"Escape from Earth" and the strange-but-true story of Leonardo's founder

The journal Leonardo was founded in 1968 in Paris by kinetic artist and astronautical pioneer Frank Malina. Malina saw the need for a journal that would serve as an international channel of communication among artists, with emphasis on the writings of artists who use science and developing technologies in their work. But before all this, Malina was an American scientist. The new book Escape from Earth: A Secret History of the Space Rocket by Fraser MacDonald tells the story behind the story.

The Meaning of Rocks

Some years ago (before GPS), my friends and I stopped at a Forest Service office in the Trinity Mountains of Northern California to inquire how to cut through to the nearby Siskiyous, which lay to the east.

The Helpers

The history of this place is like the fog, thick and enchanted. At one moment we are enveloped in its mystery, its care, the next the sun breaks through and we can see outward again. We are all finding our way in the fog here. 

Creating Dream Maps at Djerassi

I brought to Djerassi recordings of over 400 memorable REM dreams of more than 300 residents of the Bay Area of San Francisco that I had made over a period of 5 years as part of my anthropological research on urban emotions.  My original plan had been to create during my residency an art installation of maps that show the traces left by these phenomena in cities to complement my current writing of an ethnography of urban emotions.  Being at Djerassi has somewhat altered my plans.  


July 5th

Yesterday, July 5th, was the anniversary of Pamela Djerassi’s death. Her brother Dale joined us for dinner here in the hills, and moved some of us to tears with his remembrance. Pamela died by suicide when she was only twenty-eight, a tragedy that spurred the eventual founding of this residency program. Tragedy transformed into beauty, into a gift for twelve new people every month, twelve artists who can watch the fog rise over hills and walk the paths among the sequoias and experience a nurturing invitation to just be.

Hunting Berries

On one of my afternoon walks around the Djerassi grounds, I see a bright scrap of red set far back in the hunch of a thorny bush.  The color draws my eye, but as I crouch down to look close, it’s clear that the berry isn’t ready to be eaten.  Flat red and unglossy, it has the shape of a finished thing, the drupes lined up and articulated with precision—but it is still just an object, not yet a food, and to sample it would be a mistake.  I check back each week as I walk past the vacant space, and by the end of the month it is ripe and ready and soft to the touch.