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One curiosity, two visions of the heavens.

ONE YEAR AFTER THE STARS was published in 1952, one of Rey's friends, sculptor Robert Berks, visited Albert Einstein to design a bronze portrait bust. The project would forge a lasting connection between Rey and the famous scientist.

Einstein and Rey shared strikingly similar backgrounds and personalities, though they lived in different worlds. Both men were German Jews who had sought refuge from Hitler's war machine. Both revered nature, loved animals, and attributed their success to a childlike playfulness and curiosity that neither ever abandoned. And both men--each in his own way--sought to describe the heavens.

When Berks traveled to Princeton, New Jersey, to visit Einstein's home, he spent a full day getting to know the scientist before he began designing the bust. As they talked in the study, Berks mentioned his astronomically inclined friend. Recounting Rey's dissatisfaction with the constellations depicted in most astronomy books, Berks told Einstein about Rey's new patterns, designed to actually represent the animal or person in the constellation's name.

Rey's book appealed to Einstein, perhaps in part because he recognized his own nonconformity in the artist's work. As biographer Walter Isaacson wrote, several of Einstein's contemporaries "came close to some of his breakthroughs ... but [he] alone among them was rebellious enough to throw out conventional thinking that had defined science for centuries."

Rey sent Einstein a copy when Berks told him of the scientist's interest. Addressing the "Sehr verehrter Herr Professor" (very honored professor), he wrote, "This book has no scientific claims, only the presentation method is different."

Einstein replied, "Many thanks for your lucid and stimulating book. I hope it will find the interest it deserves"--words now printed on the back of every copy of The Stars--before signing his note, "Freundlich grusst Sie" (with friendly greetings).

As Berks campaigned to build a memorial to Einstein on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., he ensured the two men would share a lasting connection. Unveiled in 1979, two years after Rey's death, the memorial serves as a meeting point of two visions of the heavens.

A giant bronze Einstein hunches over in thought, scribbling equations on the pad of paper in his lap as he did the day Berks studied him in 1953. But here his feet rest on a field of stars, planets, and galaxies--2,700 objects in all, set as metal studs in the emerald pearl granite.

The spray of celestial objects might bewilder visitors if not for the nearby plaque Berks designed, where familiar figures outline the stars beneath Einstein's feet. Just as in Rey's illustration at left, Orion looms above the Hare, his club lifted overhead. The Bull rushes towards the hunter, the Pleiades dangling at the end of one of his long horns. Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, adorns the collar of the Big Dog, who runs at Orion's side. And high above the fray, Rey's Twins march hand in hand across the sky.

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Title Annotation:Curious Constellations; H. A. Rey and Albert Einstein
Author:Ashmore, A.M.
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Oct 1, 2013
Words:493
Previous Article:The man who illustrated the heavens: H.A. Rey, co-creator of Curious George, turned his talents skyward to demystify the stars.
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