The Brilliant Colors of the Great Barrier Revealed in a Historic Illustrated Book from 1893

Paul Simon’s famous lyric about everything looking worse in black and white
is hardly a universal truth, but when it comes to William Saville-Kent's groundbreaking 1893 book The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: its products and potentialitiesthe assertion may have some merit.

Saville-Kent, a naturalist whose work in various British aquariums eventually led to a gig rebuilding depleted Tasmanian oyster beds, fell hard for the colorful fish, bêche-de-mer, corals, sponges, turtles, and other marine species he encountered in Australia.

He photographed the Great Barrier Reef while serving in Queensland as Commissioner of Fisheries. 48 of his images were published in the aforementioned book, offering readers an unprecedented armchair tour of a coral reef, albeit in black and white.

 

While Saville-Kent definitely achieved his goal of furthering the public’s awareness of the reef, he also upstaged himself by including 16 color lithographs inspired by his original watercolors.

These plates, by London-based lithographers Riddle and Couchman—whose work usually ran toward portraits of well-born gentlemen—exude a lively Seussian appeal.

Saville-Kent’s carefully captured fish, echinoderms, and anemones literally pale in comparison to the bright specimens the lithographers, who presumably lacked his firsthand experience of the forms they were depicting, brought to such vibrant life in the back of the book.

These days, alas, the Great Barrier Reef resembles Saville-Kent's photos more closely than those gorgeous lithographs, the victim of back-to-back bleaching events brought on by pollution-related climate change.

Saville-Kent is buried at All Saints Churchin Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, England. His grave is decorated with coral.

Browse a digital copy of The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: its products and potentialities here.

via The Public Domain Review

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, June 17 for another monthly installment of her public domain-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Oliver Sacks Promotes the Healing Power of Gardens: They’re “More Powerful Than Any Medication”

Early European explorers left the continent with visions of gardens in their heads: The Garden of Eden, the Garden of the Hesperides, and other mythic realms of abundance, ease, and endless repose. Those same explorers left sickness, war, and death only to find sickness, war, and death—much of it exported by themselves. The garden became de-mythologized. Natural philosophy and modern methods of agriculture brought gardens further down to earth in the cultural imagination.

Yet the garden remained a special figure in philosophy, art, and literature, a potent symbol of an ordered life and ordered mind. Voltaire’s Candide, the riotous satire filled with gardens both fantastical and practical, famously ends with the dictate, “we must cultivate our garden.” The tendency to read this line as strictly metaphorical does a disservice to the intellectual culture created by Voltaire and other writers of the period—Alexander Pope most prominent among them—for whom gardening was a theory born of practice.

Exiled from France in 1765, Voltaire retreated to a villa in Geneva called Les Délices, “The Delights.” There, writes Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker, he “quickly turned his exile into a desirable condition…. When he wrote that it was our duty to cultivate our garden, he really knew what it meant to cultivate a garden.” Enlightenment poets and philosophers did not dwell on the scientific reasons why gardens might have such salutary effects on the psyche. And neither does neurologist Oliver Sacks, who also wrote of gardens as health-bestowing havens from the chaos and noise of the world, and more specifically, from the city and brutal commercial demands it represents.

For Sacks that city was not Paris or London but, principally, New York, where he lived, practiced, and wrote for fifty years. Nonetheless, in his essay “The Healing Power of Gardens,” he invokes the European history of gardens, from the medieval hortus to grand Enlightenment botanical gardens like Kew, filled with exotic plants from “the Americas and the Orient.” Sacks writes of his student days, where he “discovered with delight a very different garden—the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe,” founded in 1621.

“It pleased me to think,” he recalls, referring to key Enlightenment scientists, “that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.” In that time, cultivated gardens were often the private preserves of landed gentry. Now, places like the New York Botanical Garden, whose virtues Sacks extolls in the video above, are open to everyone. And it is a good thing, too. Because gardens can serve an essential public health function, whether we’re stressed and generally fatigued or suffering from a mental disorder or neurological condition:

I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.

“In forty years of medical practice,” the physician writes, “I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.” A garden also represents—for Sacks and for artists like Virginia Woolf—“a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life,” as Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, a pace “so compulsively focused on productivity at the cost of creativity, of lucidity, of sanity.”

