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MIT Technology Review

Cha-Rie Tang ’73 and Bruce Hubbard ’73

Marrying art and science

Artist Cha-Rie Tang ‘73 zings around the studio she shares with her scientist husband, Bruce Hubbard ‘73, explaining the process of firing ceramics and glass. She hovers long enough to exclaim “Uh-oh!” as she pokes at a ceramic panel before darting off to coo at another. Meanwhile, Hubbard perches nearby, offering the occasional suggestion. “Each piece is like four newborn babies that I have to deliver with my two hands, all at once,” says Tang.

Tang has long been passionate about her art. “I wanted to be an artist and I applied to all the women’s colleges, but they didn’t even have studio art–they just had art history,” she recalls. “I wanted to do something real.” Her older sister Cha-Mei Tang ‘71, SM ‘73, ScD ‘77, who was already at MIT, suggested majoring in architecture to combine art and technology. So Cha-Rie headed to MIT in the fall of 1969 and did just that. Two younger siblings would follow them: brother Cha-Min Tang ‘75, SM ‘75, and sister Jessamy Tang ‘89.

Hubbard arrived at MIT the same year, and though he majored in biology, he too was fascinated by art. “I was attracted to him because he talked about art and his father building houses,” Tang says. After graduation, they both went to the University of Colorado to earn master’s degrees. In 1977 they moved to Pasadena, CA, where Hubbard got his PhD in cell biology at Caltech. In Pasadena, they carved out diverse careers, sometimes working on their own, sometimes for other firms. Hubbard worked at engineering companies, developed graphics software, and tried his hand at woodworking, photography, and glass art. As a faculty member at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design for 19 years, he teaches topics ranging from electronics to light. And Tang’s résumé includes stints as an architect, designer, and architectural illustrator.

Tang and Hubbard also created their own studio, Direct Imagination (www.directimagination.com), which has evolved along with their interests. Lately they have focused on Tang’s art, such as a recent project for a Los Angeles Public Library branch that uses a tile wall, a mural, and six fused-glass panels to depict fairy tales.

Deep scientific knowledge informs their creations. Because they understand chemistry and how materials like glass go through phase transitions, they can predict innovative effects. “The materials tend to be low tech,” says Hubbard. “The understanding of what you’re doing and the problem solving that goes with it is very high tech.”

Tang settles on the term classical to characterize Direct Imagination’s work. “Classical denotes something that is inherently worthwhile and will last,” she explains. The creations Tang and Hubbard are most proud of, though, are their artist daughter and scientist son, who each carry on a part of the family tradition.