Quirky Museum History: Planetarium Jewelry

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’d be adding in some of the quirkier bits of the museum’s past to the HMNS Centennial celebration. Here’s one that just came my way.

dome jewelry 002While enjoying lunch recently with Laurel Ladwig, a former Burke Baker Planetarium Manager, and her mother Katrina Ladwig, a long time supporter of the HMNS Guild, Laurel handed me a plastic bag full of jumbled brown squares. “Know what these are?” she asked. Ever the lightening fast wit that I am, I responded “Huh? No?” Most of the squares had old-fashioned screw-type ear clips fastened to them so obviously this brown jumble was some sort of jewelry but why was Laurel handing it to me?

“Think 60s,” she hinted, thoroughly relishing my confoundment. Oh, yeah, that cleared it right up. With no further elucidation forthcoming from Laurel I gave in and asked what the heck these things were.

“Tiles!” she announced (satisfied with having stumped me). “Extra tiles from the original exterior dome of the planetarium.”

No kidding! Boy, this is a new one on me. We’ve got newspaper clippings, correspondence, photos, blueprints, plaques, you name it, in the museum’s historical archives. Jewelry fashioned from original building materials? Nope, this is a first.

dome jewelry 004Laurel and Katrina don’t have a lot of background on the jewelry but they shared what they knew. Apparently after the planetarium was finished in 1964, there were a number of small square tiles meant for the dome’s exterior left over. Laurel’s grandfather (Katrina’s father) Wallace C. Thompson, a HMNS Board member at that time, had been instrumental in establishing the planetarium and her grandmother, Eloise Reid Thompson, decided to commemorate the opening of the planetarium by making jewelry out of the unused dome tiles. (You might remember an earlier post about Mrs. Thompson who was a wild flower artist. Many of her paintings are in the HMNS collection.) The tiles became earrings, bracelets, and cuff links. No one seems to know if Mrs. Thompson was the only one who did this or if there were others. Perhaps it was some sort of HMNS Guild project.

The tiles appear to be authentic; there are still plenty of us who remember when the planetarium dome had a coppery sheen to it. The old-fashioned screw ear clips fit that era and the glue has yellowed enough to be forty five years old. It’d be great to have these funky little artifacts validated; so if you can add any information or, better yet, have any similar pieces please let me know. They sure would be a fun addition to the historical archives during the museum’s centennial celebration.

100 Years – 100 Objects: Orange Milkweed by Eloise Thompson

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 – meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Lisa Rebori, the Museum’s Vice President of Collections. She’s chosen a selection of objects that represent our Museum’s history, and our collections of historical technologies, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

No. 153, Conroe, May 8, 1936
By Eloise Reid Thompson
Watercolor on paper.

eloise-thompson-4x6In 1930, Eloise Reid Thompson began painting wildflowers, mainly flowers of the American Southwest.  She started this project as she traveled with her husband Mr. Wallace C. Thompson, an exploration geologist.  A selection of her wildflower paintings featuring Texas plants was included in the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, a World’s Fair held at Fair Park in Dallas. 

Mrs. Thompson would pick a sample of the flowering plant and draw and paint it for several days working at her kitchen table.  She collected the plant shown here in Conroe, Texas and immediately painted this picture. 

In 1964, 100 of the paintings were incorporated in to a book entitled “Wildflower Portraits” with selected paintings accompanied by botanical descriptions by Edna Wolf Miner, Ph.D.  Mrs. Thompson gave all of the original paintings in the book to the Museum in 1977.  In 2005 her daughter, Katrina Ladwig, and grand-daughter Laurel gave the Museum a collection of her watercolor and pencil wildflower studies.

The Orange Milkweed or Butterfly-weed (Asclepias tuberosa) shown here is a perennial herb with flowers that vary in color from orange-yellow to orange-red. It attracts many butterflies during June to late August, especially Great Spangled Fritillary.  It can be found growing wild in dry fields and along road sides and ditches.

The Thompson Family has supported the Houston Museum of Natural Science through three generations:  Mr. Thompson served on the Board of Trustees in the early 1960’s and as President of the Board from 1965-66.  Mrs. Thompson was an active member of the Museum’s Guild leading school tours and fundraising for Museum programs.  Katrina followed in her mother’s footsteps, also serving on the Museum’s Guild. Laurel attended museum classes and worked at the Museum in the Astronomy Department throughout high school and college.  After graduation she joined the Museum Staff working in the Burke Baker Planetarium.

Check back soon for more of the 100 most compelling objects from the museum’s collections – we’ll be posting the series throughout 2009 as we celebrate a centennial of science in Houston.