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Los Alamos business cards salvaged from Black Hole show ‘human network’

Old business cards left at Los Alamos National Laboratory are the subject of a new book and a gallery show in Los Angeles.

Old business cards left at Los Alamos National Laboratory are the subject of a new book and a gallery show in Los Angeles.

 

The legacy of Ed Grothus lives on!

For decades before his death in 2009, Grothus ran The Black Hole, a wonderfully strange nuclear lab castoffs/military junk store and makeshift museum in Los Alamos. Now, some of the stuff he collected is the subject of a new book and is on display at a Los Angeles gallery.

No early computer arrays or Cold War-era scientific equipment are featured. There are no pieces of metal associated with the creation of Little Boy and Fat Man, no notes on implosion theory.

It’s business cards. It turns out that among the artifacts Grothus left behind were hundreds of cards from contractors seeking to sell things or services to Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as from the occasional lab worker.

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“Los Alamos Rolodex,” published by the Center for Land Use Interpretation, reproduces 100 cards left at the lab from 1967 to 1978, according to a Jan. 15 article from The Atlantic magazine called “The Traveling Salesmen of the Nuclear-Industrial Weapons Complex.”

The cards shown along with the article by associate editor Robinson Meyer feature appealing and fun retro designs, and space-age or atomic particle imagery (think the Albuquerque Isotopes’ logo or a New Wave pop music album cover from the early 1980s, even with that era’s touches of pink and green).

Or as Meyer writes, “This is

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mid-century American design – the school of the flat sans-serifs and frontiers of white space – in all its regional peculiarity. No card looks quite like the others and even cards from the most seemingly mundane companies boast a quirky logo or turn of phrase in an odd way.” One is from a firm that calls itself “THE GOLIATH OF THE WORK GLOVE FIELD.”

So do these business cards have something to do with land use? Well, Matthew Coolidge, founder of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, is quoted as saying that the building of the nationwide nuclear weapons complex that includes LANL created “a federally subsidized machine that was landscape in size and continental in scale.” The center has offices around the West and focuses, as the center itself says, on “human interaction with the earth’s surface,” according to Meyer.

Meyer finds the book “oddly pleasing” and says it takes two approaches: “We see people as professionals, glimpsing both them as individuals and their role in the machine.” You see “the human network that gave rise to the atomic industry.”

The cards were discovered by Aura Tang, an artist and program manager at the center, when The Black Hole’s stock was sold off after Grothus passed away. While the book shows 100 cards, more than 500 are on display at the center’s Los Angeles gallery.

Coolidge told Meyer: “Each card is a mirror in a way, but each card is also a star gate or wormhole that represents a whole series of questions.”

See The Atlantic piece here.

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