Voltaire’s prescription to tend our gardens has made Candide into a watchword for caring for and appreciating our surroundings. (It’s also now the name of a gardening app). Sacks’ recommendations should inspire us equally, whether we’re in search of creative inspiration or mental respite. “As a writer,” he says, “I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. The effect, he writes, is to be “refreshed in body and spirit,” absorbed in the “deep time” of nature, as he writes elsewhere, and finding in it “a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth,” and a remedy for the alienation of both mental illness and the grinding pace of our usual form of life.

via New York Times/Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

McDonald’s Opens a Tiny Restaurant — and It’s Only for Bees

How are the world's honey bees doing? Just a few years ago, word spread that they were on the verge of a mysterious extinction. Look for updates on their situation now and you get contradictory results, all of them fairly recent, from "Bees Are Still Dying" to "Bees Are Bouncing Back From Colony Collapse Disorder" to "Yes, the Bees Are Still in Trouble" to "The Bee Apocalypse Was Never Real." But whether they're in existential danger or not, bees at least now have their very own McDonald's — bees in certain parts of Sweden, anyway.

"McDonald’s has created a tiny replica of one of its restaurants, too small for any human to eat there," writes Emily Chudy in the Independent. "The replica, dubbed the 'McHive,' is a fully-functioning beehive designed to look like a McDonald’s restaurant and features seating, a drive-through and an entrance. The brainchild of set designer Nicklas Nilsson, the hive is part of an initiative which has seen beehives placed on certain Swedish branches of the franchise." This project seems to be the first insect-scale restaurant for Nilsson, whose past work includes costume design on the video for David Bowie's "Blackstar."

You can see footage of the McHive's design and assembly process, as well as an assembled McHive full of its "thousands of important guests," in the video at the top of the post. There are more photos at designboom, which quotes the project's advertising agency NORD DDB as saying that "the initiative started out locally but is now growing." In addition to installing beehives on their rooftops, more Swedish McDonald's franchisees "have also started replacing the grass around their restaurants with flowers and plants that are important for the wellbeing of wild bees."

Why so much concern about honey bees in the first place? Chudy quotes a Greenpeace estimate that they "perform about 80% of all pollination and a single bee colony can pollinate 300 million flowers each day." Bees do the hard work of keeping a surprisingly large part of the natural world working as we've always known it to, and to the extent that bees die out, much else may die out as well, with potential knock-on effects many would prefer not to think about. But then, the taste for predictions of ecological disaster on the internet seems only to have grown since we first noticed the problem with bees: if you really want to feel motivated to petition your local McDonald's to put up a McHive, try Googling the phrase "catastrophic collapse of nature."

via designboom

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Here’s What Ancient Dogs Looked Like: A Forensic Reconstruction of a Dog That Lived 4,500 Years Ago

Images by Historic Environment Scotland

We’re pretty sure dogs aren’t obsessed with ancestry, despite the proliferation of canine DNA testing services.

That seems to be more of a human thing.

However, with very little digging, nearly every dog on earth could claim to be descended from a handsome specimen such as the one above.

This news must be gratifying to all those lapdogs who fancy themselves to be something more wolfish than their exteriors suggest.

This beast is no 21st-century pet, but rather, a reconstruction, forensic science’s best guess as to what the owner of a Neolithic skull discovered during a 1901 excavation of the 5,000-year-old Cuween Hill chambered cairn on Orkney, Scotland would have looked like in life.

About the size of a large collie, the "Cuween dog" has the face of a European grey wolf and the reasonable gaze of a family pet.

(Kudos to the project’s organizers for resisting the urge to bestow a nickname on their creation, or if they have, to resist sharing it publicly.)

Whether or not this good boy or girl had a name, it would’ve earned its keep, guarding a farm in the tomb’s vicinity.

Steve Farrar, Interpretation Manager at Historic Environment Scotland, the conservation organization that commissioned the reconstruction, believes that the farmers’ esteem for their dogs went beyond mere utilitarian appreciation:

Maybe dogs were their symbol or totem, perhaps they thought of themselves as the 'dog people'.

Radiocarbon dating of this dog’s skull and 23 others found on the site point to ritual burial—the animals were placed within more than 500 years after the passage to the tomb was built. Historic Environment Scotland posits that the canine remains’ placement next to those of humans attest to the community’s belief in an afterlife for both species.

The model is presumably more relatable than the naked skull, which was scanned by Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, enabling Historic Environment Scotland to make the 3D print that forensic artist Amy Thornton fleshed out with muscle, skin, and hair.

What a human genealogist wouldn’t give to trace their lineage back to 2000 BC, let alone have such a fetching picture.

via Live Science

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this May for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated History of Dogs, Inspired by Keith Haring

That quivering teacup Chihuahua…

The long-suffering Labrador whose child-friendly reputation has led to a lifetime of ear tugging and tail pulling…

The wheezing French bulldog, whose owner has outfitted with a full wardrobe of hoodies, tutus, rain slickers, and pajamas

All descended from wolves.

