When Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Plan to Turn Ellis Island Into a Futuristic Jules Verne-Esque City (1959)

The very words “Ellis Island” bring to mind a host of sepia-toned images, shaped by both Amer­i­can his­tor­i­cal fact and nation­al myth. Offi­cers employed there real­ly did inspect the eye­lids of new arrivals with but­ton­hooks, for exam­ple, but they did­n’t actu­al­ly make a pol­i­cy of chang­ing their names, how­ev­er for­eign they sound­ed. You can learn this and much else besides by pay­ing a vis­it to the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Muse­um on Ellis Island, which opened in 1990, 36 years after the clo­sure of the immi­grant inspec­tion and pro­cess­ing sta­tion itself. But if Frank Lloyd Wright had had his way, you could live on Ellis Island — and what’s more, you’d nev­er need to leave it.

“After Ellis Island was decom­mis­sioned in 1954 as the nation’s gate­way to the world’s hud­dled mass­es, the U.S. Gen­er­al Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion (GSA) chose an all-Amer­i­can path: open­ing the site to devel­op­ers,” write Sam Lubell and Greg Goldin at the Gotham Cen­ter for New York City His­to­ry. When NBC radio and tele­vi­sion announc­er Jer­ry Damon and direc­tor Elwood Doudt pitched to Wright the ambi­tious idea of rede­vel­op­ing the dis­used island into a “com­plete­ly self-con­tained city of the future,” the archi­tect replied that the project was “vir­tu­al­ly made to order for me.” Alas, Wright died just before they could all meet and ham­mer out the details, but not before he’d drawn up a pre­lim­i­nary but vivid plan.

Damon and Doudt car­ried on with what the late Wright has named the “Key Project.” “Its Jules Verne-esque design, based on Wright’s sketch­es, was res­olute­ly futur­is­tic,” write Lubell and Goldin. A “cir­cu­lar podi­um” on the island would sup­port “apart­ments for 7,500 res­i­dents, ris­ing like a stack of off­set, alter­nat­ing dish­es. Above these dwelling floors, and sep­a­rat­ed by sun­decks, would be a cres­cent of sev­en cor­ru­gat­ed, can­dle­stick-shaped tow­ers con­tain­ing more apart­ments and a 500-room hotel.” At the cen­ter of it all, Wright placed “a huge globe, seem­ing­ly pock­marked by eons of mete­or col­li­sions, and held aloft by plas­tic canopies pro­tect­ing the plazas below.”

It’s easy to imag­ine the exe­cu­tion of this Space Age urban utopia not quite liv­ing up to Wright’s vision — and, indeed, to imag­ine it hav­ing fall­en by now into just as thor­ough a state of dilap­i­da­tion as did Ellis Island’s orig­i­nal build­ings. But it’s also fas­ci­nat­ing to con­sid­er what could have been Wright’s final com­mis­sion as the acme of the evo­lu­tion of his think­ing about the urban space itself. A quar­ter-cen­tu­ry ear­li­er, he’d been obsessed with the qua­si-rur­al devel­op­ment he called Broad­acre City; just a few years before his death, he came up with the Illi­nois Mile-High Tow­er, a megas­truc­ture that would prac­ti­cal­ly have con­sti­tut­ed a metrop­o­lis in and of itself. The Key Project, as Damon and Doudt pro­mot­ed it, would have offered “casu­al, inspired liv­ing, minus the usu­al big-city clam­or”: the kind of mar­ket­ing lan­guage we hear from devel­op­ers still today, though not backed by the genius of the most renowned archi­tect in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

Frank Lloyd Wright Designs an Urban Utopia: See His Hand-Drawn Sketch­es of Broad­acre City (1932)

The Unre­al­ized Projects of Frank Lloyd Wright Get Brought to Life with 3D Dig­i­tal Recon­struc­tions

Take a 360° Vir­tu­al Tours of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Archi­tec­tur­al Mas­ter­pieces, Tal­iesin & Tal­iesin West

Why Frank Lloyd Wright Designed a Gas Sta­tion in Min­neso­ta (1958)

Por­traits of Ellis Island Immi­grants Arriv­ing on America’s Wel­com­ing Shores Cir­ca 1907

