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From the Stacks 

June 19, 2014

Science in Action at Odd Salon

On Tuesday June 24th, our own Kelly Jensen (Digital Production Assistant) will be giving a talk about the Academy Archives as part of Odd Salon. Topics will include our recent digitization and preservation projects, particularly the film reels of the Academy’s 1950s-era television show, Science in Action.

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Science in Action was one of the first television shows to present science in an entertaining fashion, with a different guest each week to explain topics as diverse as “Exploring Mars,” “Muscles,” or “Trout Lore – Fact and Fancy.” Hosted by Earl S. Herald, director of the Steinhart Aquarium, the show was a popular institution in the Bay Area and paved the way for later programs like NOVA, Connections, and Cosmos.

SIA_opossum

In an effort to preserve the films, we are currently in the process of digitizing as many as we can, both to create digital surrogates, and to make the programs viewable by the public. We’re very grateful to the California Audiovisual Preservation Project for their support in digitizing these films; with their help we expect to have 30 more episodes available soon!

 

Several episodes of Science in Action can now be watched at Internet Archive and on the California Academy of Sciences’ YouTube channel. Don’t miss the Animal of the Week at the end of each program!

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Odd Salon (“Learn Something Weird”) is a twice-monthly evening of short talks on broad topics such as “Rogue,” “Lost,” and “Secret.” Kelly’s talk will add a bit of insider museum lore to “Preserved.”

 


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Library News,Science in Action — Archives & Special Collections @ 11:09 pm

January 6, 2014

Archives Unboxed: Ynes Mexia.

The archives at the California Academy of Sciences hold the life’s work of many amazing scientists and naturalists.  While recently undertaking a survey of our photograph collection, I had the chance to revisit the work of a true pioneer, Ynes Mexia.

Ms. Mexia was a fiercely independent botanist who traveled through the taxing wilderness of South America, Mexico, and Alaska in search of plant specimens from the mid-1920s through the late 1930s. Mexia was often only accompanied by hired guides and carried what she could in order to sustain her and more importantly, to support her work gathering specimens. Like many of the plants she was so fond of, Ynes Mexia was a bit of a late bloomer.

Portrait of Ynes Mexia

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Young Black-headed Grosbeak.”
Portrait of Ynes Mexia, ca. 1921.

Ynes was born in Washington DC in 1870. When her parents separated in 1879, Ynes moved with her mother and attended schools in Philadelphia, Toronto, and Maryland.   After her compulsory education was complete, she was sent to live with her father in Mexico where she would manage his estate and eventually inherited the family ranching business. Mexia made a life for herself in Mexico for nearly 30 years but after two unhappy marriages and a nervous breakdown, she moved to San Francisco to strike out on her own and discover her true passion, botany.  In 1917, Mexia joined the Sierra Club and she participated in hikes exploring the California landscapes where she became deeply involved with conservation efforts to preserve the Redwoods. At age 51, Mexia enrolled as a special student at the University of California at Berkeley. If you think a 51 year old enrolling in University is uncommon now, you can only imagine how anomalous it was in 1921 when Mexia enrolled! Nevertheless, Mexia’s spirit for learning and eagerness to participate in university expeditions introduced her to botanical collecting, which kindled a fire inside of Mexia that she had not previously known. Around this time, Mexia also formed a friendship with renowned California Academy of Sciences botanist, Alice Eastwood. Eastwood proved to be a great mentor and Mexia joined her on collecting trips throughout California.

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

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Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Bringing home the specimens.”
Contra Costa County (Calif.), 1923.

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Nest and eggs of Spurred Towhee.” ca.1923.

In 1925, Mexia was invited to join an expedition bound for Sinaloa, Mexico. In the early days of the expedition Mexia decided that she would be better suited to traveling alone.  At Mexia broke off from the expedition, gathered provisions, and sent for supplies to make her way to Mazatlan and down the Mexican coast. On this collecting trip Mexia gathered 3,500 specimens. This would mark the first of thirteen years of collecting expeditions in new and unexplored landscapes. Mexia’s solo expeditions would take her back to Mexico, across South America, and even into Alaska, where Mexia would be the first collect the flora of what is now the Denali National Park.

