Tara Leigh Tappert
Source: American Craft 
A fiber art project launched in 2005 in the living room of two sisters has spread around the world and taken root at the Smithsonian. The burgeoning "Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef" and Smithsonian Community Reef - the project's latest satellite reef - are on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., through April 24. Ultimately, the thousands of crochet organisms that comprise the two reefs may raise awareness to protect the real, endangered reefs on the ocean floor.
Twin sisters Margaret and Christine Wertheim began their mammoth craft undertaking as an initiative of their Los Angeles-based Institute For Figuring (IFF). Margaret, a science writer, and Christine, a California Institute of the Arts professor, became fascinated by the work of Cornell University mathematician Daina Taimina. An ardent crafter since her Latvian childhood, Taimina discovered in 1997 that hyperbolic space could be physically modeled through crocheted forms. ("Hyperbolic space" is a term from non-Euclidean geometry; a hyperbolic plane is a surface in which the space curves away from itself at every point.) Taimina's mathematically pure, ruffled structures reminded the Australian-born sisters of the curly coral creatures that form the Great Barrier Reef. Christine and Margaret then re-interpreted Taimina's academically prescribed shapes into a multifarious crocheted reef.
Beauty is not all that these living organisms provide, of course. Rick MacPherson of the Coral Reef Alliance points out that while coral reefs cover just two-tenths of one percent of the ocean floor, their complex tropical ecosystems rival the rainforests in biodiversity, supporting almost a quarter of all marine species. Coral reefs also provide food, resources for medicines, and "income to millions of people worldwide, and they protect our coastal communities from damaging storms and tsunamis," MacPherson says.
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