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

OpenVertebrate Presents a Massive Database of 13,000 3D Scans of Vertebrate Specimens

From The Flori­da Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry comes the open­Ver­te­brate project, a new ini­tia­tive to “pro­vide free, dig­i­tal 3D ver­te­brate anato­my mod­els and data to researchers, edu­ca­tors, stu­dents and the pub­lic.” Intro­duc­ing the new project (oth­er­wise known as oVert), the muse­um writes:

Between 2017 and 2023, oVert project mem­bers took CT scans of more than 13,000 spec­i­mens, with rep­re­sen­ta­tive species across the ver­te­brate tree of life. This includes more than half the gen­era of all amphib­ians, rep­tiles, fish­es and mam­mals. CT scan­ners use high-ener­gy X‑rays to peer past an organism’s exte­ri­or and view the dense bone struc­ture beneath. Thus, skele­tons make up the major­i­ty of oVert recon­struc­tions. A small num­ber of spec­i­mens were also stained with a tem­po­rary con­trast-enhanc­ing solu­tion that allowed researchers to visu­al­ize soft tis­sues, such as skin, mus­cle and oth­er organs.

The mod­els give an inti­mate look at inter­nal por­tions of a spec­i­men that could pre­vi­ous­ly only be observed through destruc­tive dis­sec­tion and tis­sue sam­pling.

In the com­ing years, the open­Ver­te­brate team will “CT scan 20,000 flu­id-pre­served spec­i­mens from U.S. muse­um col­lec­tions, pro­duc­ing high-res­o­lu­tion anatom­i­cal data for more than 80 per­cent of ver­te­brate gen­era.” The project will also make dig­i­tal images and 3D mesh files avail­able to down­load and 3D print.

The video below pro­vides a short, visu­al intro­duc­tion to the dig­i­tal col­lec­tion. You can learn more about the project here.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent

Franz Kaf­ka Says the Insect in The Meta­mor­pho­sis Should Nev­er Be Drawn; and Vladimir Nabokov Draws It Any­way

Watch The Insects’ Christ­mas from 1913: A Stop Motion Film Star­ring a Cast of Dead Bugs

Cap­ti­vat­ing Col­lab­o­ra­tion: Artist Hubert Duprat Uses Insects to Cre­ate Gold­en Sculp­tures


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An Architectural Tour of Sagrada Família, Antoni Gaudí’s Audacious Church That’s Been Under Construction for 142 Years

In less than a year and a half, the cen­te­nary of Antoni Gaudí’s death will be here. Faced with this fact, espe­cial­ly ded­i­cat­ed enthu­si­asts of Cata­lan archi­tec­ture may already be plan­ning their fes­tiv­i­ties. But we can be sure where the real pres­sure is felt: the Basíli­ca i Tem­ple Expi­a­tori de la Sagra­da Família, Gaudí’s most famous build­ing, which — as of tomor­row — has been under con­struc­tion for 142 years. When it first broke ground in 1882, Gaudí was­n’t involved at all, but when he took over the project the fol­low­ing year, he re-envi­sioned it in a dis­tinc­tive com­bi­na­tion of the Goth­ic and Art Nou­veau styles. The rest, as they say, is his­to­ry: a trou­bled, unpre­dictable his­to­ry con­tin­u­ing to this day, explained by archi­tec­ture-and-his­to­ry Youtu­ber Manuel Bra­vo in the video above.

Though it isn’t yet com­plete, you can vis­it Sagra­da Família; indeed, it’s long been the most pop­u­lar tourist attrac­tion in Barcelona. The expe­ri­ence of mar­veling at the basil­i­ca’s aston­ish­ing degree of detail and not-quite-of-this-Earth struc­ture is worth the price of admis­sion, which has helped to fund its ongo­ing con­struc­tion. But you’ll appre­ci­ate it on a high­er lev­el if you go with some­one who can explain its many unusu­al fea­tures, both archi­tec­tur­al and reli­gious — some­one with as much knowl­edge ad enthu­si­asm as Bra­vo, whom we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his videos on Pom­peii, Venice, the Great Pyra­mids of Giza, and the Duo­mo di Firen­ze.