The California Academy of Sciences holds many of Ynez Mexia’s photographs from her numerous travels both domestically and abroad. Much of her collection is comprised of negatives shot on a cellulose nitrate film base, which was a plastic that was commonly used as a flexible film base from 1889 to around 1951. The nitrocellulose in the chemical composition gradually decomposes, making it vulnerable to specific types of deterioration over time.  Here at the California Academy of Sciences, we are taking measures to help slow down the inevitable deterioration process of Mexia’s collection of beautiful photographs so that future generations can benefit from her experiences.  We are currently in the process of digitizing Mexia’s nitrate negatives in order to retain access to the images while the artifacts are stored at a very low temperature. The negatives will be kept in a -20 degree stable environment to try and slow the deterioration process down to an imperceptible crawl. Ynes Mexia’s work embodies a pioneering spirit that we hope will continue to inspire curiosity and excitement in naturalists of all ages for generations to come.

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
Probably Middle Fork Canyon area, Kings Canyon National Park (Calif.) ca. 1919-1938

 

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

Click to view the image larger in a new window.
Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
“Sentinal Dome – Glacier point – Jeffry Pine. Nature class with Dr. Bryant. July 2/21.”

 

 

-Yolanda Bustos, Project Manager and Archives and Digital Collections Assistant Librarian


Resources

Anema, Durlynn. Ynes Mexia, Botanist and Adventurer. Greensboro, N.C: Morgan Reynolds Pub, 2005. Print.

Mexía, Ynés. Ynes Mexia Papers. , 1910. Archival material.

Polk, Milbry, and Mary Tiegreen. Women of Discovery: A Celebration of Intrepid Women Who Explored the World. New York: C. Potter, 2001. Print.


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 11:36 pm

June 14, 2013

Mystery in the Stacks, Part II

Last month I wrote about Leverett Mills Loomis, the two Guadalupe Storm Petrels, and the other items he rescued from the fire that destroyed the California Academy of Sciences in the wake of the 1906 earthquake. I discussed our fine copy of Marc Athanse Parfait Oeillet Des Murs’ Iconographie Ornithologique, which I have referenced multiple times over the years without realizing that Loomis had saved it. If you’d like to view a complete copy of this beautiful work online, visit the Biodiversity Heritage Library to see the Smithsonian’s copy.

I promised to return and discuss the part of Loomis’ letter of May 7, 1906 reading:

As I wanted to be the first donor to the Academy’s new ornithological library, I put Brown’s illustrations under my arm as I passed the store-room.

 This read to me as if Loomis was in possession of some of Captain Thomas Brown’s hand colored engravings, originally issued in 1835 as Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucian Bonaparte, Prince of Musignano… The work was intended to serve as the illustrated atlas accompanying the original European edition of Alexander Wilson’s groundbreaking American Ornithology, first issued in Philadelphia between 1808 and 1814.

I found this shocking to say the least. I had never seen a copy of Brown’s Illustrations in the Library, and I only 12 copies are listed in OCLC WorldCat. It is a beautiful work, considered one of the rarest illustrated ornithologies, issued in Royal Folio (20 inches tall) with vividly colored plates.

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(Left: Plate 16 “Carolina Parrot,” Yellow-billed Cuckoo,” and “Black-billed Cuckoo.” Right: Unnumbered plate “Honduras Turkey.” Both from Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucian Bonaparte.)

None of the records I examined gave any clue as to what Loomis had done with “Brown’s Illustrations.” Remembering that the Rare Book collections were once upon a time cataloged differently than (and housed separately from) the rest of the Library, I decided to scan the shelves to see if anything seemed to fit the bill.

