“Every great space program began with art!”

Those words grabbed my mind immediately. I’d never considered this concept before yet it seemed rich with insight.  The words had just been spoken to me by Rick Sternbach, who had made a trip to my vendor table at Star Trek Las Vegas (STLV) in order to meet me.  For those who are not aware, this affable yet impressive artist/illustrator is the very one responsible for a number of starship designs in the universe of Star Trek, including the Cardassian Galor Class, the Klingon Vor’cha and Negh’Var Classes, and Federation starships such as the Prometheus, Dauntless, and Nova Classes, and of course also for USS Voyager itself (which he described as ‘his baby’)!

I acknowledged to Rick that I had never really considered the idea of art’s fundamental role in space exploration.  He smiled, and then went on to explain that space exploration, being such relatively uncharted territory, required leaps of vision that most people could only effectively contemplate when an artist rendered that vision for them.  People, Rick said, needed to see to believe!  But once they believed, they could launch that vision into reality.

Rick Sternbach and Kavita Maharaj

With Rick Sternbach at STLV.

As Rick and I continued to chat further, I became very aware that if Rick was right, then an artist had a rather enormous responsibility to believe in their own internal vision.  After all, if they were the ones who had to bring a concept into view so others could see it to believe, then they themselves had the more difficult task of learning to believe without having the benefit of first seeing!

During our conversation, Rick also expressed admiration for my work.  He was impressed by my ability to capture not only form but deep character as well, which is why he said he had sought me out at STLV.  He had always found the human form difficult to understand and to render.  I found that interesting, given the complexity of his starship designs, and said as much.  That’s when Rick told me about the one thing that happened along the way that helped him to feel less confused about the human form.  Years ago, a friend had told him that the human body was “just a soft machine”.  Now that, he said, was something that he could wrap his mind around!

As I listened to Rick’s story, I was struck by another realization… just as artists have been necessary illuminators for space explorers, Rick’s friend had been an illuminator for him.  It occurred to me then that it is essentially our duty, each and every one of us, to use our gift of vision to help to light the vision of those around us.  One does not need to be an artist.  One simply needs to have the ability to see in places where others struggle.  The truth is, we all have the ability to see in places that others find shrouded in darkness.  And we all struggle in places where others see light.  To that end, we all have both the ability and the duty to be torchbearers for the world around us by gifting them the ways in which we were designed to see.

On that first day that I met Rick, he and I conversed for a good 20 to 30 minutes.  At the end of the chat, he gave me his card with his contact information so that we might talk again in the future.  I so enjoyed meeting him, and receiving the benefit of his freely offered wisdom, that when I set up the next day in the vendor room I thought to myself, “I should email Rick and let him know just how much I enjoyed meeting him yesterday!”  In that moment I looked up, and there he was, in front of my table once again, a joyful smile on his face, and waving an enthusiastic “Hello!”.  He said that he wanted to stop by to see me again before he left STLV.  I was thrilled!

Our second chat would easily last another 20 or more minutes again.  This time, I received the added gift of Rick sharing with me photos of his most current design for a ship to Mars.  I was sad to see him leave that day but the joy we both appeared to share with each other should have come as no real surprise to me.  You see, that’s the thing about light… it begets light… and the illumination casts both ways!

Kavita Maharaj