait would be a hologram. Great works of art would never have to leave the museum - they'd be recorded on sheets of glass and displayed everywhere in the world with the flick of a laser to illuminate them.
      It all began in 1969 when Lloyd Cross, the inventor-holographer and Jerry Pethick, the artist-holographer produced the world's first major exhibition of art holograms at the Cranbrook Academy in Michigan. In 1970 they produced the first exhibition of holograms in New York at the Finch Museum. "N Dimensional Space" as it was titled was critically acclaimed and commercially disdained. People showed enthusiasm but when it came to putting money up the subject moved to some other topic. The final reaction was almost as cold as a Siberian winter.
      Lloyd and Jerry had gambled together. They had moved their families to New York and the sirens had let them down. Perhaps San Francisco would sing a more receptive tune. At least they wouldn't freeze to death.
      Next stop Disneyland.


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