Patterns in Maths, Music, Nature and Art

It is Artists’ Open Studio Weekend in Whanganui. Here is my regular column in the Wanganui Chronicle.     Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 9.21.00 AM

We love the arts in our household: during daylight hours the radio is playing music; we have impromptu dance parties in the lounge; and a collection of visual art is slowly establishing itself. Our daughter, Verti, regularly engages in artistic activities: painting, singing, playing “moozik.” Coming from a family of mathematicians, I am aware of the connection between music and maths. My calculating mum brought a second-hand piano into our home hoping that my brother and I would play. Research has shown that those who learn to play a musical instrument in their early teenage years also develop their mathematical abilities. But he and I were both far too involved in sport to give the piano a chance. None the less, my brother went on to study maths in university and became a maths teacher (and coach of football aka ‘gridirion’ and track & field aka ‘athletics’). I struggled through with calculus and then threw in the towel. But as I have grown older I have gravitated back to maths through my work as an eco-designer. Screen shot 2015-03-27 at 9.21.29 AM Eco-design is about recognizing and designing for patterns. My growing affinity for maths made sense when I heard this quote from Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, Marcus du Sautoy. In a BBC interview about the connection between music and maths he said that, for him, maths has less to do with algebraic equations and that, “A mathematician is a pattern searcher.” His words resonated with me on many levels: As an education researcher I search for patterns in data. As an organic gardener I seek patterns that evidence early signs of insect or disease damage. As an avid beachcomber I search for patterns in driftwood that indicate native hardwoods instead of soft pines, poplar or willow. Much of the artwork in and around our Castlecliff home came directly from Castlecliff Beach. These include decorations for our daughter’s nursery…

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a Christmas tree we have used for three consecutive years…

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numerous surfboard racks, a headboard for our bed,…

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and a seesaw.

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In each case the natural form of the driftwood determined its manifestation into a work of art. In our new home, which is sadly 10 kilometers from the beach, artwork is taking a very different form. Verti’s talented aunty quilted an amazing playmat for her that is a stylised map of the region including the city, Mount Ruapehu, Whanganui National Park, te awa, agricultural land, and even the North Mole. What is especially amazing is that aunty used different stitching patterns for the fabrics representing the different parts of the region: mountains; cobbles, sand dunes; flowing water; and even waves.

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Another amazing work of art that is taking form in our new home is a mandala being painted by our intern, Luna. She is painting it as a feature wall on some old tongue and groove rimu that we decided to re-purpose as a canvas. Pattern is the basis for a mandala, and it is easy to see that Luna’s many hours of meticulous brushwork has gifted us with an amazing piece.

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Peace, Estwing

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