2013 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #97, 110 x 105 x 15cm. Collection Verre Bergen, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
In 1931 an Inuit boy in Gothaab, Greenland was confronted with a Lockheed Sirius Model 8 airplane, a monoplane outfitted with floats so it could land almost anywhere. He named it Tingmissartoq, ‘one who flies like a big bird’. The plane was piloted by Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow Lindbergh. It was only 4 years since Lindbergh had become famous for flying the Spirit of St. Louis non-stop from New York to Paris, but in the meantime aviation had made huge progress. It was now clear that the future lay in large scale passenger aviation, although political and industrial powers would have to be brought on board. Factories and airfields were needed and the maps of the world had to be redrawn to show flyable air routes and not only information for water and land navigation. In 1931 and 1933 Lindbergh and his wife took it upon themselves to connect the dots in two world tours, meeting the wealthy and powerful wherever they went and spreading the gospel. (source: wikipedia.org/wiki/Tingmissartoq)
2011 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #77, 750 x 240 x 16 cm. Private collection, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5th 1977 to study the outer Solar System. It has now been operating for over 38 years, communicating with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data. It is the furthest man made object from Earth. NASA announced on August 25th 2012 that Voyager 1 had crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space. Its present velocity is about 520 million kilometers per year. Voyager 1 is expected to continue its mission until 2025 when its generators will no longer supply enough power for its instruments. (source: wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyager_1)
Top image: Interstellar Envelope. This gold aluminum cover was designed to protect the Voyager 1 and 2 “Sounds of Earth” gold-plated records from micrometeorite bombardment, but also serves a double purpose in providing the finder a key to playing the record. The explanatory diagram appears on both the inner and outer surfaces of the cover, as the outer diagram will be eroded in time.
Flying aboard Voyagers 1 and 2 are identical records, carrying the story of Earth far into deep space. The 12-inch gold-plated copper discs contain greetings in 60 languages, samples of music from different cultures and eras and natural and man-made sounds from Earth. They also contain electronic information that an advanced technological civilization could convert into diagrams and images. (source: nasa.gov/…/image_feature_631)
2010 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #65, 110 x 84 x 12 cm. Private collection, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Trieste is a deep-diving research submersible designed by the Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard. It was originally built in Italy, and sold to the US Navy in 1958. Jacques Piccard (son of the boat’s designer) and US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh reached a record maximum depth of about 10,911 metres (35,797 ft), in the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans, the Challenger Deep, in the Mariana Trench near Guam in the Pacific, on 23 January 1960. (source: wikipedia.org/wiki/Bathyscaphe_Trieste)
2007 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #47, 215 x 155 x 12cm. West Collection, Oaks, Pennsylvania, United States.
The Roosevelt drying out her sails at Cape Sheridan, September, 1908. The Dark Spots on the Shore are the Supplies and Equipment of the Expedition. (source: hellenicaworld.com/…/TheNorthPole)
Robert E. Peary’s Polar expeditions.
The schooner S.S. Roosevelt was a vessel built in 1905, designed by Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920) to assist him in his ambition to be the first man at the North Pole.
Peary had made his first trip to the Arctic in 1886 through a donation of $500 from his mother. Accompanied by the Dane Christian Maigaard, he traveled from Godhavn, Greenland, nearly a 100 miles due east in the second-farthest penetration of Greenland’s ice sheet. In 1887 Peary met the 21-year old black sales clerk Matthew Hanson and after learning that Henson had six years of seagoing experience as a cabin boy, hired him as a personal valet. Peary returned to Greenland for a longer stay in 1891, familiarizing himself with the area and the Inuit people, studying their survival techniques, adopting their fur dress and learning how to build igloos. He hired Inuit as hunters and dog-drivers and, in May 1892, reached the 1000 meter Navy Cliff overlooking Independence Fjord. Here Peary concluded – for the first time – that Greenland was an island.
With the recognition from his successful expeditions, Peary eventually gained the support of a wealthy backer and was able to buy his own ship, the S.S. Roosevelt. During its first voyage in 1906, the Roosevelt made its way through the ice between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, establishing a ‘farthest north by ship’ for the American hemisphere. With the vessel as a base, they ventured out onto the ice for an attempt at the North Pole. The dogsled parties made well under 10 miles a day until they became separated by a storm. Peary travelled on without a companion trained in navigation, and it is from this point that his claims begin to arouse suspicions. Upon returning, having barely escaped with his life off the melting ice, he asserted to have achieved a ‘farthest north’ record at 87°06’ and returned to 86°30’ without camping, implying a round trip of no less than 72 miles in two days.