With Sagra­da Famíli­a’s pyra­mi­dal shape, Bra­vo explains, Gaudí “hoped to sug­gest a con­nec­tion between the human and the divine.” Its three façades are ded­i­cat­ed to the birth, death, and eter­nal life of Jesus Christ, to whom the cen­tral and tallest of its planned eigh­teen tow­ers will be ded­i­cat­ed. The cathe­dral’s exte­ri­or alone con­sti­tutes an “authen­tic Bible of stone,” but it can hard­ly pre­pare you to step into the inte­ri­or, with its “beau­ti­ful play of space, light, and col­or.” As Bra­vo puts it, “the pro­tag­o­nist here is the space itself,” envi­sioned by Gaudí as “a huge for­est” involv­ing no un-nature-like straight lines. All of it show­cas­es “the com­bi­na­tion of aes­thet­ics and effi­cien­cy” that defines the archi­tec­t’s work.

Bravo’s video runs a bit over twen­ty min­utes, but you could spend much, much longer appre­ci­at­ing every aspect of Sagra­da Família, those com­plet­ed in Gaudí’s life­time as well as those com­plet­ed by the many devot­ed arti­sans who have con­tin­ued his work for almost 100 years now. The archi­tect “knew quite well that he would not live to see the tem­ple com­plet­ed,” says Bra­vo, hence his hav­ing “left behind so many mod­els and draw­ings” for his suc­ces­sors to go on. They’re work­ing on a 2026 dead­line, but as Bra­vo notes, giv­en the inter­rup­tions inflict­ed by COVID-19, “that date seems unlike­ly.” But then, has there ever been as unlike­ly a build­ing as Sagra­da Família?

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Incred­i­ble Engi­neer­ing of Anto­nio Gaudí’s Sagra­da Famil­ia, the 137 Year Con­struc­tion Project

The Japan­ese Sculp­tor Who Ded­i­cat­ed His Life to Fin­ish­ing Gaudí’s Mag­num Opus, the Sagra­da Família

Venice Explained: Its Archi­tec­ture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Expe­ri­ence Them All

Take a High Def, Guid­ed Tour of Pom­peii

How the World’s Biggest Dome Was Built: The Sto­ry of Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the Duo­mo in Flo­rence

What the Great Pyra­mids of Giza Orig­i­nal­ly Looked Like

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

An Animated Introduction to the Rosetta Stone, and How It Unlocked Our Understanding of Egyptian Hieroglyphs

In 1799, Napoleon’s army encoun­tered a curi­ous arti­fact in Egypt, a black stone that fea­tured writ­ing in three dif­fer­ent lan­guages: Egypt­ian Hiero­glyphs, Demot­ic Egypt­ian, and Ancient Greek. Before long, Eng­lish troops cap­tured the stone and brought it to the British Muse­um in 1802—where it remains today. The ani­mat­ed video above, cre­at­ed by Egyp­tol­o­gist Franziska Naether, explains “how schol­ars decod­ed the ancient mes­sage of the Roset­ta Stone,” a painstak­ing process that took decades to com­plete. By the 1850s, philol­o­gists had unlocked the mean­ing of Egypt­ian hiero­glyphs and, with them, the secrets of ancient Egypt­ian civ­i­liza­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What the Roset­ta Stone Actu­al­ly Says

How to Read Ancient Egypt­ian Hiero­glyphs: A British Muse­um Cura­tor Explains

The British Muse­um Cre­ates 3D Mod­els of the Roset­ta Stone & 200+ Oth­er His­toric Arti­facts: Down­load or View in Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty

An Introduction to the Astrolabe, the Medieval Smartphone

Image by Anders Sand­berg, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Asked to imag­ine the char­ac­ter of every­day life in the Mid­dle Ages, a young stu­dent in the twen­ty-twen­ties might well reply, before get­ting around to any oth­er details, that it involved no smart­phones. But even the flashiest new tech­nolo­gies have long evo­lu­tion­ary his­to­ries, and, in cer­tain notable respects, even the smart­phone has a medieval ances­tor. That would be the astro­labe, an espe­cial­ly fas­ci­nat­ing eleventh-cen­tu­ry exam­ple of which was recent­ly dis­cov­ered at the Fon­dazione Museo Minis­calchi-Eriz­zo in Verona. It was iden­ti­fied by Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge his­to­ri­an Fed­er­i­ca Gigante, who’s been mak­ing the media rounds to explain the con­text and func­tion of this strik­ing and his­toric device.