Scanning the oversize shelves in the range of QL674 – QL682 (the classification of the other Wilson volumes), I figured I might find a manila folder with a few loose plates, or something similar. Imagine my surprise at finding what appeared to be a large, complete folio volume, with a call number on a tag (made on a typewriter) but with no barcode or other label. A bookplate on the pastedown reads “Presented by Leverett Mills Loomis April 18, 1906.” It seems unlikely that Loomis would make a gift to the Library while the City was engulfed in flames, so I’m going to wager that this bookplate was created long after the book was rescued.

When I opened the volume, I discovered an inscription (in Latin) apparently written by Behr, gifting this book to Loomis in July of 1900 or 1901.

inscription-web

(Inscription from H.H. Behr to Leverett Mills Loomis, from Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucian Bonaparte.)

The first plate in the book also boasts the inscription “Property of H. H. Behr” faintly in the upper right.

plate2-web

(Plate 1 “California Vulture” From Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucian Bonaparte.)

Dr. Behr served as Vice President of the California Academy of Sciences and was an accomplished physician, collector of butterflies, and Curator of Entomology, as well as a speaker and scholar of at least six languages. He passed away in 1904 at the age of 85, and was lovingly eulogized by his Academy colleagues.

It would seem these are the illustrations Loomis saved in 1906; however, I have found no record of when this book came to the Academy Library. It was possibly transferred after Loomis’ death in 1928, or at some point when the Ornithology department merged their library with the Main collection. Regardless, we will soon finish cataloging the book, making 13 OCLC libraries with a copy of Illustrations of the American Ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucian Bonaparte by Captain Thomas Brown.

Becky Morin
Head Librarian


Filed under: Academy History,Rare Books — Librarian @ 9:00 pm

May 25, 2013

Archives Unboxed: Episode #355 of Science in Action (1959)!

In 1949, the California Academy of Sciences furthered its longstanding mission to engage and educate the public in the sciences by expanding to the media of television. With generous underwriting from the American Trust Company (now Wells Fargo Bank) the California Academy of Sciences was able to produce Science in Action, a half hour science program which consisted of  twenty-two and a half minutes of programming on a specific scientific topic, presented by the Academy’s then curator of the Steinhart Aquarium Earl Herald in tandem with a foremost expert on the show’s subject. Over its sixteen year run, the show included interviews with several Nobel Laureates, including Harold Urey, Linus Pauling, Glenn T Seaborg, and Wendell M Stanley, all recipients of the Nobel Prize for chemistry who spoke on topics ranging from the Earth’s origins (Episode 107) to Cancer research (Episode 191). Science in Action also featured great innovators of American craft and design like Buckminster Fuller and Charles Eames.

Episode #355, “Earth’s Radiation Belts,” explored the methods used by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to determine the intensity and effects of Van Allen radiation belts surrounding the Earth.  This particular episode aired in 1959 – two years after Soviet dog Laika became the first animal in orbit, two years before Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed the first successful human spaceflight, and three years before astronaut John Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 around the Earth.  In 1959, the question voiced by host Earl Herald was one of the key scientific mysteries at the start of the Space Race: “What [are these radiation belts] going to mean for the first person to take off from the earth as a space traveler?”

Herald interviewed three researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (then known as the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley). Dr. R. Stephen White (Leader of the Nuclear Effects Group), Dr. Stanley Freden (Senior Staff Physicist), and Mr. Albert Oliver (Head of Processing Department), explained LLNL’s  method of radiation testing in the Van Allen belts: mounting an emulsion stack on a rocket, which was then launched into the region of the radiation belts using a rockoon (a rocket suspended from a high-altitude balloon), recovered upon returning to Earth, and processed to test for radiation intensity.