For his final assault on the Pole, Peary set off from New York City on July 6th 1908 under great public interest. His expedition wintered near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island, and departed for the Pole on February 28th 1909. Peary set out on the last stretch with five assistants, none of whom were capable of making navigational observations. They were Matthew Henson and four Inuit: Ootah, Egigingwah, Seegloo and Ooqueah. On April 6, 1909, he established ‘Camp Jesup’ allegedly within 5 miles of the pole after which they proceeded to plant a flag. Here Peary wrote his famous journal entry ‘The Pole at last!’ For this to have been true however meant that they must have covered over three times their usual daily distance. This later shed doubt on Peary’s claim, especially because Matthew Henson’s account speaks of tortuous detours to avoid pressure ridges, often several meters high, and leads of open water. Upon returning to civilization, Peary learned that Dr. Frederick A. Cook claimed to have been first to reach the North Pole in 1908. But a Danish panel of explorers and navigation experts scrutinized Cook’s reports and rejected his claim. After this Peary decided not to submit his evidence for independent review but instead have his claim certified by the National Geographic Society, a major sponsor of his expedition. The first undisputed visit to the North Pole would not take place until sixty years later, by Wally Herbert in 1969.
Peary’s ship S.S. Roosevelt spent her latter days working as a towboat in the Puget Sound. Later, in 1937, after becoming totally disabled in an accident, she was laid up in the Panama Canal. Her crew, who had not been paid, sold off her equipment. Finally, the once famed Arctic exploration ship was left to rot away. (source: wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Peary, saltwaterpeoplehistoricalsociety.blogspot.nl)
Matthew Henson  unknown photographer – US library of congress.
Matthew Alexander Henson (1866 – 1955), the first African-American Arctic explorer, was an associate of Robert Peary on seven voyages over a period of nearly 23 years. They made six voyages and spent a total of 18 years together on expeditions. Henson served as a carpenter, mechanic and dog driver, traded with Inuit and learned their language, and was known as Peary’s ‘first man’ in their attempts to reach the geographic North Pole. (source)
2007 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #44, 120 x 170 x 16cm. Collection of Van Der Ende Steel Protection Innovators, Barendrecht, Netherlands.
Ørnen was a hydrogen balloon used in S. A. Andrée’s ill fated Arctic Expedition of 1897
S. A. Andrée and Knut Frænkel with the crashed balloon on the pack ice, photographed by the third expedition member, Nils Strindberg. The exposed film for this photograph and others from the failed 1897 expedition was recovered in 1930. (source: wikipedia.org/… Expedition_of_1897)
Ørnen (The Eagle)
The Ørnen was a hydrogen balloon built for S.A. Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897, which aimed to be the first to visit the North Pole. Although balloon technology was already a hundred years old it was still largely experimental. The three-layer silk balloon 20.5 meters in diameter was built by Henri Lachambre in Paris, then known as the ‘world capital of ballooning’. It was fitted with a sail which, combined with drag ropes, Andrée claimed would make the balloon steerable. This technique had never been proved in practice and, like the many questionable assumptions of the expedition, was only accepted by dint of Andrée’s copious enthusiasm and eloquence. The hope of the expedition was to restore Sweden’s reputation as a leading player in Arctic exploration, no matter what.
Support was abundant with money pouring in from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel. Andrée had sold the press rights to the Aftonbladet newspaper, and it was later said that the funding that Andrée had received made it harder for him to take a realistic stance towards the ill-conceived aspects of his expedition. The expedition’s balloon hangar and hydrogen production plant were installed on the island of Svalbard in 1896, but unfavorable winds prevented them from undertaking a first attempt that year. Nils Gustaf Ekholm, the only expedition member with any real Arctic experience, left the crew because he calculated that Ørnen would not stay airborne long enough to carry them to the North Pole and then on to ‘the safety of Canada, Alaska or Russia’. Andrée’s self-deception became clear when, on the boat back from Svalbard, Ekholm learned from the chief engineer of the hydrogen plant that Andrée had from time to time covertly topped up the hydrogen while they were testing the balloon for leakage.
The success or failure of Arctic exploration had always depended greatly on using proven survival methods of the indigenous peoples of the Polar regions. But Andrée, a devout believer in ‘scientific superiority’, would have none of this and set out with clothing and sledges of his own – untested – designs. Nils Strindberg, Knut Frænkel and S.A. Andrée arrived on Svalbard in the summer of 1897 and proceeded to prepare their balloon, loading it with scientific equipment, advanced cameras for aerial photography, provisions for four months, and ballast bringing the total weight to about 3,000 kg. The sleeping berths for the crew were fitted to the floor of the basket. The highly flammable hydrogen meant that cooking could not be done in the basket itself; instead, a modified primus stove was dangled 8m below the basket and lit remotely with the aid of an angled mirror. On July 11 1897, in a steady wind from the south-west, the roof of the plank-built hangar was dismantled and the three explorers climbed into the basket. Andrée dictated a last-minute telegram to King Oscar and another to Aftonbladet. The mooring ropes were cut and the balloon rose slowly from the hangar and out towards the sea. The drag ropes, several hundred meters long, once wet, pulled the balloon down with a risk of crashing into the sea. After an initial dip the ropes became detached leaving the balloon without its experimental steering provision. The crew had meanwhile thrown out some ballast which, together with the loss of the heavy ropes, reduced the balloon’s weight by about 740 kg. They now rose to a height of 700 m where the lesser air pressure only accelerated the leakage of hydrogen. But they were on their way, and the baffled ground crew and assembled press watched the Ørnen drift slowly out of sight.
