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Mary Ellen Bute, from a talk given at the Chicago Art Institute, 1976

I was a painter in Texas [and] lived on a ranch [until my Houston art teacher] arranged for a scholarship for me at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. That was a whole new world for me. Practically all of the articles and journals that had reached my part of Texas were very against modern art. [So] when I went to Philadelphia I was so deeply impressed by the wonderful Picassos, the African art, the [Paul] Klees, the Braques, the Kandinskys… He [Kandinsky] used abstract, nonobjective elements so you could experience a canvas the way you experience a musical composition . .. Well. I thought it was terrific… [but] these things should be unwound in time continuity. It was a dance. That became my [objective] . ..

I came to New York and tried to find the technical means. The most developed thing at the time was stage lighting . I went to an art school where we did many things with lighting, but it wasn’t adequate, an art medium per se. Then, by a fluke, I got into Yale… and they had a fabulous switchboard, and of course I became one of its runners, reaching for my kinetic art form.

From Yale I got the job of taking drama around the world. .. and got to see, oh, the Noh drama of Japan, and the Taj Mahal in India [where gems surrounded the building] . I looked into the gems and saw reflected the Taj Mahal, and the lake, and the whole thing appealed to me enormously. .. because it was romantic and because it was a kinetic, visual thing. I started entertaining myself by imagining these designs and patterns all in movement.

Back in New York I related all of this to Thomas Wilfred, who by that time had developed a color organ. This was in 1929 .. . Then I heard about Leon Theremin.. . and apprenticed myself to his [sound] studio to learn more about composition. He became interested in my determination to develop a kinetic visual art form, [and helped me with experiments]. We submerged tiny mirrors in tubes of oil, connected to an oscillator, and drew where these points of light wereflying . The effect was thrilling for us-it was so pure. But it wasn’t enough. Finally we got a Bolex camera, and started analyzing, to make my first film, Rhythm in Light (1934) . It was mostly three-dimensional animation . Pyramids, and ping pong balls, and all interrelated by light patterns-, and I wasn’t happy unless it all entered and exited exactly as I had planned.
(Articulated Light Harvard Film Archive – Anthology Film Archives, 1956 )