In Dr. Herald’s own words: “Compared to the excitement surrounding the man/satellite program, this little box [the emulsion stack] may not seem like much.  But when you stop and think of the fantastic amount of vital information that has been derived from it, and what this information will mean to the safety of future space travel, and a better understanding of the mysterious forces which surround the earth, then this little box takes on quite a different meaning.” The subject interview was  followed by a three minute “animal of the week” segment featuring Academy Herpetologist Ted Papenfuss and a series of rattlesnakes he collected from Southern Arizona and New Mexico.

As the first science television show on the west coast, Science in Action quickly made a name for itself as the finest in family programming with praise and support pouring in from both the media and viewers. The media regaled the show as one which “far exceeds anything else in the field of educational and science television.”[i]  Fan mail from children, parents, and educators indicated that the show was regarded with great affection. In 1951, Science in Action’s ratings indicated that the show tied for second place in children’s programming alongside Howdy Doody and trailing only slightly behind Hopalong Cassidy and hedging out the Lone Ranger! Additionally, Science in Action went on to win five Emmy Awards for Best Cultural and Educational Program (1951 and 1952), Best Live Show (1952), Special Achievement Award (1954), and the Excellence in Education Award (1955). The show also received a host of local and national awards for excellence.

Special thanks to Jim Oliver for generously providing the funding to transfer this classic from 16mm film to preservation-quality digital video.  We salute you!

For more information about Science in Action, visit http://research.calacademy.org/library/collections/archives/SIAtelevision and feel free to drop us a line.

 

- Heather Yager and Yolanda Bustos
Archives and Digital Collections


[i] Foster, Bob. “S.F. Holds Its Own in TV Shows Locally Produced”, San Mateo Times. August 8, 1951.


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds,Science in Action — admin @ 12:06 am

May 15, 2013

Archives Unboxed: A letter from Einstein, a proclamation from Grant

Part One: The Einstein Letter

As an archivist here at the California Academy of Sciences, it is our job to preserve, organize, and make available for use the records of scientific activity and discovery. We undertake this effort in a variety of ways; from making available new and beautiful images of the natural world freely available for educational, personal, and non-profit use through the Manzanita Image Project, to digitizing field books and linking the resources to newly digitized specimens and published materials through our work on the Connecting Content Grant, to more traditional processing of our large collection of scientific records in an effort to make the material accessible to those who wish to consult it. Archival materials may include formats such as paper, photographs, film, video and audio recordings on analog or digital media, works of art, and other realia of significance to our collections. In short, you never know what you’ll find when you open a box.

I often boast that this exciting discovery is the best part of the job. As archivists, we get to be part Indiana Jones and part Sherlock Holmes (with equally zany fashion sense) and we are given the opportunity to preserve and explore the treasures of the past and allow for new connections and discoveries to be made as a result of our making the collections available. Moreover, in making these collections available, we uncover exciting items that we want to immediately share with you. With that in mind, we have decided to do a monthly (or perhaps more often if we just can’t wait) series of posts dedicated to highlighting some of the exciting new discoveries in our collections.

In our inaugural installment  we would like to share with you a recent discovery (to us) when we opened a collection known to us as “Special Collections”. The records themselves were fairly straight forward and were comprised of documents that captured the history and processes that formed the California Academy of Sciences Special Collections but as we perused the contents, a series of “Files from the Rare Book Room” brought forth unexpected treasure. A few items stood out, including the hand written account of a meeting in 1885 between Adolph Sutro, California fish commissioner Joseph D Redding in which the “Sea Lion Question” was addressed. In case you are curious, the sea lion question was essentially, “ Do the sea lions who occupy the bays and coasts near San Francisco pose a threat to the fish populations?” We also found a California land patent for a small section of Mount Diablo signed by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872.

1872 lang grant for lots of Mt. Diablo

1872 land patent for lots on Mt. Diablo

 

Additionally, we found a letter signed by Albert Einstein!

Letter from the emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists dated February 10, 1947.

Letter from the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists dated February 10, 1947.

