My hometown mascot is the panther…or at least it’s the mascot for all of our sports teams. After each touchdown the high school football team scores, you’ll hear a panther snarl played over the loudspeakers that sounds (not at all silly) very ferocious, which is more than I can say about anything regarding my college mascot of the muskie fish, other than its mouth full of teeth.
The city of Wrocław in Poland also has a mascot, though it’s more a symbol of peaceful resistance than some randomly chosen creature to put on a town’s jerseys – the gnome, or krasnal.
The gnome was used as a way to fight back against the Polish communist regime, but has continued on as the symbol of the city, and you can find more than 300 gnomes around the city. There’s even a website dedicated to the gnomes of Wrocław that tells their story and provides downloadable maps of where to find them.
According to a post at inyourpocket.com titled Gnomenclature: Wrocław’s Gnomes, “Although it sounds like little more than a twee tourist gimmick, gnomes have long held a place in Polish folklore, and their current iconic incarnation as symbols of Wrocław actually has a direct correlation to the political climate of the 1980s. Under communism gnomes became the absurdist calling card of the ‘Orange Alternative’ movement – an underground protest movement that used absurdity and nonsense to stage peaceful, yet subversive protests. Armed with paint cans and led by Waldemar ‘Major’ Fydrych, an artist and art history student at Wrocław University, the group specifically ridiculed the establishment’s attempts to censor public space.
“During communism, any anti-establishment graffiti or public art was quickly painted over by the militia; upon seeing fresh daubs of paint, the pranksters of the Orange Alternative quickly painted over them yet again…with gnomes.”
By now, you’re probably wondering where 3D printing technology fits into this story. Poland celebrated 100 years of independence this year, and a man named Waldemar Plusa, along with the entire city of Wrocław, used the gnome as a way to commemorate the important anniversary.
Plusa wanted to use the advanced technologies available through local industry, and prove to the rest of the city that “the only limits are the ones we set in our minds.” So, he contacted the Polish office of Materialise to see if the company could offer its growing services to fabricate a gnome. But, merely 3D printing a gnome wasn’t a grand enough gesture.
According to a Materialise blog post, “The final goal? To launch the Wrocław gnome into the stratosphere!”
Plusa first provided Materialise with a model of the gnome built out of plasticine, a synthetic clay substitute. Then, Materialise 3D scanned the model, and used its Magics 3D data preparation software suite, recently updated, to get rid of any errors in the scan data and optimize it for 3D printing.
Then, Materialise 3D printed the gnome model using its SLS technology. During post-processing work, the model was smoothed out, but the company kept it the same natural, white color of the polyamide material it was printed in.
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While the images taken during the gnome’s first flight on New Year’s Eve did not come out well, due to the celebratory fireworks around him, he was launched again soon after, because, as Materialise puts it, “gnomes don’t give up easily!”
Everything went swimmingly during the second launch, which took place early last month. This time, the 3D printed Wrocław gnome’s rocket made it all the way to stratosphere – a level of the atmosphere higher than commercial airlines fly.
In addition, the rocket sent out a broadcast of the gnome’s best wishes for his home country of Poland to the world, available through the organizers’ websites. The 3D printed gnome by Materialise, which is a symbol of “the innovative spirit of the Wrocław region,” was the first gnome ever to celebrate the country’s 100th anniversary in space…though I’m guessing he was also the only gnome to do so.
If you’re interested in seeing a somewhat shaky video of the gnome’s flight, check out the video below.
Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.[Images: Materialise, unless otherwise credited]