As anthropologist and science educator David Ian Howe explains in the animated TED-Ed lesson, A Brief History of Dogs, above, at first glance, canis lupus seemed an unlikely choice for man’s best friend.

For one thing, the two were in direct competition for elk, reindeer, bison, and other tasty prey wandering Eurasia during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Though both hunted in groups, running their prey to the point of exhaustion, only one roasted their kills, creating tantalizing aromas that drew bolder wolves ever-closer to the human camps.

The ones who willingly dialed down their wolfishness, making themselves useful as companions, security guards and hunting buddies, were rewarded come suppertime. Eventually, this mutually beneficial tail wagging became full on domestication, the first such animal to come under the human yoke.

The intense focus on purebreds didn't really become a thing until the Victorians began hosting dog shows. The push to identify and promote breed-specific characteristics often came at a cost to the animals’ wellbeing, as Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys point out in BBC History Magazine:

…the improvement of breeds towards ‘perfection’ was controversial. While there was approval for the greater regularity of type, many fanciers complained that standards were being set on arbitrary, largely aesthetic grounds by enthusiasts in specialist clubs, without concern for utility or the health of the animal. This meant that breeds were changing, and not always for the better. For example, the modern St Bernard was said to be a beautiful animal, but would be useless in Alpine rescue work.

Cat-fanciers, rest assured that the opposition received fair and equal coverage in a feline-centric TED-Ed lesson, published earlier this year.

And while we applaud TED-Ed for sparking our curiosity with its “Brief History of” series, covering topics as far ranging as cheese, numerical systems, goths, video games, and tea, surely we are not the only ones wondering why the late artist Keith Haring isn’t thanked or name checked in the credits?

Every canine-shaped image in this animation is clearly descended from his iconic barking dog.

While we can’t explain the omission, we can direct readers toward Jon Nelson’s great analysis of Haring’s relationship with dogs in Get Leashed:

They’re symbolic of unanswered questions, prevalent in the 80s: “Can I do this?” “Is this right?” “What are you doing?” “What is happening?” Dogs stand by people, barking or dancing along, sometimes in precarious scenarios, even involved in some of Haring’s explicitly sexual work. Dogs are neither approving nor disapproving of what people do in the images; their mouth angle is neutral or even happy. In some cases, human bodies wear a dog’s head, possibly stating that we know only our own enjoyment, unaware, like a dog, of life’s next stage or the consequences of our actions.

Visit Ethnocynology, David Ian Howe’s Instagram page about the ancient relationship between humans and dogs.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City April 15 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the KattenKabinet: Amsterdam’s Museum Devoted to Works of Art Featuring Cats

Image by T_Marjorie, via Flickr Commons

There’s been quite a bit of barking in the media lately to herald the reopening of the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, relocating from St. Louis to New York City’s Park Avenue.

What’s a cat person to do?

Perhaps decompress within Amsterdam’s KattenKabinet

In contrast to the Museum of the Dog’s glitzy, glass-fronted HQ, the Cat Cabinet maintains a fairly low profile inside a 17th-century canal house. (Several visitors have noted in their Trip Advisor reviews that the 3-room museum’s grand environs help justify the €7  admission.)

The Museum of the Dog’s highly toted “digital experiences”  and redesigned atrium suggest a certain eagerness to establish itself as a major 21st-century institution.

The KattenKabinet is more of a stealth operation, created as an homage to one J.P. Morgan, a dearly departed ginger tom, who lived upstairs with his owner.

The inaugural collection took shape around presents the formidable Morgan received during his 17 years on earth—paintings, a bronze cat statue, and a facsimile of a dollar bill featuring his likeness and the motto, “We Trust No Dog.”

In spirit, the Kabinet hews closely to America’s eclectic (and fast disappearing) roadside museums.

No apps, no interactive kiosks, a stolidly old fashioned approach when it comes to display…

It does have a gift shop, where one can purchase logo t-shirts featuring an extremely cat-like specimen, viewed from the rear, tail aloft.

While the KattenKabinet’s holdings include some marquee names—Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Rembrandt—there’s something compelling about the collection’s less well known artists, many of whom embraced the museum’s pet subject again and again.