Nothing more was heard of the expedition, and their fate remained a matter of speculation and legend until 33 years later when their remains were discovered on Kvitøya Island. The truth of what had happened emerged from their journals and from undeveloped photographs that were found. The balloon had crashed on the pack ice after only two days. The explorers were uninjured but faced a grueling homeward trek south across the drifting ice. They set out on their long, arduous march, only to realize weeks later that the ice had been moving so quickly in the opposite direction that they had in effect traveled backwards. Inadequately clothed and equipped, inexperienced, daunted by the difficulty of the terrain, and with the Arctic winter closing in on them, the group finally washed up on the deserted island of Kvitøya in October and perished there. (source: wikipedia.org/… Andrée)
Henri Lachambre’s balloon workshop in Paris. (source)
The station at Spitsbergen, from a photochrom print at the end of the 19th century. (source)
2007 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #43, 115 x 85 x 12cm. Collection of ABN-AMRO bank, Netherlands.
The Joint Space Operations Center (JSOC) opened in the McMurdo Antarctic station in January 2005. The building’s purpose is to unite the station’s computer and telephone systems into one dedicated hub. It houses the station’s computer data center and telephone network. NASA uses it to track polar-orbiting scientific satellites and to operate weather satellite equipment for the U.S. Air Force. This type of computer data center generates so much heat that the building needs to be cooled down despite its Arctic location. (source: The Antarctic Sun)
2007 Bas-relief in salvaged wood #42, 150 x 95 x 12cm. Collection of Taco Verplanke, Barendrecht, Netherlands.
This house on the South Georgia Islands saw both the start and end of Ernest Shackletons Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–17
Whaling station on Grytviken, South Georgia. 1989. Photographer: Hannes Grobe, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany.
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
By the early twentieth century the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration was rapidly drawing to a close. The American Robert Peary had (disputedly) attained the North Pole on April 6th 1909; Norwegian Roald Amundsen had discovered the South Pole on December 14th 1911. Robert Falcon Scott’s ‘Terra Nova’ Expedition had arrived at the South Pole on 17 January 1912 only to find Amundsen had beaten them to it. Demoralized and in deteriorating condition, they attempted the journey home but lost their way in snowstorms; all of them perished. Undeterred by this tragedy, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton stated that there remained ‘one great main object of Antarctic journeyings’: the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. Shackleton set out on his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition at the dawn of the Great War.
Having secured the funds he needed from the British Government and wealthy backers, he had by June 1914 bought the 300-ton barquentine Polaris which was to take them to Vahsel Bay. The ship, built for the Belgian explorer Adrien de Gerlache, was renamed Endurance after the Shackleton family motto. He also bought the ship Aurora. This second ship, under command of Aeneas Mackintosh, was supposed to meet them at the Ross Sea on the other side of the continent and lay in provisions for the last part of the crossing.