“It’s basi­cal­ly the world’s ear­li­est smart­phone,” Gigante says in an NPR All Things Con­sid­ered seg­ment. “With one sim­ple cal­cu­la­tion, you can tell the time, but you can also do all sorts of oth­er things.” In a visu­al New York Times fea­ture, Franz Lidz and Clara Van­nuc­ci add that astro­labes, which resem­bled “large, old-fash­ioned vest pock­et watch­es,” also allowed their users to deter­mine “dis­tances, heights, lat­i­tudes and even (with a horo­scope) the future.”

Gigante tells them that, when she got the chance to pay the Minis­calchi-Eriz­zo astro­labe clos­er scruti­ny, she could iden­ti­fy Ara­bic inscrip­tions, “faint Hebrew mark­ings,” and West­ern numer­als, which made this par­tic­u­lar arti­fact “a pow­er­ful record of sci­en­tif­ic exchange between Mus­lims, Jews and Chris­tians over near­ly a mil­len­ni­um.”

In the video above, Seb Falk, author of The Light Ages: The Sur­pris­ing Sto­ry of Medieval Sci­ence, demon­strates how to use an astro­labe to cal­cu­late the time. It is, admit­ted­ly, a more com­pli­cat­ed affair than glanc­ing at the screen of your phone, analo­gies to which have become irre­sistible in these dis­cus­sions. “Like the smart­phone, the astro­labe came into being dur­ing times of eco­nom­ic pros­per­i­ty — in that case, like­ly dur­ing the height of the Roman Empire,” writes Smith­son­ian ‘s Lau­ra Pop­pick. Though func­tion­al astro­labes were made of ordi­nary wood or met­als, the sur­viv­ing exam­ples tend to be ornate­ly engraved brass, which pro­vid­ed sta­tus val­ue to the high-end mar­ket. In that respect, too, the astro­labe resem­bles the “con­cep­tu­al ances­tor to the iPhone 7” — a device that, in the eyes of technophiles here in 2024, now looks fair­ly medieval itself.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How the Ancient Greeks Invent­ed the First Com­put­er: An Intro­duc­tion to the Antikythera Mech­a­nism (Cir­ca 87 BC)

Watch an Accu­rate Recon­struc­tion of the World’s Old­est Com­put­er, the 2,200 Year-Old Antikythera Mech­a­nism, from Start to Fin­ish

Behold the Astro­nom­icum Cae­sareum, “Per­haps the Most Beau­ti­ful Sci­en­tif­ic Book Ever Print­ed” (1540)

The Ancient Astron­o­my of Stone­henge Decod­ed

The World’s First Mobile Phone Shown in 1922 Vin­tage Film

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

The Book of Colour Concepts: A New 800-Page Celebration of Color Theory, Including Works by Newton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

The Book of Colour Con­cepts will soon be pub­lished by Taschen in a mul­ti­lin­gual edi­tion, con­tain­ing text in Eng­lish, French, Ger­man, and Span­ish. This choice makes its abun­dance of explana­to­ry schol­ar­ship wide­ly acces­si­ble at a stroke, but even those who read none of those four lan­guages can enjoy the book. For it takes a deep dive — with Taschen’s char­ac­ter­is­tic visu­al lav­ish­ness — into one of the tru­ly uni­ver­sal lan­guages: that of col­or. Through­out its two vol­umes, The Book of Colour Con­cepts presents more than 1000 images drawn from four cen­turies’ worth of “rare books and man­u­scripts from a wealth of insti­tu­tions, includ­ing the most dis­tin­guished col­or col­lec­tions world­wide.”

Repro­duced with­in are selec­tions from more than 65 books and man­u­scripts, includ­ing such “sem­i­nal works of col­or the­o­ry” as Isaac Newton’s Opticks and Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe’s Zur Far­ben­lehre, as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

Kate Moth­es at Colos­sal adds that “read­ers will also find stud­ies from Col­or Prob­lems, the ear­ly 20th-cen­tu­ry hand­book by Emi­ly Noyes Van­der­poel, which described the­o­ries that would trend in sub­se­quent decades in design and art, like Joseph Albers’s series Homage to the Square.” In The Book of Colour Con­cepts’ 800 pages also appear a vari­ety of works that don’t belong, strict­ly speak­ing, to the field of col­or the­o­ry, such as a botan­i­cal note­book by the spir­i­tu­al­ist and ear­ly abstract artist Hilma af Klint.

