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From the Stacks 

October 18, 2013

An Explosive Botanical Smackdown

Botanical illustration is an important aid to the study and classification of plants. Botanists and illustrators work together to create illustrations specifically designed to complement text. Botanical illustrations are used to illustrate floras, monographs, field guides and research papers. The artists follow well-established conventions, including a preference for black and white work, an ability to create drawings from herbarium specimens and an attention to detailed magnifications of diagnostic characters. Technical accuracy is essential.

This Smackdown, we light up the Firecracker flower, Dichelostemma ida-maia. 

from The Wild Flowers of California, by Mary Elizabeth Parsons, first published in 1897

from The Wild Flowers of California, by Mary Elizabeth Parsons, first published in 1897. Illustration by Ms. Buck.

 

Lithographic plate image courtesy of Academy's Special Collections.

Lithographic plate of above  image courtesy of Academy’s Special Collections.

Mary Elizabeth Parsons was born on August 1, 1859, in Chicago, Illinois. Although she had little formal education, she was always interested in gardening and horticulture. She came to California in 1883 and through her cousin, William Kent (a Republican Congressman), she met Alice Eastwood, Curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences.
Mary Elizabeth Parsons was the author of The Wild Flowers of California, first published in 1897 and later re-published in 1902, 1906, 1925 and finally in 1955. This publication by the California Academy of Sciences has a preface by John Thomas Howell, Curator of Botany.

Little is known about Miss Buck’s life today.  We tracked down the following from Wayne Roderick’s  California Native Plantsman.

Her family home was apparently in San Rafael. She and Elizabeth Parsons shared an interest in drawing and painting and for a time were members together in an art class given in San Rafael by a Mr. Latimer. As the wildflower book took shape in the 1890s, it was only natural for the author to turn to her talented companion of the Latimer class for assistance with the illustrations.

(c) 2013, Diane T Sands watercolor and pen&ink on illustration board

(c) 2013, Diane T Sands
watercolor and pen & ink on illustration board

A long time ago, I was a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists, a great group of artists and collectors who are “dedicated to promoting public awareness of contemporary botanical art, to honoring its traditions and to furthering its development.” For the ASBA, scientific illustration is a smaller piece of botanical art. In my mind, it is the other way around. Not only do I have a predilection for drawing animals, but I kept getting hung up on the required conventions of botanicals, specifically the isolated specimens on a pure white background with no extras. I can’t help it; I find this set up kind of boring. Mentally, I draw wild beasts into these delicate works, ripping the foliage apart or add killer robots with blasters setting fire to the petals.


June 21, 2013

A Smackdown for Bonzo

This month’s Illustration Smackdown takes a look at the chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes.  One of the great apes, chimpanzees are, as these things go, closely related to humans. But how close? You can see the current classification chart here, courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Life.

(c) California Academy of Sciences

(c) California Academy of Sciences

(c) California Academy of Sciences

(c) California Academy of Sciences

(c) California Academy of Sciences

(c) California Academy of Sciences

 

In the 1980s the Jane Goodall Institute “moved to the San Francisco offices of the California Academy of Sciences, where it functioned essentially as a USA/Africa “communication link” and as a repository for files.” (source) and Ms. Goodall continued to have a relationship with the academy after the JGI moved to DC.  She came to the Academy in 2008 to lecture and  promote her pioneering work in primatology. The above images are attributed to Jane Goodall and Hugo VanLanwick

(c) Diane T Sands. carbon dust on Ross board

(c) Diane T Sands. carbon dust on Ross board

Comparative anatomy is the study of the difference and similarities of different organisms. I will admit to having a fondness for comparing bones. There is something about placing the same bone from different species next to each other that I find both instructive and aesthetically pleasing. To this end, I created the above image with Pan troglodytes on the left and Homo sapiens on the right. The obvious differences in teeth point to differences in diet and acquisition of food. While both are omnivores, the chimpanzees large canines speak to the ripping and tearing of meat, while humans reduced canines likely came about from years of cutting bite sized portions via tool use. Also evident is the difference in size of the brain case. The human cerebrum is much larger than that of the chimpanzee. The extensive development of this cortex in humans is believed to distinguish the human brain from those of other animals


Filed under: Archives finds,Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 5:58 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 17, 2013

A Remora-sful Smackdown

The Remora remora, or common suckerfish, is an odd pelagic marine fish usually found in warmer parts of most oceans. They can be found offshore from San Francisco south to Chile. Their front dorsal fin has evolved into a giant sucker disc that they use to hitch rides on faster swimming sharks, rays, sea turtles, bony fishes and even marine mammals. Once thought to be purely parasitic, the relationship to their “host” is now considered to be symbiotic.

Not eaten themselves, they have been used by fishermen who attach a line to the Remora‘s tail, letting it free to swim. The tethered Remora then attaches it’s sucker disc to a larger fish as they are wont to do. At this point when it is noted that the Remora is accelerating,  the fisherman then reels it back in and captures the larger fish.

(c) Diane T Sands 2013. carbon dust on illustration board.

(c) Diane T Sands 2013.
carbon dust on illustration board.

(c) California Academy of Sciences.

(c) California Academy of Sciences.

In 1905, the California Academy of Sciences sent 11 men off for a year and a day on an eighty-five foot schooner destined for the Galapagos Islands. While the expedition was underway, the California Academy of Sciences would fall into ruin during the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The specimens gathered during that expedition would come to form the crux of the new California Academy of Sciences’ collections. Of the young men on that voyage, entomologist Francis Xavier Williams kept field books (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/123606) and made drawings of all of much of the wild life he encountered. This illustration of the Remora remora was one of many fish Williams ran across in his exploration of the islands.

Mora Remora!

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Remora_remora/

http://www.fishbase.org/summary/Remora-remora.html


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

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.
N1486G-web

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.
N1486A-web

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

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

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

February 9, 2011

Expositions and Earthquakes

We just published two new finding aids on the Online Archive of California. One is for the Exhibits and Expositions collection and the other is for the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 collection. Both collections are small artificial collections that were gathered together over time by Academy staff.

The Exhibits and Expositions collection mainly relates to three expositions held in San Francisco: the California Midwinter Fair (1894), the Pan-Pacific International Exposition (1915), and the Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-1940). The collection consists primarily of publications, photographs, postcards, illustrations, maps, and ephemera such as tickets, souvenirs, coins, medals, and pins.

Mechanic's Building, 1894.

Mechanic Arts Building, California Midwinter Fair, 1894

We processed The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 collection because we have had several reference questions about that earthquake recently and we wanted to be able to reference the material easily. This collection is mostly comprised of  publications, newspaper clippings, reports and photographs.

San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Market Street Fire postcard.

San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Market Street Fire postcard

There are two collections that are related to our Exhibits and Expositions collection that don’t have online finding aids yet. One is  a group of twenty five glass plate negatives from the MidWinter Fair and the second is the Raymond H. Clary MidWinter Fair collection. We are currently working on a Library Reading Room exhibit of items from the Clary collection that will feature one of my favorite items in the Archive – a mustache spoon. Stay tuned for more information on the Clary collection exhibit.

General view of Midwinter Fair, circa 1894. Midwinter Fair Glass Plate Negative Collection.

N255. General view of Midwinter Fair, circa 1894. Midwinter Fair Glass Plate Negative Collection. Photographer unknown.

Ticket and stub for San Francisco Day at the Midwinter Fair. July 4, 1894.

Ticket and stub for San Francisco Day at the Midwinter Fair.           July 4, 1894. Raymond Clary MidWinter Fair Collection.

- Danielle
Archives & Digital Collections Librarian


Filed under: Archives,Archives finds — Archives & Special Collections @ 3:00 pm
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