Monday, July 25, 2016

Artifactual and Natural Art

kw: natural history, natural science, art, museums, collections, photographs

I saw two things today that I just have to share, things I found in the Collections and Research area of the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Firstly, someone donated these eight drawings done in India ink on pieces of clam shell. The bottom of the box is 6"x6", so these are all about 2" long or smaller. I noticed the different line thicknesses used. It may be that these were drawn by someone working at the museum, using the India ink pens, in a few different sizes, that we use to mark the catalog number on a shell, whenever it is large enough for us to write upon.

I asked the curator if she knew who had drawn them. She doesn't know. They have been there a long time. From an aesthetic point of view, I think them quite wonderful. From the viewpoint of a research museum, they have little value because nothing is known about them. However, I am glad that they were not discarded as "without value", because they are charming. Curator after curator has kept them for that reason alone.

Note to future donors to any museum: Please make sure that any item you give is accompanied by documentation. Who made it or found it? Where was it made or found? and When?

Artwork is not what people think of when they imagine natural history collections. Yet to be human is to create art and to appreciate art. If nothing else, these little drawings show that clamshell material is a very good substrate for ink drawings! Small ones.

Secondly, one of the volunteers was working with a tray of lovely Cuban tree snails, named Polymita picta (Born, 1778/80). (Note, when the citation of the describing author is in parentheses it indicates that the genus name has changed. In this case, various later workers attribute the original name, Helix picta, to descriptions by Born in two different years. I have not dug into the literature to see if I can winkle out the correct attribution.)

These colorful snails seem like they would be obvious, but they are surprisingly hard to spot in the forest. They are an inch across or a little less, about the size of the California yard snail, which is actually an import from Europe.

This is a lovely thing about working in a natural history museum: the chance to handle the great beauties produced by nature, and occasionally, some produced by human hands.

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