The letter itself is a form letter asking for money to fund an educational endeavor regarding the responsible use of atomic energy after the tragedy of Hiroshima . Einstein was at the head of the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists for its brief existence. The University of Chicago holds the organization’s records, and you can read more about the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists here: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.ECAS

I can only speculate that this letter came to the Academy by way of ECAS member and Nobel laureates Harold Urey and Linus Pauling, who were closely affiliated with the California Academy of Sciences and appeared on several episodes of our Academy produced television program, Science in Action.

Stay tuned for more great finds as we dig into our archives and uncover the history and intrigue of our past!

 

-Yolanda Bustos

Connecting Content Project Manger & Archives and Digital Collections Assistant Librarian

 


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:06 am

May 3, 2013

One Big Disaster, Two Small Birds, and a Mystery in the Stacks

Happy May!

T.S. Eliot famously wrote “April is the cruelest month,” and when I look back on 160 years of the California Academy of Sciences, I am inclined to agree with that sentiment. The Library and Archives are involved in preserving and sharing the history of the Academy, and we all know quite a bit about April 18, 1906 and the massive earthquake and devastating fire that destroyed nearly all of the Academy’s collections. After the fires were extinguished, the Academy had 1497 botanical types, saved by Alice Eastwood, the original Minutes of Academy meetings, some other historical records and specimens, and two Guadalupe Storm Petrels (Oceanodroma macrodactyla).

petrels-web
Above, the Oceanodroma macrodactyla specimens housed in Ornithology & Mammalogy
Below, the tags on the specimens reading “Saved From The Fire”

tag-web

When I have occasion to talk about Academy history (a regular occurrence), I have rarely given much thought to any books or other print matter that may have been rescued besides the Minutes and a valuable manuscript by Theodore Henry Hittell. We are grateful to have those, as they inform much of what we know about the founding and early days of the Academy. And to be honest, I never like to think very hard about all of records and literature lost in the disaster. But, I always bring up Alice Eastwood, and I always mention these two petrels, which were saved by the Academy’s Director Leverett Mills Loomis. Loomis studied this variety of seabird, and possessed excellent foresight in securing the type specimen (described by W.E. Bryant in 1887) as O. macrodactyla would cease to be seen alive in the wild after 1911. But the birds are small, and I imagine the chaotic, post-earthquake scene of Mary Hyde rescuing the heavy, unwieldy books of Academy Minutes, and Alice Eastwood, working with a friend to tie up and save nearly 1500 herbarium sheets, while Director Loomis plucks just two small birds and then…gives up?

I turned to some letters that Loomis wrote to naturalist Edward W. Nelson of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and later the U.S. Biological Survey, which are reprinted here and were also sent anonymously and published in a lightly-censored form in Science in May 1906. In one of these letters, dated May 7, 1906, Loomis writes:

“As a starter for the bird collection I selected the types of Oceanodroma macrodactyla and as the beginning of the bird library I took your favorite Des Meers. As I wanted to be the first donor to the Academy’s new ornithological library, I put Brown’s illustrations under my arm as I passed the store-room. So you see we made a beginning before the end had come.”

 So, it would seem that Loomis was not stingy with his rescue efforts, and instead managed to save both the two Guadalupe Storm Petrel specimens collected by Bryant and two books. Upon review, it became clear to me that Loomis was referencing Marc Athanse Parfait Oeillet Des Murs’ Iconographie Ornithologique, a magnificently illustrated work from the 1840s, of which the Academy Library has a beautiful copy.

plate1-web

Above, plate of the Scaly Ground Roller (Geobiastes squamiger) of Madagascar, from Des Murs’ Iconographie Ornithologique

When I pulled it from the book from the shelf, I noticed for the first time the notation on the bookplate, stating “SAVED.”

saved-web

The reference to “Brown” proved more of a mystery, and one that I will revisit shortly in another blog entry. Stay tuned!

