Karascope

I recently went to Eastern Washington to visit my grandparents, and Grandma was going through some things and asked if any of them held sentimental value to us. When I was a child, there was always an assortment of fun things to play with, especially puzzles and stuffed animals and objects that stimulated our visual curiosity. I remember one game I frequently played with my sister and cousin. First we’d gather all the bouncy balls we could find. One kid would sit at the base of the staircase with a basket and try to catch as many balls as they could, while the other kids sent them tumbling from the top of the stairs. It was always a contest to see who could consistently catch the most.

Being that we grew out of those games well over a dozen years ago, most of those toys have since been donated. But a small handful remained, my favorite of which being the Karascope.

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It looks like a kaleidoscope, and acts very similarly to one. But the cool part is that it’s asymmetrical and changes colors depending on what angle the pieces are at in relation to the light source. Polarized light is pretty spiffy! I wish I knew more about the science of it.

The tube of the Karascope reads:

The Karascope designed by Judith Karelitz

The Karascope creates an optical fantasy in a tube by polarizing, refracting, and reflecting light. There is no colored glass in the Karascope, only the spectral colors of light itself.

Ordinary white light which vibrates in all directions is polarized along one plane when it passes through the base of the tube. The light then enters clear, colorless pieces of birefringent material and is reorganized by the eyepiece to produce the startling colors that you see. The patterns, unlike those in a kaleidoscope, are asymmetrical.

Hold the Karascope toward the light, rotate the base, and the image changes. A twist of the eyepiece alters the colors of the image and causes the pattern to swirl to or from the eye. The spectrum also shifts as the Karascope is pointed toward different light sources.

Judith Karelitz 1978 N.Y.C.

Further investigations determines that the Karascope was sold in the Museum of Modern Art (NY) back in the 70’s. It’s cool to hold a fascinating piece of visual art history, at the same time I remember some of my childhood wonders. Sorry my camera doesn’t quite do the Karascope justice, but it’s a really fun piece of design!

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