Museum founder Bob Meijer rewards virtual visitors with some juicy biographical tidbits about his artists, cat-related and otherwise. Take, for example, Leonor Fini, whose Ubu glowers below:

Fini had a three-way relationship with the Italian diplomat-cum-artist Stanislao LePri, who, like Fini, was difficult to pin into a certain style, and the Polish literary writer Constantin Jelenski. The two men were not, however, her only housemates: Fini had dozens of Persian cats around her. Indoors you rarely see a photo of her without a cat in her arms. In the Cat Cabinet you can find many of her works, from cheerfully colored cats to highly detailed portraits of cats. The women depicted in the paintings have that iconic mystique characteristic of Fini's work.

Tsuguharu Foujita, whose work is a staple of the museum, is another cat-loving-artist-turned-art-himself, by virtue of Dora Kalmus' 1927 portrait, above.

Hildo Krop is well represented throughout Amsterdam, his sculptures adorning bridges and buildings. Two Cats Making Love, on view at the Kabinet, is, Meijer comments,” clearly one of his smaller projects and probably falls into the category of "free work." One of his most famous works, and of a different order of magnitude, is the Berlage monument on Victorieplein in Amsterdam.”

In addition to fine art, the Kabinet showcases other feline appearances—in vintage advertising, Tadaaki Narita's Lucky cat pinball machine, and in the person, er, form of 5 live specimens who have the run of the place.

Those visiting in the flesh can cat around to some of Amsterdam’s other feline-themed attractions, including two cat cafes, a cat-centric boutique, and the floating shelter, De Poezenboot.

And let’s not forget the other cat museums ‘round the globe, from Minsk and Malaysia to Sylva, North Carolina’s American Museum of the House Cat.

Begin your exploration of the collection here.

via the BBC

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this March. Follow her @AyunHalliday.E

Explore an Interactive Version of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mural That Documents the Evolution of Birds Over 375 Million Years

Now, this avian Vatican also has its own Michelangelo.

Audubon Magazine

And the Class of Aves has its very own avian Pantone chart, created by science illustrator Jane Kim in service of her 2,500 square-foot Wall of Birds mural at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.

The custom chart’s fifty-one colors comprise about 90 percent of the finished work. A palette of thirteen Golden Fluid Acrylics supplied the jewel-toned accents so thrilling to birdwatchers.

Along the way, Kim absorbed a tremendous amount of information about the how and why of bird feather coloration:

The iridescence on the neck and back of the Superb Starling comes not from pigment,

but from structural color. The starling’s outer feathers are constructed in a way

that refracts light like myriad prisms, making the bird appear to shimmer. The eponymous

coloring of the Lilac-breasted Roller results from a different kind of structural

color, created when woven microstructures in the feathers, called barbs and barbules,

reflect only the shorter wavelengths of light like blue and violet.

The primary colors that lend their name to the Red-and-yellow Barbet are

derived from a class of pigments called carotenoids that the bird absorbs in its diet.

These are the same compounds that turn flamingos’ feathers pink. As a member of

the family Musophagidae, the Hartlaub’s Turaco displays pigmentation unique in the

bird world. Birds have no green pigmentation; in most cases, verdant plumage is a

combination of yellow carotenoids and blue structural color. Turacos are an exception,

displaying a green, copper-based pigment called turacoverdin that they absorb

in their herbivorous diet. The flash of red on the Hartlaub’s underwings comes from

turacin, another copper-based pigment unique to the family.

 

Kim also boned up on her subjects’ mating rituals, dietary habits, song styles, and male/female differences prior to inscribing the 270 life-size, lifelike birds onto the lab’s largest wall.

She examined specimens from the center's collection and reviewed centuries’ worth of field observations.

(The seventeenth-century English naturalist John Ray dismissed the hornbill family as having a “foul look,” a colonialism that ruffled Kim’s own feathers somewhat. In retaliation, she dubbed the Great Hornbill, “the Cyrano of the Jungle” owing to his “tequila-sunrise-hued facial phallus,” and selected him as the cover boy for her book about the mural.)

Research and preliminary sketching consumed an entire year, after which it took 17 months to inscribe 270 life-size creatures—some long extinct—onto the lab’s main wall. The birds are set against a greyscale map of the world, and while many are depicted in flight, every one save the Wandering Albatross has a foot touching its continent of origin.

Those who can’t visit the Wall of Birds (official title: From So Simple a Beginning) in person, can log some digital birdwatching using a spectacular interactive web-based version of the mural that provides plenty of information about each specimen, some of it literary. (The aforementioned Albatross’ entry contains a passing reference to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.)

Explore the Wall of Birds’ interactive features here.

You can download a free chapter of The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 243 Families, 375 Million Years by subscribing to Kim’s mailing list here.

Via Hyperallergic

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City February 11 for Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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