-Becky Morin
Head Librarian


Filed under: Academy History,Rare Books — Librarian @ 8:46 pm

April 30, 2013

Diorama-rama!

During our ongoing photo collection survey, we came across an image (by Moulin Studios) of a scale model version of the lion diorama that still stands in African Hall. Since the model is dated 1929 and African Hall didn’t open until five years later, it’s a rare glimpse into the early planning stages of the exhibit. Scale models were used to sketch out ideas for large dioramas before building the real thing.
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The final diorama turned out significantly different than the original model: the lions are facing the opposite direction, and a second female lion was added. Every aspect of the diorama was undertaken by Frank Tose (then Head of Exhibits), including the taxidermy, installation, and background mural.
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The lion diorama was unchanged from 1934 until the closure of the Academy’s original buildings in 2004. Since the murals in each diorama were painted directly onto the walls of African Hall, there was no way to save them when the building was demolished. Instead, they were painstakingly documented, color-matched, and re-created in the new building.
BFAV4725-web

The lions themselves were sent to a taxidermist for cleaning and repair, since 70 years on exhibit had taken its toll on them. The original foregound was preserved and re-created, although the sunset in the background was toned down, due to Academy scientists’ concerns about its scientific accuracy. In 2011, an additional audiovisual element was added to create moving herds on the plain behind the lions.
IMG_0252-web

Special thanks to Roberta Brett for her stories about the process of moving African Hall!

Kelly Jensen
- Digital Production Assistant


Filed under: Academy History,Archives finds,Exhibits,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 5:33 pm

April 10, 2013

A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses, Part Two

April is National Poetry Month here in the United States (and National Poetry Writing Month, hint hint…), and so we thought it time for another installment of “A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses.”  These four poems feature swaying owls, cloud-riding, and actual sea moss specimens mounted on the page.  Enjoy!

Verse from Sea Mosses, by Clara B. Heath (1881), lettering and specimen mount by Grace A. Hall (1890 ca.)  From the Grace A. Hall collection.

Were these the trees of a mimic isle,
Never at loss for the sun or dew?
Or only the branches that decked a while
A fairy boat with its fairy crew?

Verse from Sea Mosses, by James Thomas Field (1849), lettering by Grace A. Hall (1890 ca.) From the Grace A. Hall collection.
These tributes plundered from the sea
These many-colored variegated forms
Sail to our rougher shores and rise and fall,
To the deep music of the Atlantic wave.
Such spoils we capture where the rainbows drop
Melting in ocean.

The Owl and the Stars, by Arthur L. Bolton (1930 ca.) From the Bolton Family collection.
The little Stars were playing in the sky,
When the Man-in-the-Moon came sailing by;
He winked at them and they winked at him,
And they winked at the Owl on the old dry limb.
They played hide-and-seek, for the night was still,
And the Moon slipped down behind the hill,
But the little Stars kept winking still
And nodding in a roguish way,
To see the Owl sit there and sway
Till the Sun came up, when all he could do,
Was to sit on that limb the whold [sic] day through.

Untitled, by George S. Myers (1930 ca.) From the George S. Myers collection.
O would that I could ride a cloud
Over far vistas bright
O would that I might be a star
To scan the dim vastness of the night

O would that the world before me lay
All visible to my roving eye
For… [unfinished -HY]

A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses, Part One
-Heather Yager
Academy Archivist


Filed under: Academy History,Archives — Archives & Special Collections @ 10:51 pm

March 13, 2013

A Naturalist’s Garden of Verses, Part One

I’m always delighted when I find unexpected treasures in the archives.  In addition to the species lists, invoices, and specimen images common in natural history archives, one can find all manner of music, poetry, and comedy if one knows where to look.  Many of our scientists and naturalists found themselves gripped by the Muse on long, cold nights in the field (or long, cold days in the office), and put pen to paper in order to view their science through the lens of art.  Over the past few months I’ve been making notes whenever I come across a bit of verse in the collections – over the next few weeks I’ll bring you some of my favorites, starting with these three.

