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From the Stacks 

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

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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

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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

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Ynes Mexia © California Academy of Sciences.
Probably Middle Fork Canyon area, Kings Canyon National Park (Calif.) ca. 1919-1938

 

Mexia, Ynes, 1870-1938

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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

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.
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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.
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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

February 22, 2013

The archives are a real hoot!

Yesterday morning, California Academy of Sciences archivist, Heather Yager was looking through some documentation and stumbled upon quite a gem. In the archives, finding something wonderful isn’t really that rare; recently we found a letter from the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists signed by Albert Einstein. So, while big finds never cease to humble and astound us, we’re not exactly surprised.

However, yesterday we found a letter from local mycologist Lillian S. Mott (who described and named the mushroom endemic to the vicinity of Grass Valley and Nevada City, Boletus mottiae Theirs) to then California Academy of Sciences art director, Johan Kooy expressing an interest in donating slides and images for use in Academy publications. While this in its own right is special, Lillian also included two photographs of owls which she hilariously captioned, leading us to believe she may have unwittingly invented the owl meme in 1971.

(c) Lillian S Mott, 1971.

(c) Lillian Mott, 1971.

Ms. Mott, if you read this, we recognize not only your fine contributions to science but also your wit and innovative spirit. We salute you.

-Yolanda Bustos
MAS, MLIS,  IMLS grant manager, and lover of acronyms and memes.


Filed under: Archives,Archives finds,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 8:06 pm

March 7, 2012

1906 Rixford Earthquake Photos

We recently digitized a series of photographs of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake from our Rixford collection for our upcoming Earthquake exhibit premiere party.

We scanned the Rixford photos because images were needed for the tickets and web site for the Earthquake Premiere Party. Only nine photos were requested for those purposes, but since the images were so compelling we decided to scan the entire collection of twenty.

Downtown San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake

Gulian Pickering Rixford (1838-1930) was a major figure in early California agriculture, responsible for introducing the pistachio and Smyrna fig growing industries to the state. He served the California Academy of Sciences in many capacities, including Director of the Museum. He was the Librarian of the Academy at the time of his death in a train accident at the age of 92.

Downtown San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake

The 1906 earthquake photographs are 5×7 glass plate negatives, which present a host of scanning challenges. Fortunately we also have a set of modern contact prints that we were able to digitize instead.

Spreckels Bandshell in Golden Gate Park

Most of the photos capture the destruction of downtown San Francisco, including landmarks like the St. Francis and Fairmont hotels. However, the collection also includes images of Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, and the Marina District, then home to a few frame houses and a now vanished creek.

The Marina District of San Francisco

A benefit of working with huge negatives is the wealth of detail visible in these images. One notable detail is the small military prison on Alcatraz Island, since construction of the large cell-blocks didn’t begin until 1909.

Closeup detail of military barracks on Alcatraz Island

The Academy’s G. Rixford collection includes photographs, scrapbooks, and materials related to early California agriculture.

- Kelly Jensen
Library Assistant


Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 3:33 pm

December 23, 2011

Philip Tompkins photographs

I just finished importing 312 Philip Tompkins images into our internal digital asset management system and I thought I would share a few of my favorites here.
South Central Utah - Lower Goblin Valley, 1950.

South Central Utah – Lower Goblin Valley, 1950.

Philip Tompkins was born in San Anselmo, California. He graduated from the University of California in 1894. An analytical chemist and chemical engineer, he was a founder of the San Francisco chemical firm of Curtis and Tompkins where he continued to work until two years before his death (on 6 December 1972 in San Anselmo, California.)

An avid photographer, he explored Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Tompkins aided in discovering and recording the “Lost Valley of the Goblins” in Utah (1949). His article, “Goblin Valley, Recent History and Need for Protection” accompanied by many of his photographs of the area appeared in National Parks Magazine (October-December 1954).

As an expression of appreciation to the Botany Department of the California Academy of Sciences, and a memorial to Alice Eastwood, he funded the Tompkins, Tehipite Botanical Expedition of the Sierra Nevada, California. An account of this journey was published in Leaflets of Western Botany by John Thomas Howell (1958). Tompkins also assisted in the publication of A Flora of Lassen Volcanic National Park, California (1961).

