Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey

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Lot 2209
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey

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Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Iron, Fine Octahedrite
Namibia, Africa
Weighing approximately 21,070 grams (21.07 kilos, 46.45 lbs).

Undoubtedly the most exotic material ever to have been utilized to form a skull carving, this is also the largest carving of Gibeon meteorite known to exist. An artist who is known for selecting exotic materials with which to work, Downey has outdone himself in this virtuoso carving of a human skull. Painstaking measurements were taken from an actual skull of a Caucasian male to ensure realism and accuracy. As a final step, careful acid-etching of the iron was performed to reveal the notable "Widmanstätten pattern", a unique geometric, crystalline structure caused by the ultra slow cooling process during its journey through space. The manner in which this attribute is exemplified is unexcelled by any other meteorite object seen heretofore on the market.

Upon careful examination of the skull, triangular patterns, Stars of David and various other emblems of sacred geometry emerge. The surface of the skull is entirely free of any "dead areas", pits, cracks or other marked flaws that are often seen in polished meteorite. Yet, most notable are the large "thumbprints" and "swirls" of crystallization which have never before been witnessed and, most notably, what could be called "light threads" being reflected by the iron nickel layers. By carving this particular specimen in the form of a skull, with its undulating surfaces, rather as a sphere, for example, entirely different features were brought out in the crystalline structure: these include "brush strokes" on the forehead and graphite spots near the teeth. A changing appearance is brought out under shifting light given the crystalline structure of the Gibeon meteorite.

Meteorites are among the rarest materials on earth, and iron meteorites are rarer still, comprising roughly one in seven of all known specimens. Having fallen in prehistoric times in the African veldt and later discovered by the Nama people, the Gibeon meteorite field was first reported by Captain T. E. Alexander in 1836 and is located in Great Namaqualand, Namibia, South West Africa. Gibeon has been used by the indigenous Africans to make tools and weapons for generations. The Gibeon strewnfield is composed of an elliptical area measuring 275 x 100 kilometers. The specimen used in this carving would have been located by local tribesmen with the aid of a metal detector. Gibeon material has become increasingly rare over the past 5 decades, highly sought after and seldom available in large, clean pieces. Starting with a 280 kg complete iron meteorite a 48,000 gram rectangular block of material was cut from its heart which was then carefully and ground down and carved to its present weight of 21,070 grams.

All iron meteorites, including this singular example, originated from the core of an unstable planet that briefly existed billions of years ago between Mars and Jupiter. The planet broke apart and its remains are referred to as the "asteroid belt". It was somewhat more than one thousand years ago that one errant mass in particular from the asteroid belt slammed into Earth's upper atmosphere and exploded above the Kalahari Desert before raining down on what is now Namibia. Gibeon meteorites consist of 92% iron, 7.5% nickel and 0.5% trace minerals. Radiometric dating estimates the age of crystallization of Gibeon's metal at approximately 4 billion years.

Millions of years are required for the two major alloys of iron meteorites to crystallize. When the planetary body from which this meteorite originated broke apart, the hot metallic core encountered few molecules in the vacuum of space to which it could transfer its heat, thus providing sufficient time for the molecules of the alloys, kamacite (low nickel) and taenite (high nickel), to form their octahedral crystalline habit. No environment other than the vacuum of space provides for such an extended cooling curve. The presence of this grid--a remarkable, other-worldy lattice, otherwise known as a Widmanstätten pattern, is diagnostic in the identification of iron meteorites. Each of these crystals react differently to the final acid-etching treatment.

Notable, too, is the very large inclusion classified as tridymite which is seen on the forehead of the skull--its placement in that location was entirely fortuitous and unplanned. Investigators who have reviewed occurrences of silica in IVA irons and related
stony-irons have reported tridymite as a very rare component.

The skull is one of man's oldest and most powerful symbols. It has a long and varied history of use with multiple overlapping interpretations. Most commonly it is seen as a representation of death and mortality, but it has many other uses including a celebration of the memory of the dead known as Memento mori, a symbol of vanity, a symbol of life after death and even a symbol of non-conformity and rebelliousness. A typical symbolic interpretation through the centuries has been carpe diem, namely, that a mindfulness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment and a realization of the transience of human existence.

The present sculpture, was dubbed "Yorick" by the artist after the fictional character in William Shakespeare's play Hamlet who was the dead court jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger in Act 5, Scene 1, of the play. The sight of Yorick's skull evokes a monologue from Prince Hamlet on mortality.

The selection of Gibeon meteorite as the carving material is a fitting one for this subject. Its other-worldly exoticism emphasizes man's awareness of the Cosmos and a spiritual contemplation of eternity. A durable material that made its journey to earth from the stars........This is a significant contemporary work of art, the first and only one of its type, which crosses the boundaries between modern art and Natural History and is worthy of inclusion in any important collection.



Accompanied by the artist's self-published book entitled "Meteorite Skull Journal 2015", a photo diary by Ineke Willeboordse and Lee Downey, which serves as a photographic record of the phases of the Gibeon meteorite from the original 280 kilo complete specimen, to a trimmed block of meteorite with images of the hand grinding, rounding and shaping while making comparisons and measurements to the human skull to the final 1000 grit sanding.

Footnotes

  • Lee Downey is an American artist who began at the jewelry bench over 40 years ago and has based himself in Asia for the past three decades. Working and living closely with a family of master carvers in Bali has allowed him to create elaborate hybrid works that utilize his background and passion for Natural History and human artifactual ingenuity. Gems, minerals and fossils are the rich medium on his palette, a keen eye for the world's beauty and irony, his inspiration. His artwork has been a steady climb upwards, both in depth of design and quality of material. A life-long fascination with skeletal imagery has been a platform to produce often astonishing and startling sculpture, rooted from such diverse cultures as Tibet to the Grateful Dead, from the catacombs to the Hell's Angels....the human skull remains as possibly the most powerful single symbol that can be evoked.

    In this sense, according to Downey, this meteorite skull carries a particularly intense amount of force with it. States the artist:

    "Of any material I could think of to fashion an accurate human skull out of, this Gibeon meteorite best embodies the "mystery" most acutely. I call him The Traveler... a true time traveler. Coming in from the asteroid belt, 4 billion years old and counting...crossing over and crystallizing in the pure vacuum of space...then crashing onto the face of earth...collected by tribesmen in Africa, making its way to America, continuing on to Asia...to be meticulously cared for, worked over, lavishly transformed by human hands....into a thing of exquisitely rare beauty.... the architecturally "perfect" form of the brain vessel.
    A symbol of death, of eternity, of immortality, of demise and rebirth. This guy has made an amazing journey and it's composed of pure natural symmetry. Nothing neutral about this artifact, it carries huge gravity and spending time with it is oddly humbling."
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Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
Unique Life-sized Skull-form Carving of a Gibeon Meteorite with Tridymite Inclusion By Lee Downey
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