A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7500 images, 4 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 4,200+ total posts
There are hundreds and hundreds of pamphlets like the one below in the store's Outsider Collection--honest work that somehow has gone a little astray, or over-the-side, or reached too high, or fell too low, or some such thing. Sometimes I read in the work a little, and sometimes not--the present pamphlet is in the later category, which means I really have no idea what the author is channeling, except that I know it is fairly evangelically religious and capitalist. I don't know why the human head profile is on the cover, and I also don't know what it means. But no doubt it was something encapsulating, something representative to the work as a whole, otherwise it (probably) wouldn't be there. If I was 25 years old I might stop to read the 193-page work a little; but I'm not, so I won't.
This yellow is similar to the cover of Dr. Seuss' One Fish, Two Fish..., the color yellow symbolizing courage/nobility in Japan, wisdom in Islam, and a deity-color in Hinduism; the color so fond of many great writers like London and Doyle, and Harte and Stevenson that they employed in in titles of the books. The favorite color of Van Gogh1, and perhaps not-so-favorite of Shakespeare (appearing in references to bile and melancholy and falling leaves), it is usually a positive color--except that it also can signify cowardice, ego, caution, and illness (malaria, jaundice).
And so, yellow. The yellow here is a color of soil, and a beautiful yellow it is, the chart a piece of found-art in itself, a found-Abstraction. It actually was published in the Atlas of American Agriculture, lithographed by A. Hoen, and published in 1936--a particularly bad year for U.S. western soils.
And a detail:
1. The Van Gogh museum's "Van Gogh Letters" is a must-visit if you are interested in his correspondence. http://vangoghletters.org/vg/ Actually the word "green" pops up about 15% more often than "yellow" as the most often mentioned color in the correspondence, though I think that the scholars say that his favorite color hands-down was yellow.
Some of the most interesting Found-Art images in the history of science belong to astronomy, and within that, some of the most expressive and least-populated images of great appeal and haunting beauty are for early images of comets. And so it goes for this ("tinted") engraving of Biela's Comet, which illustrated an article by London-born W.T. Lynn (at the time with the Royal Observatory, Greenwich) which was published in the April, 1867 issue of The Intellectual Observer. The comet was named for Wilhelm von Biela who discovered the periodic nature of the comet (6.6 years, it had been identified as early as 1772), and had disappeared by the 1850's, but not before breaking up into at least two large pieces, which is what we are looking at below:
I've encountered a few items like this in the massive pamphlet collection I purchased years ago--works on building and design in Fascist Italy that happen to be very, well, "lonely". The few examples I've noticed have had a definite definite Rene Magritte qualities--mostly absent of people, spare human touches, and a sense of fear and foreboding. It is hard to imagine that a pamphlet like tonight's entry--La Paviemntazione delle Palestre (Gym Flooring/Pavement) could excite such a variety of observation and emotion, but it does. The cover pretty much confirms this--it is striking, and dark, and maybe even a little vengeful--and all they are talking about is equipping gym floors with linoleum:
I bet people haven't seen those two names connected by the word "and" before--I haven't. But there is a tiny connection, and then we'll need not to associate the names ever again.
Tim Wallace shared today (on Twitter, @wallacetim) in the interests of the display of information this chart of the formulation and evolution of a thought--it goes from surprising, to almost-interesting, to perplexity, to "huh?", all in very short order; at that point the chart turns into a bad alphabet soup. It appears in the collected works of William H. Seward--the man who would become Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State1. (And by the way, Donald Trump should be advised that delegate numbers necessary for nomination are not "made up" by "some guy", and that it is not "unfair" to him that others were running in the primaries, and that brokered conventions will not lead to bloodshed, and that good things come out of the brokered convention. William Seward led the delegate count for the presidential nomination for Republican candidate in 1860 but did not command a majority; the convention was brokered, and lo! and behold, Abraham Lincoln became the candidate. Same story for Woodrow Wilson.)
In any event this is an argument from Seward's law career shared in his collected works, and in this section he tells the story of his encounter with Dr. Thomas C. Spencer (of Geneva) and his testimony against his client, and the presentation of this chart. Seward does a pretty good job of booting Spencer through the door with his "incomprehensible" bouts of knowledge. The chart I include because of its humbug complexity and its found-Outsider nature.
Thanks again to Tim Wallace for sharing this.
Image source: William Henry Seward, The Works of William H. Seward, edited by George Baker, (Volume 1), Redfield, 1853, pp 463-466. Found at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=7Ov7OvmgxaAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
And Mr. Seward's interpretation of the chart, after which comes some rebuttal. I think it really isn't worth pursuing this chart any further beyond the comfort of knowing that it does exist, and that with a little color and some drawings, it would be a fine piece of Art Brut.
I've seen a number of novel life boat/vehicles in my travels through patent office records but never really made note of them, which is too bad. They can be pretty interesting in an oddly shared way with 19th century coffin designs and other mortuary patents--specifically the ones having to do with the dead should they find themselves fortunately/unfortunately resuscitated in their sleeping chamber underground. As a matter of fact some of the coffins were equipped with a small belled spire with a wire that went down into the coffin and wrapped around the hands of the dearly departed. So, in the event of premature burial, the undead dead would simply need to move their hands and sound a bell or raise a flag. In any event, that is what came to mind when I saw this image in the Scientific American for August, 1877:
This floating sphere was ballasted so that it would remain upright even in a heavy sea, and looks as though it could carry 10 or 15 people. It came complete with mast and flag, and a wrap-around walkway, and as you can see it is being used in the image by a man having a smoke.
Sometimes publications have absolutely no pretense, stating exactly what it is that sleeps between their covers. And sometimes these titles seem more like declarative broadsides or posters and not books at all, the "book part", or any writing furthering the cover's statement, being unnecessary, their contents being obvious. The first example here (and one which begs the response "Yup!"), Saturn Has Rings, written in 1944 by Donald Lee Cyr (of El Centro), should've stopped at the end of the title of chapter one, "A Rose has Petals", and probably could have ended on the title page. But no, it didn't, and stretched itself over another fifty thin pages.
Frederick Blaine Humphrey's Know Your Groceries (1931) takes an unexpected twist, spiraling into something called "biochesspathy", "natural dianetics", and somehow "applying the natural science of the Bible...to the philosophy of youth and health".
The Book of Envelope Facts...yes. This is actually a lovely book, in its very special way, with 55 pages of non-stop facts and semi-useless information on envelopes, and fits into a category of Deep and Repetitive Obviousness. Chapter Two's "Arousing Interest with Envelopes" competes wildly with Chapter Three "Attracting Attention with Envelopes" and Chapter Four's "Creating Desire with Envelopes". It is completed with eight pages of a glossary of envelope terms.
This last example, Alice Mills' Notes on Reading Aloud, really doesn't belong, because it is mainly on acting; but the title is so lovely I just couldn't resist.
There are many hundreds of pamphlets similar to these that are sleeping their sound oblivious sleep here in the studio--in a way they'd make a beautiful if somewhat perplexing exhibition, though at the end of it all one might think that absolutely nothing at all had happened. The greatest thing about such an exhibition is that most of the stuff that would be included in it are so minor/odd/trivial/proto-uninteresting that few people would ever think of searching for them without already knowing that they existed--that might make an exhibition of value in and of itself.
These images become curious only when you begin looking for the curious aspect in them--then, some sort of optical/neuro magic happens, and all one can see in the image is that unexpected curiousness. The following five examples come from a lovely work by Francis Grose, The Antiquities of England and Wales, which was published in the not-so-good-year-for-the-British-Empire, 1785. Grose was recording old structures and ruins, or semi-ruins--in general he gave each one of his views a lot of sky, which to my eye gave many of the scenes a very detached, remote quality--cold, even. The "obvious" part of their nature comes in the filler/perspectival inclusion of human figures in the foregrounds of the subject. For the most part, the figures came in pairs, and accounted for perhaps one percent of the image surface area, or less. They were--or were intended to be--inconsequential; however, given their placement and posture, they become very visible, and entertaining. In this selection below, what most of them were doing was sharing, pointing at things with walking sticks, things that really didn't need to be pointed-out, especially with a big stick. But there they are, standing there in their quiet but great obviousness, pointing at stuff.
This unusual image, published in Francis Grose's The Antiquities of England and Wales in 1785, depicts a cave--and a witch's cave at that--but taken slightly out of context and with it looks for all the world that there is a tree with roots floating in the air with an upside-down tree floating to its left. They're not floating, of course--they're just trees with roots growing across sandstone with the cave beneath. Without the story of the cave the floating trees make more interesting thinking--with the story, and the title, the story rules.
"Mother Ludlam's Hole" is the cave of a friendly "White Witch". It is set into a sandstone cliff in the Wey Valley, Moor Park, near "Farnham" (Frensham), in Surrey. A brief introduction to the story is that Mother Ludlam would grant loans of things to people so long as they returned them in two days. To one person she loaned her cauldron; unfortunately the person never returned it and hid it in a church. That church is said to be St. Mary's, and there is a cauldron there to this day that has evidently been there for centuries, a product of the action of the witch's borrower, or fairies. It is said that the cauldron was used to brew ale. In any event, there is a cauldron in the 13th century St. Mary's.
I think I like the Floating Trees possibilities a little more.
According to English Fairy and Other Folk Tales (1890) by Edwin Sidney Hartland,‘IN the vestry of Frensham Church, in Surrey, on the north side of the chancel, is an extraordinary great kettle or caldron, which the inhabitants say, by tradition, was brought hither by the fairies, time out of mind, from Borough-hill about a mile hence. To this place, if any one went to borrow a yoke of oxen, money, etc., he might have it for a year or longer, so be kept his word to return it. There is a cave where some have fancied to hear music. In this Borough-hill is a great stone lying along of the length of about six feet. They went to this stone and knocked at it, and declared what they would borrow, and when they would repay, and a voice would answer when they should come, and that they should find what they desired to borrow at that stone. This caldron, with the trivet, was borrowed here after the manner aforesaid, and not returned according to promise; and though the caldron was afterwards carried to the stone, it could not be received, and ever since that time no borrowing there.’ [Quote source: Mysterious Britain, http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/surrey/folklore/church-of-saint-mary-the-virgin-frensham.html]
It is not often one reads about creating an inland sea with trade routes between "Algeria and French West Africa", It is part of the creation of a vast Saharan sea, half of the size of the Mediterranean. I read about this version of the plan in an article by G.A. Thompson in an issue of the Scientific American for 19121, though as it turns out it was not the first time someone published on this fantastical idea. In this version, Prof. Etchegoven proposes a 50-mile long canal that would be built from the Mediterranean inland to a suitably low place and them well, the desert would get, well, filled up. The reasoning here was to make Africa accessible those with the money to take advantage of the situation, to establish trade routes, make Christianity more available to whomever it might confront, and also for "enhancing the value as a place for colonization by Europeans". In reviewing the proposal Mr. Thompson didn't see much danger or blowback or environmental issues--it was an outlook that was taken to task about a month later in a review in Nature2, which found his critique rather too-rosy.
In any event there have been plans like this reaching back at least into the late 19th century, a good example being The Flooding of the Sahara: An Account of the Proposed Plan for Opening ... written by Donald Mackenzie and published in 18773. Another significant proposal was made by Francoise Elie Roudaire (1836-1885) in his "An Inland Sea in Algiers", printed in 1874,m which was an idea he shared with Ferdinand de Lesseps. Actually it was the Roudaire work that seems to have been the basis for some of Jules Verne's last published work, L'Invasion de la Mer (1905) which took place in the 1930's and which made a very similar proposal for the Sahara--except in this version nature intervenes with an enormous earthquake, pretty much accomplishing immediately what it would have taken humans many decades to do. In any event, this is a good example of the Big Techno Think, though it wasn't necessarily a very good idea.
I was checking out what turned out to be a significant article on solitons ("Called "On Waves") by Lord Rayleigh in the April, 1876 issue of the Philosophical Magazine when I bumped into a neighboring article1 from the month before with this beautiful found-Abstract art illustration. It is headed with this gorgeous title, "On the Serpentinite2 of the Lizard...", and written by T.H. Rowney, who addressed its unusual appearance, citing its "organic appearance", "fossil corals", and "worm casts". The geological issues aside, I found the complexity (there are a number of different images contained in this one engraving), color, and the found-design to be all very captivating, especially appearing four decades before the invention of the Absurd.
1. Philosophical Magazine, 5th Series, New Series I, March, 1876.
I wrote earlier in this blog about a wonderful stadium-seating vision of New York City (here http://longstreet.typepad.com/thesciencebookstore/2016/02/history-of-the-future-of-massiveness-stadium-seating-skyscrapers-nyc-1938.html) produced by Con Ed for the 1939 World's Fair. What I didn't realize was that this was a drawing of what was to be a 5,000 square foot model of the buildings of Manhattan, all made to fit on a single block. The breakthrough for me came in a browse of the September 1938 issue of Popular Mechanics, where I saw a short article with a photo of NYC building models that looked very much like the jam-packed visionary cityscape of ConEd:
Here's one of the images I posted earlier:
It turns out that the first images that I posted were drawings for the models that were part of the Consolidated Edison "City of Light" pavilion at the fair, and which constituted the world's largest diorama. Here's an interesting photo showing the scale of the project:
[Source for the image directly above from Architecturalogy which hosts a number of other interesting photos, here: http://architecturalogy.com/new-york-diorama-the-city-of-light/]
While browsing a volume of the Scientific American (Scientific American Supplement #1453, November 7, 1903) I came across a picture of the Columbarium of the Villa Codini, Licinian Gardens, Rome, and then within a minute I came upon a similar scene just dozens of pages away--a striking likeness, though this time the sculpted openings were for the living. It showed a lecture being delivered to inmates of a criminal sanatorium, hearing about the evils of alcohol, each prisoner stored away in his own little box. "Columbarium" comes from the Latin word ("columba") for "dove-cote", and it is easy to see the similarity between the sepulchral images.
There is another image that I've saved but which has no reference for origin. It depicts prisoners in a European institution attending a Sunday service:
SO--this is either a very large tricycle with average-sized crew, or an average-sized trike operated by tiny people. Since it appeared in the November 11, 1896 issue of Scientific American--which had a very very slight leverage on humor--I report here that this was indeed a very large tricycle. As a matter of fact it required a crew of eight to operate, and weighed in at about 1500 pounds. It was actually constructed, as this crew peddled it around the Boston area for a 125-mile jaunt. Why this was done--other for the sake of doing it--I do not know. It seems someone just made a Big Thing, coming (as the short description in the issue says) "in this age of 'big things' ".
I found this delightful article while browsing volume 11 of Nature (1874)--J.D. Everett's On Mirage. It actually appears in parts over two issues (November 19 and 26) and I've got to admit that I was attracted to it from the illustrations--the wood engraving appearing in the concluding part having neo-proto-Absurdist qualities six decades before that would become recognized as an art form. I've included the image below from my copy as it is very sharp and crisp--I've also included links for the texts from the University of Wisconsin (though their scans of the images are not quite so fresh as the one below).
[Everett (1831-1904) was a distinguished physicist and is perhaps best remembered for his translation of a wonderful textbook by Augustin Privat-Deschanel, Elementary Treatise on Natural Philosophy: Physics (1882), a book I've found useful over time (along with Ganot's Physics) for identifying period scientific instruments as both books are absolutely filled with images.]