Tompkins was a California Academy of Sciences member (1930) and Academy lecturer (1953 “Sections of South-Central Utah”, 1955 “Southern Utah Scenes”). His extensive collection of slides, photographs, and negatives were donated to the Academy Library (1957, 1963). (Biography by Sharon Landwehr, Archives Volunteer)

Hoover Dam Construction - 5th trip, May 1935.

Hoover Dam Construction – 5th trip, May 1935.

Utah - Arizona trip.  Rainbow Bridge & vicinity, 1933.

Utah – Arizona trip. Rainbow Bridge & vicinity, 1933.

Yellowstone National Park, July 1904.
Yellowstone National Park, July 1904.

Mt. Baker - Washington, August 1928.

Mt. Baker – Washington, August 1928.

First Death Valley trip. Tram from tunnel, March 1929.
First Death Valley trip. Tram from tunnel, March 1929.

- Danielle Castronovo
Archives & Digital Collections Librarian


Filed under: Academy History,Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 12:33 pm

October 18, 2011

Our images are now on Encyclopedia of Life

The Academy Library’s Manzanita Image Project has over 32,000 images of plants, animals, landscapes, and people/culture photographs that are available online through the Calphotos web site. To view our images just select “Cal Academy” in the Collection box.

Calphotos recently partnered with the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) so that Calphotos images can also be featured on EOL. We are hoping that this new partnership will bring our images to a whole new audience. You can search both web sites by scientific name.

Here are some of our images that will appear on both web sites!

Tealia coriacea

Tealia coriacea

Sherry Ballard © California Academy of Sciences

frog

Hyperolius viridiflavus variabilis

Dong Lin © California Academy of Sciences

Puma concolor

Puma concolor

Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

- Danielle Castronovo
Archives & Digital Collections Librarian


Filed under: Manzanita Image Project,Photography,Special Collections — Archives & Special Collections @ 11:49 am

September 30, 2011

Cordell Bank

The digitization of the Cordell Expeditions slide images is complete. I continue to marvel at the amazing diversity of life. It’s been quite a treat to be among the first to peer into this hidden underwater community.

Now that the digitization is finished, the images will be cataloged and made available for professional scientists and enthusiasts alike to view at anytime on the Web. Cataloging the images will be a collaborative project involving the Cordell Expedition divers and photographers, the Academy’s Invertebrate Zoology and Geology Department researchers and Academy’s Archives staff.

The Cordell Expeditions’ Director, Robert Schmieder, wrote reports that have a wealth of information about the various species observed and about the slide images.  The reports will be used to help identify the date, location, and organisms in the slides.  To help complete the picture, the Academy’s Invertebrate Zoology team will assist with the identification of various species featured in the images. Together we will create a valuable resource that can be easily accessed and searched by many different criteria through http://calphotos.berkeley.edu//

This is a lengthy and involved project and we’re pleased that we have the participation of so many dedicated individuals. We’re also very fortunate to have received generous support from the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Take a look below and you can be one of the first to see too:

Cordell Expeditions/ Rob Morris © California Academy of Sciences

Cordell Expeditions/ Ron Owen © California Academy of Sciences

Cordell Expeditions/ Don Dvorak © California Academy of Sciences

-Kristin Jeffries, Library Assistant for Archives and Digital Collections


Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 11:11 am

May 13, 2011

Lovell & Libby Langstroth’s photography collection

I am thrilled to announce that Lovell and Libby Langstroth recently gifted their 35mm slide collection to the Academy Archives. The collection includes 23 binders of slides from dives in Monterey Bay and 13 binders of slides from the Indo-Pacific.Corynactis californica; Club Tipped Anemone

Corynactis californica. L. & L. Langstroth © California Academy of Sciences

The Langstroths already had more than 300 digital images hosted on Calphotos, where the Academy Library has over 32,000 images of plants, animals, fungi, landscape, and human culture images available online. The Langstroths were looking for a home for their spectacular photography collection, and the Academy was a natural fit. We will soon start to survey the photographs and select new images to add to Calphotos.

