021617: Overlooked

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Today’s images come from shooting I did at the Museum of Natural History in Florence. These particular images were originally passed over when I chose my “selects” from this project. This month’s snow and cold allowed me to revisit my photo libraries and “discover” these previously untouched images.

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I normally try to avoid the cliche of “pretty flower” images, but these are very different. They are wax botanical models – wax sculptures, if you will – made during the 18th and 19th Centuries at the waxworks of the Imperial & Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History.

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They currently reside in the collection of the Florence Museum of Natural History in the Botany Section and overseen by the section head, Dr. Chiara Nepi.

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Regular viewers might recall the images I posted this time last year of the collection of fantastical fungi (0310: A Curious Cabinet). Those mushroom sculptures came from that same Botany Section.

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Also, within that section resides an amazing collection of seeds and plant specimens, each of which is more visually stimulating than the other. Below are more samples.

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My deepest thanks to Dr. Nepi for allowing me the opportunity to explore the objects under her care. She has always been so kind and gracious with her time in allowing me to enter her world.  I am always most grateful.

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I’ll finish today with a handful of images from La Specola, another section of the Florence Museum – this time from their Mineralogy collection. I know a bit about fossils and their rock matrices but almost nothing about gems and minerals. I do know, though, that they can be pretty mind blowing and quite something to see!

I hope you agree,

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My thanks again to all those kind, thoughtful, and wonderful folks at the Museum whose kindness I could never repay!

And thanks to you for the visit today.

121516: Year End 2016

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The heat is cranked high in my studio right now. Snow is coming down so thick that it obliterates any view out the windows. And, like a substantial portion of the country, we are bracing for a “deep freeze.” Not unusual, given that its the final days of the year.

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As I normally do at this time, my post includes a selection of images from the entire year past – a sort of review, if you will. In this case they are a variety that reflect on experiences encountered and hints at directions to come.

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The first three images are products of the Maine coast. The shells (above), washed ashore last Summer, made me think of all the many fossils (seen below and 6 to 20 million years old) I encountered earlier at the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy.

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Perhaps one of the most exciting experiences of my career was the interaction with that museum and its staff. I could never fully or properly express my gratitude for the opportunity to access many of their vast collections and to meet such an amazing group of dedicated professionals.

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“Captured” is the title of the above image, shot in the storage rooms of the Mammals Section. It is also currently on display for the remainder of the month at the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, NY as part of the 80th Annual Mohawk-Hudson Regional Exhibition.

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From the Ornithology Collection

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Florence street scene (with shrine)

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In the rear of the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence sits this funerary monument of Galileo Galilei. Directly across, on the opposite wall, sits the burial monument of Michelangelo, who died the day that Galileo was born. dsc01037_01print15_lr_12

I have always been fascinated with Galileo and the role he played in both world history and the history of science. This fascination has led to the image above, part of my ongoing  “Galileo” series.

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Fossils and lichen share the spotlight in this image where these deeply grounded objects combine to suggest the astronomical.

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Some fossils.

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Some lichen.                                                                                                                   (currently on view through December at the Woodstock Artist Assocciation and Museum)

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And a trifecta – fossils, lichen, and moss all rolled into one.

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These last two favorites – tree remains.

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With the holidays upon us, I’ll be taking a break and will be back in January. Best wishes to all of you for the upcoming year.

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102016: A Beautiful Autumn

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Aside from the continuing low water conditions, this Autumn has been beautiful in the Hudson Valley. Cindy and I spent several hours strolling around the grounds of Art Omi, a beautiful sculpture park and arts center located across the river in Ghent, NY. The rolling hills and the lagoon (pictured above) are the perfect settings for a wonderful array of fine sculptures.

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These are two pieces by the sculptor Folkert de Jong.

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And these two by the sculptor Philip Grausman.

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The next day had us visiting our friends, Manny and Marie, and a walk to the long defunct quarry on their property. Low water, once again – the lowest they could remember.

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I came back later to explore the quarry and its surroundings. The forest, for me at least, seems to provide endless visual  opportunities. You don’t know what they might be. But you can always find them!

These are a few from that walk.

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Back at the studio, downed leaves cover the many surrounding piles of fossil rocks. A few peeked through.

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Enjoy the remaining days of Autumn.

100616: Chazy Reef 2016

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Just got back from Isle La Motte, Vermont after retrieving my recent show. It’s always a pleasure visiting with all the fine folks at the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust. It’s also a pleasure to take some time sitting on the shore of Lake Champlain, relaxing amid the surrounding beauty

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The water was exceptionally low, something we’ve heard throughout the Northeast for months now. The receding shoreline has exposed usually submerged rocks, giving us a reason to walk the shore and explore.

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Aside from the odd apple tree (an escapee from one of the numerous orchards on the island), we found way too many fossils to even count. What a bonanza!

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Gastropods, cephalopods, and stromatoporoids.

For those unfamiliar, gastropods are the spirally ones, cephalopods are the straight ones, and stromatoporoids are the wavy ones.

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They are all marine invertebrate fossils from the Ordovician Period, roughly 480 million years ago.

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This southern part of the island, a world renowned geological treasure known as the Chazy Fossil Reef, is the world’s oldest ecologically diverse fossil reef.

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Information on the science and history of the Reef can be found at the ILMPT website. The story of the environmental battles that led to the preservation of the reef sites, “The Quarriers: A Conservation Tale,” written by Linda Fitch, can be found here.

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An important part of ILMPT’s mission is public education. Student groups from all over the region make visits to the Goodsell Ridge Preserve, where many fossil outcrops exist. The newly renovated barn, now the Nature Center is a focal point for students, educators, scientists, tourists, and the local population.

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I’ll finish for today with these two images, a sponge above and a gastropod below, new additions to the collection in the Nature Center. Plan a visit if you are in the area.

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Thanks for the visit.

090116: On the Shore

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Almost everyone I know who vacations at a beach has a bag or box full of sea shells as souvenirs of the visit. There is something special about them. Perhaps it’s their seeming delicacy despite surviving the battering of the waves. Or maybe they are just kind of cool!

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I feel all that as I walk along the shore – captured by the seashells that wash up. The images I have for you today alternate between some of the shells that I found in Maine a couple of weeks ago and other fossil shells from my last visit shooting at the Museum of Natural History in Florence, Italy. These ancestors of today’s seashells, if I recall correctly, range on age from six to twenty million years old!

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And, aside from the quality of the individual specimens, it seems on the surface that not much has changed for them.

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As a point of reference, the earliest manifestation of humans, the first hominins,began to appear approximately 2.8 million years ago.

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Personally, I love these references to time. It helps to see with a bit of perspective.

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When I walk along the shore I simply cannot ignore the rocks.

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Thanks for the visit.

082516: Maine Moments

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If there were only just a few fossils to be found in Maine I’d have no need to go anywhere else to explore with my camera! Wherever I walk, from the shore to the lush woods, there is just so much to focus on. DSC01471_01_LR_12

With each successive annual trip I expect my enthusiasm to wane – only to be happily surprised by the contrary. The coastal rocks continue to mesmerize me, as does everything else.

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Among the shore rock formations are small pools of water left by the tides, made rich and colorful thanks to various chemical and biological brushstrokes.

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The designs in nature are everywhere. The ocean deposits a myriad of interesting subjects.

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Lichen on the rocks.

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Lichen in the forest that butts right up to the shore rocks.

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And, of course, fungi and various detritus on the forest floor.

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Beautiful sunsets, visiting geese in the hundreds, crab rolls, blueberry pie, and the ocean!

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My thanks to Eric and Betty for their hospitality.

Thanks for the visit.

