Mount Katahdin (Maine) was painted in 1939 by Marsden Hartley, and is soon on show in a new exhibition of his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
The show opens with an inspired stroke of scene-setting: a mural-size film projection of waves crashing against a bleak stretch of Maine’s Atlantic coastline.
The artist had conflicted feelings about his spiritual home at Lewiston. His father was an English immigrant and worked in a textile mill. His mother died when he was eight. Hartley was inconsolable and stayed that way. The earliest picture in the show, “Shady Brook ” from 1907, is a landscape in a wispy Romantic style and may depict a scene he recalled from childhood.
“Log Jam, Penobscot Bay,” is from 1940 (Detroit Institute of Arts) and hints at other plants of the Maine landscape, long extinct.
These are the famous Early Devonian fossils from the cliffs where New England faces the Atlantic. Psilophyton grew there 400 million years ago.
A well-known Hartley figure is more recent and is on show at the Met:
Back in 2013, The Dotted Line Theatre performed The Engineer’s Thumb
at the Little Angel Puppet Theatre. It was inspired by a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Using rod and shadow puppetry, light and object manipulation, it encountered experiments in hydraulics, memories coming to life and a terrifying coach ride along a dark country lane.
More recently the same theatre company has performed The Lonely One:
Last week’s Nature (volume 542, page 294) discusses how such dextrous actions by artists are used by science researchers. It cites the difficulties an analytical chemist had bisecting kidney stones – and how a sculptor working with glass cut the stones with their glass-grinding lathe.
There are more examples of such help from teachers at the Art Workers’ Guild. It is so-called Haptic Learning and involves the transferable skills such as the use of brushes, surgical instruments, implements for sewing and embroidery, and musical instruments.
A pioneering woman of science re-emerges after 300 years
Maria Sibylla Merian, a German-born woman living in the Netherlands worked as an artist, botanist, naturalist and entomologist.
Three hundred years after her death, Merian will be celebrated at an international symposium in Amsterdam this June.
In December 2016 “Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium”, first published in 1705 was republished. It contains 60 plates and original descriptions, along with stories about Merian’s life and updated scientific descriptions.
A fossil of one of the first life-forms has been found in China:
Saccorhytus was covered with a thin, relatively flexible skin and muscles. It probably moved around by wriggling.
This electron microscope image has inspired a Cambridge artist to create a more detailed image:
In Nature magazine Simon Conway Morris et al refer the 540 million year old specimens to the Deuterostomes, common ancestors of the vertebrates (backboned animals such as fish). Saccorhytus was about a millimetre in size, and is thought to have lived between grains of sand on the sea bed.
Myths and fairy-stories have explained the occurrence of circular patterns of vegetation that are found on the ground of the Namibian desert.
CE Tarnita et al give evidence for a scientific explanation in today’s Nature (volume 541, 398-401). They say the fairy circles are due to an intra-specific competition between territorial animals. They show the patterns of the circles’ occurrence are shaped by dynamic interactions between groups of animals that generate a self-organised distribution.
It seems that ecosystems can generate their own kind of order.
The Connaught Hotel has unveiled its “Christmas Tree” in Carlos Place, London. This year, the tree is designed by Antony Gormley who says it is made from branches of a Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata. Today, Thuja is native only in North America and Eastern Asia.
The 17.5m tall trunk has been transformed into a tapering column of brilliant light, supporting branches and foliage.
The Western Red Cedar, Thuja plicata, is cultivated commercially for use as a garden hedge, an alternative to Leylandii hedging. It is slower growing but still provides a dense, evergreen, conifer hedge. The leaves hang in sprays which are clipped to shape in early autumn.
Gormley collaborated with Zumtobel and their team of lighting innovators on this project. Rather than decorate the outside of the tree they lit its core, the trunk, transforming it into a radiant centre against which the branches become illuminated and silhouetted.
Last year’s tree was by Damien Hirst and attracted criticism for its display of syringes and scissors: