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From the Stacks 

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

January 3, 2013

Ecuador exhibit up in Library Reading Room

Gerald and Buff Corsi (c) California Academy of Sciences

by Mollie Cueva-Dubkoski, Careers in Science Intern

Biodiversity and endemism in the northeastern section of the Amazon is off the charts. The rich diversity of flora and fauna many scientists attribute to the warmer climate of this region during the repeated Pleistocene ice ages that provided shelter to organisms. Scientists estimate there are between 9,000 to 12,000 species of vascular plants, 600 species of birds, 500 species of fish, and 120 species of mammals in and around Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park. This exhibit highlights some of that diversity, the history of European exploration in Ecuador, and the current issue of crude oil that threatens this diversity.

I spent many weeks deciding what to include in the exhibit: perhaps crude oil in a jar? Or maybe a spread of taxidermied animals to demonstrate the diversity of Amazonian mammals? I finally decided on a varied collection of library materials to juxtapose two elements of my research that interested me most: Ecuador’s biodiversity, and crude oil’s effect on the Amazon. If you visit the Reading Room, you will see a sketch of the Andean Wax Palm (Ceroxylon alpinum), drawn by Aime Bonpland,who traveled with the noted naturalist Alexander von Humboldt during the first scientific exploration of the Americas. This book was one of two I included from the library’s vast collection to demonstrate the history of science in Ecuador. In the other case, I have included a map that illustrates the territory most affected by oil production, and a picture of where my family lives in Ecuador. A final piece that finished off the exhibit were the specimens the Entomology Department and the Ornithology Departments generously loaned me. In the left glass case there are several shiny Green-Gold Scarab Beetles (Chrysophora chrysochlora) and a lovely Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) specimen that boldly demonstrate what words cannot—how beautiful and quintessential these species are to the Amazon. Working with these three research departments and choosing specimens that highlighted my research enabled me to see how research collections, whether used for a museum exhibit or as evidence for a scientific study, are invaluable to the scientific world.

Arranging specimens in the case. photo: Y. Bustos

Diane Sands (left) and myself laying out an exhibit case. photo: Yolanda Bustos.


Filed under: Connecting Content,Exhibits,Library News,Rare Books,Research — Dsands @ 8:26 pm

A Beetle Browed Smackdown

This Smackdown we feature the largest beetle in the world, Goliathus goliatus. Goliath beetles are often described as the largest and heaviest of all beetles. Adults range from 2-4 inches in length, while the larvae can top 5 inches and weigh 0.25 pounds a piece! There are five different species of Goliathus across the African continent (see this link for a nifty map).

Black and white drawing of beetles, genus Goliathus From Cyclopedia published by Longman, Hurst, Rees & Orme 1810

These magnificent engravings of spiders come from Natural History volume five in the Cyclopaedia or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Science and Literature.  Abraham Rees, Presbyterian minister and educator, produced this Encyclopedia in 45 volumes between 1802 and 1820.  On the title page of the Cyclopaedia, Rees’ 100 contributors are qualified with the “assistance from eminent professional gentlemen” and “illustrated by most distinguished artists”.

18th Century ‘encyclopedists’ developed the modern idea of recording and widely distributing knowledge as distinct from only publishing facts. The still familiar Encyclopedia Britannica was first published between 1768 and 1771. Rees’ Cyclopedia was noted for its high quality of illustrations. And we can still enjoy the beauty of nature through these 19th century engravings.

The publisher of this book put out some beautiful and strange illustrated books in the early 1800’s including Musci exotici :containing figures and descriptions of new or little known foreign mosses and other cryptogamic subjects by William Jackson Hooker. (http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/41803) and A Dissertation on Gunshot Wounds by Charles Bell. (http://www.bibliopolis.com/main/books/1869071/A-dissertation-on-gun-shot-wounds-Bell-Charles-Jeremy-Norman-Co.html) Regardless of the subject it looks like they were masterful printers and included really amazing etchings in their work.

(c) Diane T Sands. Gouache and colored pencil on colored paper

Drawn from specimens housed in the Academy’s Naturalist Center, this color image contrasts the female (left) and male (right) of Goliathus goliatus. For the black and white image below, I wanted to show less of a dead, pinned subject and more of a living critter.

(c) Diane T Sands. Ink on scratchboard


Filed under: Archives,Rare Books,Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 8:25 pm

November 9, 2012

A Fuzzy-Wuzzy Smackdown

“Sketch of Grizzly” Storer, Tracy I. (Tracy Irwin). 1889-1973.

Tracy Irwin Storer (1889-1973) completed his education in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended high schools in Oakland and entered the University of California at Berkeley in 1908. Majoring in zoology, he received his B.S. degree in 1912, the M.S. in 1913, and the Ph.D. in 1921. In 1923 he joined the faculty of the University of California, Davis as Assistant Professor of Zoology and Assistant Zoologist in the Experiment Station and was the department’s sole faculty member until expansion began in 1935.  He is the author of the definitive tome, California Grizzly. In 1969, UC named the new zoology building on the Davis campus after him. The above sketch is of Monarch, the last of the California Grizzlies.

(c) Diane T Sands 2012   gouache on illustration board

In her recent book, State of Change: Forgotten landscapes of California (2010), Laura Cunningham looks at the grizzly bear Ursus arctos and the habitat it roamed. She recreates East Bay landscapes in paintings and juxtaposes them against modern photographs. It is an amazing look at a species extirpated from the state, yet represented on the flag.

For myself, I wanted to create and illustration that shows something about Ursus arctos that cannot be shown with a photograph. Always fascinated by bones and their articulation I decided to superimpose the skeleton of a brown bear over the more recognizable furry bulk.


Filed under: Archives,Research,Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 10:47 pm

October 31, 2012

When I Say Ecuador, You Say Darwin!

H. Vannoy Davis © California Academy of Sciences.

By Mollie Cueva-Dabkoski, Careers in Science intern

I am trapped in the depths of a database. I stare at the computer monitor, my fingers paused over the keyboard, until I finally type “crude oil AND Ecuador” into the search box. Results: 61 pages, 25 articles displayed on each page. For weeks, this has been my experience while combing through the many academic databases of articles as I try to decide upon the research project I will curate in the Academy’s Reading Room. Before working in the library as part of my Careers in Science internship, I did not really acknowledge the grueling and manual labor integral to research. Searching through dense databases, phrasing research topics correctly to find articles, switching topics because not enough research can be found — simply learning how to search for something on the Internet or in a library has been harder than I thought, but supremely validating.

I continued my research and finally after a few weeks of researching, switching topics, and researching more, I knew what I wanted to curate: an exhibit on Ecuador. Of course! It seemed obvious! Most people in the scientific community know Ecuador in relation to the Galapagos. (When I say Ecuador, you say Darwin!) I, too, have that connotation. Yet Ecuador is an important country to me not only because of its scientific merit, its evolutionary history, its collection of endemic and wonderfully odd flora and fauna, and the smorgasbord of different terrain all snugly fitted into a country about the size of Colorado, but because of the personal connection I have with Ecuador. I was born in Ecuador, and frequently visit. Throughout my childhood, I learned about biodiversity in school, and then visited Ecuador, where the science I had learned about lived and breathed — to the Amazon where thick anacondas slept in coiled mounds after their meals, and bright fish flicked in the tropical waters off the coast.

Most people know Ecuador as a biodiversity hotspot, and the node of Darwin’s theory of evolution, but not many people know about the massive ecological damage in the Ecuadorian Amazon. From 1964 to 1990, Texaco (now Chevron) drilled for oil in the northeastern Amazon of Ecuador. What has resulted from this oil drilling is major damage to the indigenous people in this area, as well as the terrain they live in. Flora and fauna alike have been majorly impacted. Cancer has spread almost infectiously through these indigenous groups; animals die daily; groundwater and rivers have been contaminated with oil; black vats of crude oil improperly disposed of sit in the forest, ignored and their existence denied by Chevron.

Four years ago, unaware of this, I watched the documentary, Crude, a film detailing the struggle of the indigenous people fighting to receive compensation for the damage the oil has done to their home. It was shocking to find out about an oil spill worse than the Exxon Valdez tragedy, yet I’d never heard about it. Soon after, I screened the documentary at my house for friends and family to try to spread the word about this oil spill in one of the most diverse places on earth. Even when Crude gained acclaim at a plethora of film festivals, and the indigenous groups fighting Chevron won their lawsuit against the corporation, still not many people know about this issue or the struggle the indigenous people of Ecuador still face in trying to receive the payment. Thus, after weeks of research, it seemed obvious what I needed to curate in the Reading Room.

This issue is personal as much as it is scientific; this issue matters to me not only as a scientist, as a human, but as an Ecuadorian. The diverse rainforests in Ecuador hold some of the most beautiful, intricate organisms on earth, and yet a chunk of that rainforest the size of Rhode Island is currently being ravaged by crude oil. What about the shiny, jewel-like Green-Gold Scarab Beetle (Chrysophora chrysochlora), the nimble jaguar (Panthera onca)? Without them, how will the local culture be affected? How will the ecosystem survive without the consumers, the decomposers, the highest and lowest trophic levels?

Research is hard. Dead ends are plentiful and reliable evidence sometimes hard to come by, but it is validating. Research allows one to communicate that which would be otherwise ignored for lack of evidence. Research is validating because with each article I read and new picture I find, I know that if one by one we become informed on issues that are covered up, pushed out of the limelight, and that require time and patience to fully understand we will have significantly more knowledge about important issues like the oil spill in Ecuador. By bringing this issue out of the shadows, we will be better informed on how to stop the degradation of the world’s biodiversity. Even faced with 61 pages of articles from my search of “crude oil AND Ecuador”, I triumphantly click the first article and begin reading.


Filed under: Exhibits,Library News,Research — Dsands @ 12:03 am

August 27, 2012

An August Illustration Smackdown

The Lobster by Douglas Florian
See the hard-shelled leggy lobster
Like an underwater mobster
With two claws to catch and crush
Worms and mollusks into mush
And antennae strong and thick
Used for striking like a stick
So beware when on vacation
Not to step on this crustacean

Spiny lobsters have two noticeable anatomical differences from the more well known Maine lobster. First are the thickened spiny antennae (hence the common name). Secondly, the first set of walking legs do not end in enlarged chelipeds (or claws). The Japanese spiny lobster, Panulirus japonicus, lives off the coast of Japan, Korea and China. Many restaurants will have it labeled Ise Ebi. It is similar in appearance to the California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus.

Asaeda, Toshio. Panulirus Japonicus, Thai Lagoon, Malaita. May 31, 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA.

Asaeda, Toshio. Panulirus Japonicus, Thai Lagoon, Malaita. May 31, 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA.

This image is a part of Toshio Aseada’s collection housed here at the California Academy of Sciences Archives. Gifted in the arts of painting, photography, and taxidermy, and educated in geology, zoology, botany, and geography,  Mr. Aseada found work at the California Academy of Sciences beginning in 1927 as an artist for the Academy’s ichthyology department. Asaeda accompanied Templeton Crocker and Academy scientists on several scientific expeditions, including a 1933 trip to the Solomon Islands. Because specimens lose their pigmentation quickly when preserved in formalin and other aqueous solutions, Asaeda was tasked with painting the specimens when they were collected in order to capture their brilliant colors. This specimen was captured in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of the island of Malaita and drawn from life. Reproductions of some of Aseada’s  specimen illustrations are on display on the California Academy of Sciences’ main floor in the Islands of Evolution exhibit.

Asaeda, Toshio. 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA

Asaeda, Toshio. 1933. ©California Academy of Sciences Archives, San Francisco, CA

For me, this species was more difficult to research. Not only was I unable to get hold of a live lobster, but the literature was either highly specialized (Spiking induced by cooling the myocardium of the lobster, Panulirus japonicus) or very broad (Marine Lobsters of the World, QL444.M33 H658 1991 Main). 

(c) 2012 Diane T Sands

Paniluris japonica (c) 2012 Diane T Sands

I wound up using an older illustration technique for this image. Carbon dust was introduced in 1911 by Max Brödel, the first director of the Department of Art as Applied to Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. It is one of those methods that produces amazing results, but has become lost due, I believe, to the complexity factor. Most illustration manuals devote two pages to setting up the supplies and preparing the board, followed by one paragraph on application, and another page on keeping everything clean. Computer illustration programs can now produce similar effects for publication with much less mess and without the storage issues carbon-dust involves.

Nonetheless, I readied my piles of dust scraped from various carbon pencils using fine sandpaper. I used good quality paint brushes that have never touched water, their bristles flecked with black dust. I measured the illustration board, lifted all blemishes from the surface with a kneaded eraser, and rubbed the whole thing with a chamois. Bilateral symmetry allowed me to render both the ventral and dorsal surfaces of the lobster in a compact illustration without losing detail.


July 9, 2012

Smackdown: Why’didja do that? or a brief look at scientific illustration history.

by Diane T Sands

I was asked by a colleague who viewed the Wild Pig Smackdown,

As a person who has no background in scientific illustration, I am curious to know how these two really different drawings can be produced of the same species and be useful?

This is a great question. A fair amount of historical scientific illustration, particularly during the Age of Exploration (1450-1700), was completed as a record of existence. Many of the items being illustrated on expeditions had never before been seen by Europeans and served as a record of the great things discovered, often proving to the expedition funders that their money was not wasted. Natural history specimens preserved using alcohol, drying, tanning or other means can readily lose color, shape and 3-dimensional character. Illustration was the most expedient way of preserving posture and indicating natural coloration.

While we have no real provenance for the Cole image or why it was created, it appears to fall into the this-is-what-a-boar-looks-like/historical camp.

As time has progressed, illustration remains a useful tool. Illustrators are able to show multiple or uncommon views, and to emphasize characteristics that would not be obvious in a photograph – cutaways that show animal burrows underground, or the complete cycle from flower to fruit, for example. In the systematic literature, illustrations of the whole plant or animal are often supplanted or used in combination with close-ups of the physiological or morphological characteristics that make each species unique. This can include geographic area, dentition, genitalia, or pollen structure – all things not easily photographed. The following image is one visual example.

Notida image from CAS Proceedings

Penny, N. (2002) "Lacewings of Costa Rica" Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences, vol. 52 no. 12. Image 117 by Diane T Sands. Images 118, 119 by Victoria Saxe*

As I researched Sus scrofa, I thought about why someone would call me up and ask me to illustrate this species today. I also thought about what was it about this species that most interested me. What had I learned that I could convey visually? I was struck by the fact that while there are subspecies of Sus scrofa that are often isolated by region (and thus considered distinct), for the most part, the main question was: are they wild or domesticated? Since wild pigs of one sort or another have been introduced – either accidentally or purposefully – on islands around the world, the answer often blurs.

Is there an absolute distinction between the wild boar and the domestic pig? In my preparatory research, I came across an article** that looked at this issue from the point of view of prehistory, and porcine remains of archaeological digs. The illustrations accompanying the article are primarily area maps, and graphs of statistical measurement metrics. While well done and highly informative, one does need to know a higher level of vocabulary and maths to get the picture. I asked myself how I might visually explain at least one difference between a wild and a feral population in a way that even a non-biologist would understand.

The result is here.

*Victoria Saxe

** Rowley-Conwy,P., U. Albarella, and K. Dobney (2012) Distinguishing Wild Boar from Domestic Pigs in Prehistory: A Review of Approaches and Recent Results Journal of World Prehistory Vol. 25(1),  Pages 1-44. http://www.springerlink.com/content/6446560r166488x7/abstract/?MUD=MP


Filed under: Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 11:08 am

July 2, 2012

Wild Pig Smackdown

For the Illustration Smackdown explanation, click here.

From the Academy Archives:

wild boar illustrated by Michael Cole

This illustration of a wild boar was stumbled upon while looking for another image in the Academy’s oversized collection in the Archives. Little is known about how the image was used, but it came to us from our own Exhibits Department and was meticulously drawn by Michael E. Cole.


From Sands:

Sus scrofa (c)2012 Diane T Sands

The wild boar and the feral pig are considered the same species despite differences in height, weight and skull shape. I designed this illustration to highlight some of these anatomical anomalies. The skull on the left is a wild boar; the one on the right that of a feral pig.


More about
Sus scrofa:
Wild Boar, Feral Pig
The wild boar is native to Europe, but has been widely introduced as a game animal throughout the world. In North America, it has successfully interbred with escaped feral farm pigs. This has happened so much that most writings simply refer to Sus scrofa under the blanket term Wild Pigs. In California, these wild pigs run amok through open space land and regional parks. Omnivorous opportunists, they wander the landscape vacuuming up vegetation, and just about any other living thing in their path.

The females become sexually mature at 18 months of age, producing 6-10 young per litter, often having more than one litter per year. A large group of females and their recent young are called Sounders.  Adults can reach sizes over 750lbs. Males are usually solitary and can sharpen their tusks by rubbing the lowers against the uppers.

Here’s a great article about the infestation of wild pigs in the East Bay Regional Park District :
http://baynature.org/articles/oct-dec-2010/ground-invasion/?searchterm=feral%20pigs


Filed under: Archives,Library News,Research,Scientific Illustration,Smackdown — Dsands @ 11:54 am

June 18, 2012

Introducing the Illustration Smackdown.

Wrack Ball

Wrack Ball (c) Diane T Sands

In this corner…

The Academy Archives is part of the Academy Library, and includes material on the history of the institution, including scientific expeditions and research, Museum exhibits, building history, and general administrative history. The Archives also houses manuscript collections from our scientists and scientists related to the Academy. Manuscript collections are mainly comprised of field notes, unpublished manuscripts, correspondence, scientific illustrations, and photographs.

And in THIS corner…

Diane T Sands: When not working as the Collection Development Librarian here at the Academy Library, I do freelance illustration. I have been an active member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators for the last 15 years. I have created illustrations (scientific and otherwise) for the North American Diatom Symposium, The Annals of the Entomological Society of America, The Hudson Institute, KQED’s Mind/Shift blog, The Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association, California Wild Magazine, and the education department here at the Academy, among others. Not surprisingly, my interest in the Academy Archives and Rare Book Collection is peaked whenever there are illustrations involved.***

What better way to get acquainted with the Archives and all the wonders it holds than to pit my illustration skills against it? Enter the Illustration Smackdown

The way the Illustration Smackdown works.
Each month, the archive staff, will locate an illustration in the Archives during the course of their regular work. They will not show it to me. Instead they will provide me with two pieces of information;
1. The scientific name of the plant or animal featured.
2. Whether the piece in question is a field sketch or a finished illustration
I will then have two weeks to research the species and produce my own illustration. Then we will feature the two illustrations side by side here on From the Stacks for your viewing pleasure.

Stay Tuned Illustration Lovers!
Diane T Sands
Collection Development Librarian

*** Diane will be doing a live illustration demo during the Academy’s Nightlife on Thursday, June 28, 2012


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