052616: The Geology of the Devonian

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Today’s fossil images will appear in a show that I am excited to announce. I was honored to be asked by Dr. Robert Titus (aka The Catskills Geologist) to join him and his wife, Johanna Titus, in an exhibition at the Erpf Gallery at the Catskill Center in Arkville, NY.

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From the press release:

The Geology of the Devonian: In the Heart of the Catskills will be on display at the Erpf Gallery June 4th through July 30, 2016. This exhibit will merge the scientific geological writings of Robert and Johanna Titus with the exquisite fossil photographs of Art Murphy. An opening reception will be held on Saturday, June 4, from 3-5 PM, at the Erpf Center in Arkville.”

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“Come journey into the heart of the Catskills through an engaging merger of science and art. Discover the history of the Devonian period, some 400 million years ago, when tropical seas and primitive forests left the wonderful fossils we find today. Learn through the narrative of science, the beautiful photos, and fossil displays of this diverse exhibit why New York is known worldwide for its fine exposures of the Devonian strata.”

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“Robert and Johanna Titus, along with Art Murphy will be speaking about the exhibit at 3 pm on Saturday, June 4. After the talk please join us for a reception as we celebrate 25 years of the “Kaatskill Geologist” in Kaatskill Life Magazine.”

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“Dr. Robert Titus is a professor of Geology at Hartwick College in Oneonta NY, and his wife Johanna Titus is an instructor at SUNY Dutchess. They are columnists, writing popular geoscience columns for Kaatskill Life Magazine, the Woodstock Times, the Hudson Register Star, the Catskill Daily Mail, the Chatham Courier, and the Windham Journal. They are frequently invited to speak for Catskills and Hudson Valley civic groups. They are the authors of Hudson Valley in the Ice Age, a geological history and tour.”

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“The Geology of the Devonian: In the Heart of the Catskills is on display June 4th through July 30, 2016. The opening reception will be held June 4, 2016 from 3-5 pm. For more information, contact the Catskill Center at 845-586-2611.”

10. Crinoid Columnals

This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the fascinating “deep time” history of our region – a history that is seated in a time nearly four hundred million years ago when an inland sea covered much of this area.

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I have had the good fortune of hearing Dr. Titus speak on the subject and have read his books. He has a way of taking sometimes difficult scientific subject matter and making it understandable and accessible to the layman.

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So, let June 4th be a fine day to plan a drive out to Arkville, take in the beautiful scenery of New York State in Springtime, and learn more about this wonderful place we call home! I hope to see you there.

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And speaking of shows – I’ve been preparing for a show in mid July with my friends up at the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust on Lake Champlain (the Vermont side).

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No fossils this time. But rather some of my observations from the world of nature.

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These images of gnarled, weathered wood seem to represent my latest obsession!

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Between the wood, the lichen, and, of course, the fossils, I’m thinking I might need sherpas to help me with all that I carry out of the local forest (or perhaps another arm or two)!

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Thanks as always for the visit.

PS – Hey Linda Fitch I hope you like what you see!

051216: Spring Cleaning

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The recent great weather has inspired me to deal with a long standing personal issue – tackling the many large piles of fossil laden rocks that surround my studio. It’s a problem of my own creation and it is way out of hand!

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The upside of such an issue is that I have a seemingly endless supply of material to re-explore and discover favorites both old and new.

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The down aide is that each new trip to the quarry or creek has me returning with bags full of fresh new prospects and the piles of rocks grow larger and larger.

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So, before paring things down, I chose to crack open those rocks headed for disposal – one last chance for them to show me something new.

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And these are some of the last minute finds.

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All of the fossils shown are locally found brachiopods (with the exception of the partial gastropod that appeared in the lead image).

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These two are positive and negative from the same fossils – both well delineated and as crisp as could be.

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A new (and permanent) exhibition opens this week at the Florence Museum of Natural History. Tales of a Whale is the product of nine years of effort which began with the discovery of a ten meter long, three million year old whale skeleton in the hills of Tuscany.