Co-authors Sarah Lowen­gard and Alexan­dra Loske bring seri­ous cre­den­tials to this endeav­or: Lowen­gard is a his­to­ri­an of tech­nol­o­gy and sci­ence with more than 40 years’ expe­ri­ence as an “arti­san col­or-mak­er,” and Loske is an art his­to­ri­an and cura­tor who spe­cial­izes in “the role of women in the his­to­ry of col­or.” Both would no doubt agree on the spe­cial val­ue of revis­it­ing the his­to­ry of this par­tic­u­lar sub­ject here in the ear­ly twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, with all its dis­course about the dis­ap­pear­ance of col­or from our every­day lives. It’s wor­ri­some enough that spo­ken and writ­ten lan­guages out­side the Eng­lish-French-Ger­man-Span­ish league seem to be declin­ing; rel­e­gat­ing our­selves to an ever-nar­row­ing vocab­u­lary of col­or would be an even graver loss indeed.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Goethe’s Col­or­ful & Abstract Illus­tra­tions for His 1810 Trea­tise The­o­ry of Col­ors: Scans of the First Edi­tion

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete High-Res­o­lu­tion Dig­i­tal Scan

William Blake’s 102 Illus­tra­tions of The Divine Com­e­dy Col­lect­ed in a Beau­ti­ful Book from Taschen

The Vibrant Col­or Wheels Designed by Goethe, New­ton & Oth­er The­o­rists of Col­or (1665–1810)

The Woman Who The­o­rized Col­or: An Intro­duc­tion to Mary Gartside’s New The­o­ry of Colours (1808)

A Vision­ary 115-Year-Old Col­or The­o­ry Man­u­al Returns to Print: Emi­ly Noyes Vanderpoel’s Col­or Prob­lems

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

The Founder of the Red Cross Creates a Diagram of the Apocalypse (1887)

His­to­ry remem­bers Hen­ry Dunant (1828–1910) for two things–being the co-founder of the Red Cross move­ment and win­ning the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901.

Less well known is his dia­gram of the Apoc­a­lypse. Between 1877 and 1890, notes the Red Cross Muse­um web­site, Hen­ry Dunant “pro­duced a series of dia­grams reflect­ing his dis­tinc­tive under­stand­ing of humanity’s past and future. Inspired by Chris­t­ian revival­ism, the draw­ings depict a time­line from the Flood of Noah to what Dunant believed was an impend­ing Apoc­a­lypse. The dia­grams fuse mys­ti­cal ref­er­ences with bib­li­cal, his­toric and sci­en­tif­ic events, while also set­ting up a clear oppo­si­tion between Gene­va, as the cen­tre of the Ref­or­ma­tion, and the Catholic Church.”

The image above is the first draw­ing out of a series of four, made with col­ored pen­cils, ink, India ink, wax crayons, and water­col­ors. Writes Messy Nessy, Dunant “spent con­sid­er­able time on the draw­ings, organ­is­ing the sym­bol­ic ele­ments accord­ing to a strict log­ic, mak­ing prepara­to­ry sketch­es and painstak­ing­ly incor­po­rat­ing draw­ings and colour­ings into his chronol­o­gy.” All along, he was dri­ven by the belief that the Apoc­a­lypse was in the off­ing, just a short time way.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

In 1704, Isaac New­ton Pre­dicts the World Will End in 2060

A Sur­vival Guide to the Bib­li­cal Apoc­a­lypse

It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Apoc­a­lypse Gets Visu­al­ized in an Inven­tive Map from 1486

The 15 Greatest Documentaries of All Time: Explore Films by Werner Herzog, Errol Morris & More

There are two kinds of peo­ple in this world: those who rec­og­nize the phrase “corny dia­logue that would make the pope weep,” and those who don’t. If you fall into the for­mer cat­e­go­ry, your mind is almost cer­tain­ly filled with images of bleak Mid­west­ern win­ters, mod­est trail­er homes, hood­ed fig­ures smash­ing an already-junk­yard-wor­thy car, and above all, one man try­ing — and try­ing, and try­ing — to put anoth­er man’s head through a kitchen cab­i­net. If you fall into the lat­ter cat­e­go­ry, it’s high time you watched Amer­i­can Movie, Chris Smith and Sara Price’s doc­u­men­tary about a hap­less aspir­ing Wis­con­sin hor­ror film­mak­er Mark Bor­chardt that has, in the 25 years since its release, become a minor cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non unto itself.