Macrocystis pyrifera; Giant Kelp

Macrocystis pyrifera. L. & L. Langstroth © California Academy of Sciences

Some more details about the Langstroths are given in their Calphotos bio:

Lovell, M.D. Stanford U; Libby, PhD Anthropology, U.C. Berkeley. Pursued marine biology studying at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station and Cal State’s Moss Landing Marine Lab. Dived and photographed extensively in California waters and the IndoPacific. Volunteered as guides for 20 yrs. at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Published “A Living Bay, the Underwater World of Monterey Bay” University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000.

Loligo opalescens

Loligo opalescens. L. & L. Langstroth © California Academy of Sciences.

Tethya aurantia

Tethya aurantia. L. & L. Langstroth © California Academy of Sciences.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives & Digital Collections Librarian


Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 3:42 pm

May 2, 2011

Into the Deep with Elephant Seals

Watch Into the Deep with Elephant Seals on Wednesday, May 4th at 7:30pm on KQED 9 & KQED HD on Comcast 709 or online at www.kqed.org/quest.

Thousands of northern elephant seals – some weighing up to 4,500 pounds – make an annual migration to breed each winter to Año Nuevo State Reserve, a jagged stretch of coastline in San Mateo County.  For decades, they’ve caught the eye of the marine biologists who are using high-tech tools to plumb the secrets of elephant seals, marine mammals that live mostly underwater.

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Several months ago I was approached by a producer from KQED who was working on a QUEST episode about elephant seals. He was interested in historical images of elephant seals and we were able to supply images from the 1922 Guadalupe Island, Mexico expedition and the 1932 Templeton Crocker Galapagos expedition.

In 1922, the Academy partnered with the government of Mexico, the National Geographic society, and the San Diego Society of Natural History to study the elephant seal, the fur seal, and southern sea otter on Guadalupe Island, Mexico. The previous year the Committee on the Conservation of Marine Life of the Pacific, part of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggested we study these animals so they could issue recommendations for conservation efforts.

The KQED QUEST episode airs this week and we are all excited to see which photos were used in the show.

Male Elephant Seal from the 1922 Guadalupe Island Expedition collection.

Expedition member on beach from the 1922 Guadalupe Island Expedition collection.

1922 Guadalupe Island, Mexico Expedition members. (Left to right) – A.W. Anthony, G. Dallas Hanna, and Carlos Cuesta Terron. Ensenada, Baja California.

Group at Scripps Institution, La Jolla California

Group at Scripps Institution, La Jolla California. July 8, 1922. Top row: Frank Tose, Clinton Abbott, A.W. Anthony, Barton Warren Evermann, Carlos Cuesta Terron, W.C. Crandall. Lower row: Fred Baker, W.E. Ritter, Joseph Slevin, Captain Angulo, unidentified, Jose M. Gallegos, and unidentified.

- Danielle Castronovo

Archives & Digital Collections Librarian


Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 2:15 pm

April 19, 2011

Cordell Bank

Cordell Bank is located north of the Gulf of the Farallones and about 22 miles west of Point Reyes. Discovered in 1869 by Edward Cordell, it remained unexplored until Robert Schmieder and his team of researchers conducted numerous dives in the area from the late 1970s till the mid-1980s. Schmieder formed the Cordell Expeditions non-profit organization to research the vibrant marine community of Cordell Bank.

The California Academy of Sciences is participating in a project to curate and archive the historic photographic slides of Cordell Expeditions and make them available to the public online. A joint effort of the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Cordell Expeditions, and the California Academy of Sciences, the project is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Through this project, the Academy will become the archival repository for the original photographic slides taken by the divers. Over the years, Cordell Expeditions produced more than 3000 images of the diverse community of Cordell Bank. Cordell Expeditions’ divers were the first to document this amazing habitat and their photos were instrumental in demonstrating the need to establish the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Soon these historic photos will be available online.

You can get a sneak preview of these amazing images below.

Here’s a common sight on Cordell Bank:


Cordell Expeditions © California Academy of Sciences


Cordell Expeditions/ Don Dvorak © California Academy of Sciences

The vibrant underwater community includes many different species:


Cordell Expeditions/Don Dvorak © California Academy of Sciences

And here’s a member of the dive team:


Cordell Expeditions/Jerry Seawell © California Academy of Sciences

-Kristin Jeffries, Library Assistant for Archives and Digital Collections


Filed under: Archives,Photography — Archives & Special Collections @ 4:01 pm
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