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The beautifully designed exhibit, seemingly set in a deep blue sea, centers around the whale skeleton which is surrounded by fossils of other marine life that were found in the same field. All this makes for a fascinating and informative look at that local ecology with a strong nod to contemporary ecological issues. (The image above comes from Museum files. The following image comes from a slide show on the website of La Repubblica Firenze where more images of the exhibit can be found).

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My congratulations and best wishes go out to Dr. Stefano Domenici and Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi for their brilliant work and long time efforts – efforts that have resulted in a brilliant exhibition and a greater understanding of our world. Should you find yourself in Florence, put this destination on your list!

Thanks as always for your visit here today.

0421: Anecdotes and Anthropomorphism

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Today’s title comes from a fascinating article in the latest issue of Atlantic Magazine. Entitled “How Animals Think,” the article refers to the work of primatologist Frans de Waal who makes “… a passionate and convincing case for the sophistication of nonhuman minds.” Like many of you, I grew up being taught that the non-human version of thinking was “instinct” and nothing more. And, despite the various anecdotes of animal behavior suggesting otherwise, and despite being told that it was our need sometimes to imagine human traits in animals, there was no truth to any of it.

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Rather, thanks to advances in technology and scientific research, we are beginning to see that “As de Waal recognizes, a better way to think about other creatures would be to ask ourselves how different species have developed different kinds of minds to solve different adaptive problems.”

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In fact, in many cases those particular kinds of minds can be quite astounding. Last Sunday’s NY Times ran an article entitled “A Conversation With Whales,” in which the following statement is made:

Sperm whales’ brains are the largest ever known, around six times the size of humans’. They have an oversize neocortex and a profusion of highly developed neurons called spindle cells that, in humans, govern things like emotional suffering, compassion and speech.

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Times have changed. Most phones these days have video capability, Youtube and Facebook now exist and abound with examples of animal behavior that previously had rarely been seen (those anecdotes that that had been so easily dismissed in the past).

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Whether it be a chimp hugging Jane Goodall goodbye or the mourning rituals of elephants, these and many other examples are helping us to evolve to a greater understanding of the world around us and, perhaps, our own place within it.

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So I had  a mix of emotions when I took these images recently in the back rooms of La Specola, the noted natural history museum in Florence, Italy. It was simultaneously compelling and repelling. While this taxidermy in the pursuit of science and research served its purpose in the past I assume that more enlightened minds now see that such practices are no longer appropriate.

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And, after having spent many Sunday afternoons visiting the Bronx Zoo as a kid, I can hardly approve of the caged displays of animals anymore.

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Despite this long history of misunderstanding, attitudes are changing. Animal sentience has been codified into law in New Zealand and France recently. In August of 2012 an international group of prominent scientists (including Dr. Stephen Hawking) signed “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” declaring animal sentience as real.

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It is certainly something worth considering.

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Let me make a switch now to perhaps the other end of the “consciousness” spectrum – lichen! Not a lot of brain activity around here.  But an interesting organism nonetheless.

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Thanks for the visit.

0414: Birds

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Shortly after returning from our recent trip both Cindy and I each found these two interesting objects – bird skulls. Not an everyday occurrence for sure but it seemed appropriate after having just spent so much time in the Ornithology Department of La Specola in Florence.

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What immediately came to mind as I was setting up this last one was the pterodactyl (below) that I photographed in the Fossil Department. Certainly birdlike but apparently there is much discussion as to just how “birdlike” or how “reptile-like” it actually is. From what I was able to discern, the pterodactyl was a “flying reptile.” Its all a bit confusing to me. All I know for sure is that the images all work well with each other.

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And so this week’s selection is quite literally for the birds!

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One final note – Today I’d like to take a moment to wish a most warm and happy birthday to Cindy, the love of my life.

Happy Birthday my dear Cindy!!!