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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0225: Santa Croce

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While I am not big on churches in general I must say that the Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence is a wonder to behold. Construction on it was begun in 1294 and it was consecrated in 1442. It is a thing of beauty. The walls are filled with stunning paintings, sculptures and frescos – work done by artists such as della Robbia, Donatello, Giotto, Gaddi, Vasari, and many more.

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Toward the rear of the church are numerous tombs running along the side walls. This one, pictured above, belongs to Galileo (which we visited the day after his birthday). It sits directly across from the site of Michelangelo’s tomb. An odd note of history – Galileo was born on the day of Michelangelo’s death. Many have said that, at the moment of Michelangelo’s death, his soul passed on to Galileo!

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Thanks to my never-ending interest in rocks and stones, while most visitors spent much of their time looking up, I often look down. The floor of the Basilica is a wonder of marble patterns and designs.

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The neighborhood surrounding Santa Croce is our favorite area to stay. Everything is only a short walk away. There is an irresistible charm that pervades.

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The local Sant’ Ambrogio  marketplace has all things fresh daily from meats and cheeses to pasta, bread and flowers. Much to my surprise, I even found fossil trilobites from Morocco on sale for a few euro each!

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On a drizzly day last week we were surprised to see the Piazza Santa Croce transformed. A large  area of the piazza (directly in front of the Basilica) was fenced off with 2-4 inches of sand covering the cobblestones and some hay bales along the sides. An Italian rodeo perhaps?! Rather, we soon found out that we were about to witness a game called “historic football.”

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As the story goes, the game’s origin traces back to Roman times and was played regularly by association teams. On February 17, 1530, the game was played in defiance of an impending attack on the city. To ridicule the enemy, the game went on – because nothing was going to get in the way of the Florentinian tradition. And so, annually, the game is played on that date. And we were lucky enough to stumble upon it.

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At first, following the opening pomp and ritual, we assumed it to be something akin to “Old Timers’ Day” with some lighthearted attempts at a game.

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We soon found out otherwise as the game was a brutal battle that all parties took very seriously. ( A local told us that teams had been forbidden from recruiting released convicts lest it become particularly nasty!).

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On a more civilized note – During the 1400s and 1500s this neighborhood was full of artists and artisans. It very much remains so to this day. Of the many artists who live and work here there is one fascinating and wonderful artist by the name of Paolo Carandini.

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Paolo designs and creates objects of wonder and fascination. With the talents of a skilled artisan and the soul of a poet he builds these objects with parchment, leather and various imagery that are  enigmatic, often filled with literary references, sometimes with whimsey, sometimes with cathartic power and implication. And, if that’s not enough, each of his objects are clever and stunning visually.

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Please visit his site – www.paolocarandini.com

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And, finally, some street art. I have always enjoyed seeking out the various street shrines in Florence, and particularly in this neighborhood, many of which have been in place for hundreds of years. So today I bring you one from just down the street…

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…and something obviously more contemporary!

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Thanks for the visit.

The “Sistine Chapel” of Fossils

Yes, that’s how I described it on that Spring day in Florence when Dr. Elisabetta Cioppi threw open the door to her fossil collection. Well, not exactly her collection, but rather the invertebrate fossil collection that she oversees with her associate, Dr. Stefano Dominici, at the Florence Museum of Natural History. I referenced this trip in an earlier post (Italy and Fossils) when I spoke of my gratitude to these kind and wonderful people for permitting me to photograph objects from their collection.

Endless rows of old glass display cases with spindly, skinny wooden legs filled the rooms on the other side of the door. Each case was filled with small, opened boxes. Each box contained invertebrate fossils of varying sizes and shapes. And each box also contained an identification card with script beautifully hand written in pen and ink (whose own antiquity almost rivalled that of the fossils!). Like so much else in Florence, this assemblage, as well as the other sections of the Museum, is the result of centuries of collecting. Given that Leonardo da Vinci was known to study fossils (in the areas around Florence, in fact) and even the Roman historian, Livy, studied fossils from the Italian countryside, I could only wonder who might have once held these objects that I now had access to.

For those unfamiliar, as I was until more recently, most natural history museums seldom display more than a handful of invertebrate fossils. They generally don’t draw attention (and crowds) like dinosaurs do. That said, many incredible collections do exist in the back rooms. Indeed, that’s the case for museums of almost all types. (I’ve heard some great stories about the storage areas of the Metropolitan Museum in New York). Back to Florence – After a delightful visit and tour with Elisabetta and Stefano Cindy and I left to see Michelangelo’s “David” right down the street at the Accademia. It’s hard to describe a day in which viewing “David” was the second best event of that day!

Before leaving we arranged for me to come back the following day to photograph. Stefano asked if I had any specific needs. All I needed was a flat rock surface to place the fossils on and that it be close to a wall of windows that allowed indirect light in. The following image is the workspace I found the next day. The biggest ammonoids I’d ever seen – they became my background! I knew this was a very special event. And I knew that it would yield very special results.

With my exhibition finally under way at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca I have been able to return to work on the “Florence Fossil” images as I refer to them. And I am happy to say that they are as special and as beautiful as I had hoped. I think there may be an exhibition possible in Florence at some point. The test prints are looking very good. I hope to post the entire project very soon. In the meantime, here is a selection.

Oh, to be in Florence once again…!

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Thank you for the visit. More images at www.artmurphy.com