Alice Eastwood Acrostic, by Eunice Taylor (1940 ca.) From the Alice Eastwood collection.

Attuned as some rare violin to life,
Listening to and seeing Nature’s heart,
Interpreting her beauty and her art
Cherishing her mystery and her lore
Endowed with wisdom, kindliness and cheer.

Earth smiled triumphantly when you were born
And hailed you as her own beloved child
Saluting Canada’s proud gift, she gave
To California your spirit brave
Where she decreed that you should reign
O‘er all her giant trees and lovely flowers.
Oh! brighter is the world because of you
Disciple true, of Nature’s wondrous powers.

Untitled (early 20th century) From the B.W. Evermann collection.

I wish I was an eagle’s egg,
As stale as stale can be,
All cuddled down in a big old nest
In the top of a white oak tree.

Then when a greedy ‘ologist
Climbed up to me in glee,
I’d bust my nasty rotten self
And sprinkle him with me.

Yonder, by Arthur L. Bolton (1930 ca.) From the Bolton Family collection.

Yonder, where the spruces dwarft and aged,
Crouch beneath the overbearing snows,
Yonder, and beyond, where mountains soaring,
Bear the flush of early morning rose,
There, among the ptarmigan and willows,
Where Nature rests immaculate, sublime,
Shall I find a Peace at one with Heaven,
Shall I know the majesty of Time.

- Heather Yager, Archivist
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Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 12:18 am

February 28, 2013

Even Though It Was Raining (Switzer 1935 ca.)

Today we bring you a blog post from the past, describing in detail the tenacity of the dedicated collector. George Switzer, famed Smithsonian mineralogist (responsible for bringing the Hope Diamond into the Institution’s collection) wrote this tale of soggy derring-do while completing his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley in the mid-1930s. From the L. Courtney Decius collection at the California Academy of Sciences Archives.

EVEN THOUGH IT WAS RAINING

This is just by way of proving that it takes more than a mere rainstorm on a semi-liquid mud lake to stop a real mineral bug.

The lake visited was Borax Lake, formed by lava damming a mountain cove, in Lake County on the southeastern border of Clear Lake. It was in this lake that, in 1864, the first commercial production of Borax in American [sic] was begun. The lake is now nearly dry with a crust of Halite, colored violet by organic life, covering it. Under this crust is a thick mud with a decidedly “soapy” feel due to the large amount of Borax in solution.

The trip was made by a party of four, including Mr. M. Vonsen, a well-known mineralogist of Petaluma, California. It was unfortunate that we picked a very rainy day for the excursion because, during the whole time we were collecting, it rained in torrents. To make matters worse, the lake is so soft that one cannot walk on it. This was remedied by walking on skis made of one by six pine boards about six feet long tied to the feet with ropes. And beware! For if you step off the skis, you immediately sink to the hips in the mud and it is impossible to get out without assistance.

In spite of being soaked to the skin by rain and coated from head to foot with mud, the trip was very worth while. For by skiing to the middle of the lake, breaking the Halite crust and groping arms deep in the mud, we felt an occasional second layer, which proved to be excellent specimens of Halite and Borax crystals on Trona and Natron. The Natron, however, was so deliquescent that we were unable to preserve any of them. We also obtained minute crystals of Northupite and Gay-Lussite, both insoluble in water, by dissolving a specimen of the Borax and Trona in water. Then with a low powered microscope we were able to separate the Northupite octahedrons from the monoclinic Gay-Lussite crystals.

We were indeed fortunate to be able to get any specimens at all, for it was the first time in twenty years that chemical conditions in the lake had been right so that the minerals could crystallize out. Following the heavy rain the specimens were again gone, perhaps only for the winter, or maybe for another twenty years.

Misson and Switzer.

- Heather Yager, Archivist, on behalf of George Switzer, Mineralogist.


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 2:13 am
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