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Images nature Vincent van Gogh self-portrait are projected dome screen during Merrillville (Ind.) Community Planetarium’s winter show “Van Gogh Sees

Images of nature and a Vincent van Gogh self-portrait are projected on the dome screen during the Merrillville (Ind.) Community Planetarium’s winter show, “Van Gogh Sees the Stars,” on Jan. 11, 2013 | Anthony D. Alonzo~For Sun-Times Media

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If you go

What: “Van Gogh Sees the Stars”

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Jan. 18 and 25, and Saturdays, Jan. 19 and 26

Where: Merrillville Community Planetarium, Pierce Middle School, 199 E. 70th Ave.

Admission: Adults, $3; children, $2 (reservations suggested).

More information: Call 650-5486 or visit www.mcpstars.org.

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Updated: February 19, 2013 1:59PM



Focusing on the life and works of an iconic Dutch artist on the 160th anniversary of his birth, the Merrillville Community Planetarium has brought a topic as broad as the night sky into focus.

“Van Gogh Sees the Stars” continues as the MCP’s winter show at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Jan. 18 and 25, and Saturdays, Jan. 19 and 26. The planetarium is in Pierce Middle School.

The multimedia program, produced by Pierce art teacher Maryann Foster in 2001, tells Vincent van Gogh’s life story as shown through his famed post-impressionistic paintings. The 1889 work “The Starry Night” took center stage during a recent show.

Working with the mission of “bringing the universe to the Merrillville schools and Northwest Indiana,” MCP director Gregg Williams said the van Gogh program weaved together art, culture, psychology and science in one interesting program.

“When I was in college, I took an art appreciation class and I enjoyed it,” said Williams. “If I talk about constellations — Orion the Hunter or Andromeda the Chained Maiden — it’s our way of injecting a little drama into the night sky.

“With van Gogh, you sort of have a real story that involves drama and the night sky. ”

With Mozart scores playing under the narration, large images of van Gogh’s paintings were projected, and audience members were told to notice the deliberate brush strokes and moods shown in the works.

For much of his life, van Gogh struggled to manage depression and other psychological ills. The MCP program didn’t gloss over his erratic behavior. Rather, it painted a picture of an underappreciated genius.

“It’s fabulous,” said Jerry Gasche of Schererville, who brought his grandsons, Hayden Neis, 9, and Max Gasche, 7. “They really enjoyed themselves, and they had no idea of what to expect. I didn’t, either.”

“The Starry Night” emerged from a productive period before van Gogh’s death in 1890 at age 37. He was inspired by the view from his window at a sanitarium in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in southern France. At the MCP, patrons saw a computer-generated scene.

“This is more fun than just sitting in a class and hearing about it,” said Samantha Maznaritz, 12, who accompanied her mother, Kimm Maznaritz. “I liked watching the movie on the dome, how it tied together van Gogh, space and seeing how most of his artwork was about the sky.”

As audience members craned to view the panoramic vistas, Williams used a light pointer to highlight the heavenly features that van Gogh transferred uniquely to canvas. Venus, constellations and even galaxies were visible, though he noted the best views of a starry night are away from the lights of major cities.

The program wrapped up to the sound of Don McLean’s 1971 acoustic hit “Vincent” — commonly known as “Starry, Starry Night.”

“Starry, starry night

Flaming flowers that brightly blaze

Swirling clouds in violet haze

Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue

Colors changing hue

Morning fields of amber grain

Weathered faces lined in pain

Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.”

Among nearly three dozen student volunteers who assist with MCP programs and in the gift shop, Pierce seventh-grader Hayden Harmon said he wouldn’t miss the opportunity.

“I love science; in science class right now, I have an A,” Harmon said. “I come out here because I enjoy serving the community and giving people the best options we can.”



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