Amer­i­can Movie right­ful­ly occu­pies the top spot in the new Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy video above, which ranks the fif­teen great­est doc­u­men­taries of all time. The list fea­tures well-known works by the most acclaimed doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ers alive today, like Fred­er­ick Wise­man’s Titi­cut Fol­lies, which cap­tures a tal­ent show at an insti­tu­tion for the “crim­i­nal­ly insane”; Errol Mor­ris’ The Thin Blue Line, which proved instru­men­tal in solv­ing the very mur­der case it exam­ines; and Wern­er Her­zog’s Griz­zly Man, which deals in Her­zog’s sig­na­ture height­ened yet mat­ter-of-fact man­ner with the iron­ic fate of an eccen­tric bear enthu­si­ast.

Doc­u­men­tary film has expe­ri­enced some­thing of a pop­u­lar renais­sance over the past few decades, begin­ning in 1994 with Steve James’ Acad­e­my Award-win­ning Hoop Dreams (which comes in at num­ber sev­en). More recent exam­ples of doc­u­men­taries that have gone rel­a­tive­ly main­stream include Joshua Oppen­heimer’s The Act of Killing (num­ber three), in which par­tic­i­pants in Indone­si­a’s mass polit­i­cal vio­lence of the nine­teen-six­ties recall their own bru­tal­i­ty in detail, and O.J.: Made in Amer­i­ca (num­ber five), which revis­its the “tri­al of the cen­tu­ry” now so close and yet so far in our cul­tur­al mem­o­ry. There are also intrigu­ing films of a much low­er pro­file, like William Greaves’ chaot­ic Sym­biopsy­chotax­i­plasm: Take One and the late Jonas Mekas’ epi­cal­ly but mod­est­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal As I Was Mov­ing Ahead Occa­sion­al­ly I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beau­ty.

If you watch only one of these fif­teen doc­u­men­taries, make it Amer­i­can Movie, which repays repeat­ed view­ings over a quar­ter-cen­tu­ry (as I can per­son­al­ly con­firm) with not just its com­e­dy — inten­tion­al or unin­ten­tion­al — but also its insight — again, inten­tion­al or unin­ten­tion­al — into the nature of cre­ation, friend­ship, and human exis­tence itself. “If ever, in your cre­ations, there’s doubt, or you ever feel like you’ve lost your way, if there was ever a film to watch, to realign your­self, it is Amer­i­can Movie,” says The Cin­e­ma Car­tog­ra­phy cre­ator Lewis Bond. Even those of us not ded­i­cat­ed to any par­tic­u­lar art form could stand to be remind­ed on occa­sion that, as Bor­chardt mem­o­rably puts it, “life is kin­da cool some­times.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

50 Must-See Doc­u­men­taries, Select­ed by 10 Influ­en­tial Doc­u­men­tary Film­mak­ers

Watch 80 Free Doc­u­men­taries from Kino Lor­ber: Includes Films on M. C. Esch­er, Stan­ley Kubrick, Han­nah Arendt, Hilma af Klint & More

Errol Mor­ris Makes His Ground­break­ing Series First Per­son Free to Watch Online: Binge Watch His Inter­views with Genius­es, Eccentrics, Obses­sives & Oth­er Unusu­al Types

Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog: The Director’s Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Short Film from 1986

The 10 Great­est Doc­u­men­taries of All Time Accord­ing to 340 Film­mak­ers and Crit­ics

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

6,000 Years of History Visualized in a 23-Foot-Long Timeline of World History, Created in 1871

adam and eve map

A beau­ti­ful ear­ly exam­ple of visu­al­iz­ing the flow of his­to­ry, Sebas­t­ian C. Adams’ Syn­chrono­log­i­cal Chart of Uni­ver­sal His­to­ry out­lines the evo­lu­tion of mankind from Adam and Eve to 1871, the year of its first edi­tion.