Endurance left Plymouth on August 8th 1914, just four days before the first skirmish of WWI, sailing via Buenos Aires and arriving in South Georgia on November 5th. After a month-long halt at the Grytviken whaling station, Endurance departed for the Antarctic. Soon they encountered pack ice which slowed down their progress and occasionally halted them altogether. On the 22nd the ice abated and they were able to enter deep into the Weddell Sea. On January 15th 1915 bad weather forced the ship to shelter in the lee of a stranded iceberg and the next day they were stopped by the surrounding ice at a position of 76°34 s, 31°30 w. On February 14th, after making little further progress, the men stepped on to the ice with ice-chisels, prickers, saws and picks to break the ship free, but their efforts were in vain and they now had to face the ‘possibility of having to spend a winter in the inhospitable arms of the pack’. Endurance, still caught in the ice, began drifting North with the pack. The ship’s routine was abandoned in expectation of a long stay. The dogs were housed on the ice and the ship’s interior made suitable for winter quarters. Shackleton hoped he could attempt a return to Vahsel Bay next spring, but on April 14th Shackleton observed the nearby pack ‘piling and rafting against the masses of ice’. If this happened near Endurance ‘she would be crushed like an eggshell’. Some signs of the ice disintegrating occurred on July 22nd and a week later a storm caused the ice floe to start breaking up all around the ship. Masses of ice forced under the keel made the ship list heavily to port. ‘The effects of the pressure around us was awe-inspiring. Mighty blocks of ice (…) rose slowly till they jumped like cherry-stones gripped between thumb and finger’. On October 24th 1915, they were forced against a large floe and the ship’s hull began to give way. With loud noises it began to bend and splinter, and water from below the ice poured into the ship. The order to abandon ship was given three days later. Supplies and lifeboats were transferred to the ice. Frank Hurley was able to retrieve his camera and 550 glass plates of which he selected 150 and smashed the rest. On October 30th they started to march west in the hope of reaching Paulet Island but the route over the ice was impossibly rugged. Hauling the heavy supplies and lifeboats on sledges, they had only progressed a few miles in three days when they decided to pitch camp on a large ice shelf. From ‘Ocean Camp’ they could still revisit the wreck of the Endurance until, on November 21st, it finally slipped under the ice. They attempted a second march on December 23rd, but higher temperatures had only made conditions worse, with men sinking to their knees in soft snow as they hauled the boats over the ice ridges. Morale was getting dangerously low. They made only a little over a mile of progress daily, and after seven days Shackleton called a halt: ‘It would take us over three hundred days to reach the land’. They erected ‘Patience Camp’, their home for the next three months. Dwindling food supplies forced them to shift their diet to seal meat and to shoot and eat all but two teams of the dogs. On the evening of April 8th the floe suddenly split and they hastily readied the lifeboats. From then on the water would repeatedly open up and close again, forcing the men to pull the boats onto the ice and wait for conditions to improve. The physical strain and the lack of food were wearing the men down, so Shackleton decided to try for the uninhabited and rarely visited Elephant Island. They reached it on April 14th and managed to find a safe place to land and camp the following day. Their only prospect of rescue was to prepare one of the lifeboats for an 800 mile voyage across the Southern Ocean, back to South Georgia.
The ship’s carpenter McNish set about the task of improvising tools and materials. Shackleton and five other men took to the Ocean on April 24th 1916 in the 6,85 meter lifeboat ‘James Caird’, named after one of the expedition sponsors. Twenty-two men were left behind on Elephant Island with instructions to make for Deception Island the following spring, should Shackleton not return. The voyage to South Georgia hinged on pinpoint accuracy of navigation under the most unfavorable of conditions. Everything was soon encrusted in ice. The boat rode sluggishly and after some days they faced waves which Shackleton described as the largest he had seen in 26 years at sea. But on May 8th they sighted South Georgia. They washed up on the shore at King Haakon Bay on the uninhabited south side of the island. Another sea journey was out of the question, so a hike through the mountainous, uncharted interior of South Georgia seemed the only viable option. After some rest Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean set out for Stromness on May 19th. Shackleton wrote afterwards: ‘I have no doubt that Providence guided us … I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers it seemed to me often that we were four, not three’. (T. S. Eliot later borrowed this image for his poem ‘The Waste Land’).
By the evening of May 21st all six of the James Caird party were safe. Ice conditions prevented ships from reaching Elephant Island and it was only at the fourth attempt on August 30th that the Chilean vessel Yelcho was able to save the remaining men. They had survived the winter by improvising a shelter made from the remaining lifeboats, but some were in a bad state. All 28 of Shackleton’s party survived earning him respect and admiration. But this did not apply to the other half of the expedition. On the opposite side of Antarctica, Aeneas Mackintosh had risked everything to lay the depots of supplies for the expedition, unaware of the futility of their efforts. Three of their party perished in the snow.
Shackleton’s group, having been out of touch with civilization since 1914, returned to a world immersed in war. Many of them immediately took up military service and many died or were wounded. Seven years later, Shackleton organized another Antarctic expedition taking him back to South Georgia, where he died of a heart attack on January 5th 1922. It would be fifty more years before the Antarctic continent was first crossed. (source: wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Trans-Antarctic_ Expedition)
Whaling Station Grytviken on South Georgia Islands.
Stove in the makeshift galley  This photo was taken in the Weddell Sea during Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans- Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916. Photo from glass negative taken in 1915 by Frank Hurley. Copyright: Scott Polar Research Institute.
‘Photograph showing the stove suspended by ropes from spars in the makeshift galley (kitchen). The galley which was erected on the ice was made of sails and spars and battens of wood from the ship. The stove appears to have been made from metal cylinders (ship’s funnel?). Pots and pans and other cooking equipment are on the stove and shelves on the wall behind.’ (source: spri.cam.ac.uk/…/p66.19.x41)