Birthday Boy: M.C. Escher–Born June 17, 1898! june 17

Today is the famous artistic and mathematical genius M.C. Escher’s birthday! Born in the Netherlands, he was always a sickly child which hindered his dreams to be an architect. Instead, he studied art and design as well as carpentry. He traveled to Italy and Spain and was impressed with the intricate buildings, especially the Alhambra castle. The symmetrical patterns of interlocking stones heavily influenced his work. Although he had no mathematical training, he created “impossible” designs from his ideas rather than copying everything he saw. He distorted architecture and took advantage of perception and perspective.  [all images via]

After travelling through the Mediterranean he began to see the real potential for symmetry and tessellations (endless repetitions, the simplest one being a tile floor). This dominated his later work as he explored the concept behind fitting an infinite space in a two-dimensional field. His prints and sculptures have inspired artists, scientists, architects and mathematicians all over the world. His legacy lives on through popular culture as well as in the Escher Museum in the Netherlands. His works have been referenced in The Simpsons, Family Guy, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Digimon, Phineas and Ferb, The Lord of the Ring: The Fellowship of the Ring, and many more!

To celebrate Escher’s birthday, we were inspired to learn more about symmetry and tessellations. You can teach your child about art, math and improve their cognitive and perception skills all in one easy lesson, no matter what age they are! You can find an amazing collection of his (very wide range of) work at the official M.C. Escher site. (We especially recommend their line of M.C. Escher puzzles.) Now check out the influence that M.C. Escher has had on movies that you may not have even thought about–like this scene from 1986’s Labyrinth (which shouldn’t be too scary to show off to the kids):