A recre­ation can be found and close­ly exam­ined at the David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion, which allows you to zoom in on any part of the orig­i­nal time­line, which stretched to 23 feet in length and was designed for school­hous­es as a one-stop shop for all of his­to­ry.

jesus map

As Daniel Rosen­berg and Antho­ny Grafton describe it in their book Car­togra­phies of Time:

The Syn­chrono­log­i­cal Chart is a great work of out­sider think­ing and a tem­plate for auto­di­dact study; it attempts to rise above the sta­tion of a mere his­tor­i­cal sum­ma­ry and to draw a pic­ture of his­to­ry rich enough to serve as a text­book in itself.

Adams was a vora­cious read­er and a good Chris­t­ian, and in the top half of the chart he attempts to untan­gle the spaghet­ti-like geneal­o­gy of Adam and Eve’s chil­dren from Abel (“The First Mar­tyr”) through to Solomon (whose tem­ple looks very Goth­ic), all the way through to Jesus and beyond.

At the same time he presents a detailed descrip­tion of archae­o­log­i­cal his­to­ry “after the flood,” from Stone Age tools through the ear­li­est civ­i­liza­tions, men­tion­ing major bat­tles, inven­tions, philoso­phers, and advances in sci­ence. Adams’ start­ing date of all his­to­ry comes from the Irish Arch­bish­op James Ussh­er, who, in 1654 declared, after years of study, that the earth was cre­at­ed on “night­fall on 22 Octo­ber 4004 BC.” (Now that’s cer­tain­ty!)

egypt map

The map is col­or­ful and filled with beau­ti­ful illus­tra­tions from the self-taught Adams, from a draw­ing of Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream to the cur­rent world lead­ers and a list of Unit­ed States Pres­i­dents up to James Garfield. There’s even a sec­tion at the far end for “Emi­nent Men not else­where men­tioned on the Chart,” the sign of a true com­pletist (except for the part where he leaves out women).

rome map

Adams lived far from the epi­cen­ters of Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion. He grew up in a Pres­by­ter­ian fam­i­ly in Ohio, and, when he showed a skill for teach­ing lat­er in life, he made the trek out west, near­ly dying on the Ore­gon Trail. He set­tled in Salem, Ore­gon and began teach­ing while also work­ing on his chart. When it was ready to print, he trav­eled back to Cincin­nati to hire the esteemed lith­o­g­ra­phers Stro­bridge & Co., who pub­lished Civ­il War scenes, maps, and cir­cus posters. Ini­tial­ly he sold the chart him­self, but its pop­u­lar­i­ty led to sev­er­al Amer­i­can and British print­ers pro­duc­ing copies into the 20th cen­tu­ry. Even Hor­ror writer H.P. Love­craft owned a copy.

presidents map

It remains a riotous work of art, his­to­ry, reli­gion, and self-deter­mi­na­tion, and fac­sim­i­les can still be pur­chased online. Adams lat­er left teach­ing to become pres­i­dent of an insur­ance com­pa­ny, and died of “la grippe” (i.e. the flu) in 1898.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New York Pub­lic Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Down­load and Use

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

Oculi Mun­di: A Beau­ti­ful Online Archive of 130 Ancient Maps, Atlases & Globes

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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Vincent Van Gogh’s Final Painting: Discover Tree Roots, the Last Creative Act of the Dutch Painter (1890)

The sto­ry of Vin­cent van Gogh’s life tends to be defined by his psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion and the not-unre­lat­ed man­ner of his death. (It does if we set aside the episode with the muti­lat­ed ear and the broth­el, any­way.) The fig­ure of the impov­er­ished, neglect­ed artist whose work would rev­o­lu­tion­ize his medi­um, and whose descent into mad­ness ulti­mate­ly drove him to take his own life, has proven irre­sistible to mod­ern sto­ry­tellers. That group includes painter-film­mak­er Julian Schn­abel, who told Van Gogh’s sto­ry a few years ago with At Eter­ni­ty’s Gate, and Vin­cente Min­nel­li, who’d ear­li­er giv­en it the full Cin­e­maS­cope treat­ment in 1956 with Lust for Life.

It is thanks in large part to Lust for Life that casu­al Van Gogh fans long regard­ed Wheat­field with Crows as his final paint­ing. “The paint­ing’s dark and gloomy sub­ject mat­ter seemed to per­fect­ly encap­su­late the last days of Van Gogh, full of fore­bod­ing of his even­tu­al death,” says gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in his new Great Art Explained video above.

Recent­ly, how­ev­er, the con­sen­sus has shift­ed toward a dif­fer­ent, less­er-known work, Tree Roots. Like Wheat­field with Crows, Van Gogh paint­ed it in the rur­al vil­lage of Auvers-sur-Oise, to which he moved after check­ing out of the last asy­lum in which he’d received treat­ment. There, in his final weeks, he “worked on a series of land­scapes on the hills above Auvers,” all ren­dered on wide-for­mat can­vas­es he’d nev­er used before.

That this series con­sists of “vast expans­es, total­ly devoid of any human fig­ures” makes it look “as if he has giv­en up on human­i­ty.” What’s more, Tree Roots is also “devoid of form. It is unfin­ished, which is extreme­ly unusu­al for Van Gogh, and a sign it was still being worked on when he died.” Its obscure loca­tion only became clear dur­ing the time of COVID-19, when Van Gogh spe­cial­ist Wouter van der Veen was look­ing through a cache of old French post­cards he’d received and hap­pened to spot a high­ly famil­iar set of roots. Thanks to this coin­ci­dence, we can now vis­it the very spot in which Van Gogh paint­ed what’s now thought to be his very last work on the morn­ing of July 27th, 1890, the same day he chose to end his own life. This counts as a mys­tery solved, but sure­ly the art Van Gogh made dur­ing his abbre­vi­at­ed but prodi­gious career still has much to reveal to us.

Relat­ed con­tent:

1,500 Paint­ings & Draw­ings by Vin­cent van Gogh Have Been Dig­i­tized & Put Online

Vin­cent van Gogh’s The Star­ry Night: Why It’s a Great Paint­ing in 15 Min­utes

Down­load Vin­cent van Gogh’s Col­lec­tion of 500 Japan­ese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Cre­ate “the Art of the Future”

Vin­cent van Gogh’s Self Por­traits: Explore & Down­load a Col­lec­tion of 17 Paint­ings Free Online

A Com­plete Archive of Vin­cent van Gogh’s Let­ters: Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed and Ful­ly Anno­tat­ed

Van Gogh’s Ugli­est Mas­ter­piece: A Break Down of His Late, Great Paint­ing, The Night Café (1888)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 or on Face­book.

Salvador Dalí’s Surreal Cutlery Set from 1957

In 1957, Sal­vador Dalí cre­at­ed a table­ware set con­sist­ing of 1) a four-tooth fork with a fish han­dle, 2) an ele­phant fork with three teeth, 3) a snail knife with tears, 4) a leaf knife, 5) a small arti­choke spoon, and 6) an arti­choke spoon. When the set went on auc­tion in 2012, it sold for $28,125.

Infor­ma­tion on the cut­lery set remains hard to find, but we sus­pect that it sprang from Dalí’s desire to blur the lines between art and every­day life. It’s per­haps the same log­ic that led him to design a sur­re­al­ist cook­book—Les Din­ers de Gala—16 years lat­er. It’s not hard to imag­ine the uten­sils above going to work on his odd­ball recipes, like “Bush of Craw­fish in Viking Herbs,” “Thou­sand-Year-Old Eggs,” and “Veal Cut­lets Stuffed with Snails.” If you hap­pen to know more about Dalí’s cre­ation, please add any thoughts to the com­ments below.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Sal­vador Dalí’s 1973 Cook­book Gets Reis­sued: Sur­re­al­ist Art Meets Haute Cui­sine

Sal­vador Dali’s 1978 Wine Guide, The Wines of Gala, Gets Reis­sued: Sen­su­al Viti­cul­ture Meets Sur­re­al Art

How to Actu­al­ly Cook Sal­vador Dali’s Sur­re­al­ist Recipes: Cray­fish, Prawns, and Spit­ted Eggs

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