The Synergy of Craft and Science


A while ago I took my Victorian seaweed collection to the Herbarium at the New York Botanical Gardens to see if I could learn more about it. I met Ken Karol - a research scientist and curator specializing in algae and he kindly showed me the incredible collection of seaweed specimens that the NYBG house in the herbarium.

  Algae specimens dating back to the early 19th century.

Algae specimens dating back to the early 19th century.

 

I noticed that a lot of early specimens were originally collected by women for their craft projects. In the 19th century it was considered improper for women to have an interest in plants because they were too sexy, but seaweed is asexual (we are talking botany here people I promise) so one's reputation could be kept intact while hunting for new types of seaweed down at the beach. It's incredible to think that at the time everything in botany was new and discoveries of unpublished types were frequent.

While I was there Ken made an offhand comment about making quilts in his spare time and this, coupled with the fact that Victorian women were actually contributing to science under the guise of craft, made me start to wonder how much crossover there is between craft and science.

The answer is - a lot!  Following are just a few examples of the extraordinary and beautiful ways people are combining science with craft.

 

Crab Nebula (supernova remnant) / quilt

Jimmy McBride – costume designer, Brooklyn, NY. 

 http://jimmymcbride.com/home.html

Jimmy has a stunning collection of space quilts made out of men’s shirts. On his website he writes a small sci-fi story to go with each one.

 

  © Image - Jimmy McBride

© Image - Jimmy McBride

The solar system / quilt

Ellen Harding Baker – Cedar County, Iowa, 1876

The design of Ellen’s striking and unusual quilt is based on the illustrations in astronomy books of the period. Ellen used the quilt as a visual aid for lectures she gave on astronomy in the towns of West Branch, Moscow, and Lone Tree, Iowa. Astronomy was an acceptable interest for women in the nineteenth century and was sometimes even fostered in their education. Ellen also had 7 children - packing a lot into a short life - she died of TB at the age of 39.

www.americanhistory.si.edu

 

  Courtesy of the Smithsonian - National Museum of American History

Courtesy of the Smithsonian - National Museum of American History

Human anatomy / crochet

Anne Mondro – artist, Michigan

Anne Mondro works with thin steel and copper wire which enables her to create structurally strong, yet visually and physically light forms of hearts, lungs, limbs, and even entire bodies. 

www.annemondro.com

  © Image - Anne Mondro

© Image - Anne Mondro

Historical periods of human instability / quilt

Anna Von Mertens – artist 

Anna has produced a series of quilts that uses tree ring data, correlating periods of drought to periods of human instability, such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Aztec Conquest, the Black Plague, and the Anasazi migration in the 12th century.

www.annavonmertens.com

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The History of Toy Forts and Castles


Author: Allen Hickling

http://www.allenhickling.plus.com/

 

The classic toy for boys used to be a set of lead soldiers, usually manufactured by the toy company, Britains. Less known, but just as essential, was the toy fort which provided a venue in which fierce playroom battles could be fought.

Allen Hickling has been collecting and researching toy forts and castles for the past 30 years and has just written the first reference book ever published on the subject; Toy Forts & Castles: European-Made Toys of the 19th & 20th Centuries.  www.schifferbooks.com

The books 340 pages cover the history of the manufacture of European toy forts and castles, and provides essential information about manufacturers, specifications and materials, set in a rich historical context. The book contains an astonishing 800 photographs, providing an invaluable visual resource for toy collectors, museum curators, archivists, antique dealers, and architectural history buffs.  

German Gottschalk fort c 1913


VICTORIAN PRESSED SEAWEED


In the 19th Century there was an explosion of interest in the natural sciences and collecting botanical specimens became an obsession with scientists as well as the more fashionable and well-to-do sectors of society. 

Most science at the time was considered unseemly for women; in the poem The Unsex’d Females (1798), the Reverend Richard Polwhele warned that, “in scrutinizing the sexual parts of the flower, [women] were indulging in acts of wanton titillation”. Therefore asexual seaweed was a safe way for women to indulge in specimen collecting under the guise of craftwork.

Some women became so skilled and knowledgeable in the field that their work was regularly written up in scientific journals, typically though, male scientists published women’s work under their own name, only occasionally crediting the women. 

Today the collections these women made have found their way into herbaria across the world. They are greatly valued by modern day scientists who can learn a lot about our changing environment by having high quality early specimens to refer to. 

 

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LAURIE OLINDER: Paper Falls and Other Natural Wonders


 

In the spring of 2012, Laurie Olinder started working on a series of paintings called Paper Falls. When the paintings are finished, the artist says that they “form large organic abstract patterns that reference on the micro level, pixels or cellular structures and on the macro level, aerial maps of urban land plots. My paintings bring to mind many kinds of movement as well: water flowing, the lapping of waves, the tumbling of a waterfall, or the slow movement of growth of structures or even cities.”

The artists most recent work is intensely organic in substance and style, small paintings eventually serve as single cells, hung together in rows and columns from which a larger artwork grows, endlessly interchangeable and depicting an amazing array of life in all its forms. The inks used for these paintings are made from organic materials, found by the artist in her everyday life.

https://laurieolinder.com/

 

BETTY'S GARDEN


In the 1930’s the Britains Toy Company (who are better known for their toy soldiers) produced a range of painted lead garden elements, including, flowers, flower beds, paths, greenhouses, gates and walls. The parts were designed to be moved around to create countless garden layouts.  

This set belonged to a little girl named Betty (pictured below) who kept careful track of which pieces she owned.

The garden is set against a landscape painted at around the same time by my great grandfather - H.T. Hickling.

 

THE INN ON THE MILE - Edinburgh, Scotland


 

The Inn on the Mile is now a modern stylish hotel in the center of Edinburgh, but in its former life the building was a bank.  As a reminder of this fact the bar is inlaid with pennies and many original features have been kept throughout, including a giant brass door that serves as a focal point in the dining room.  The  wallpapers are from local Scottish company, Timorous Beasties.

 www.timorousbeasties.com


FRED McKENNA


 
 After 51 years of working for the same employer Fred celebrated his retirement this year. He made his mark on an entire community and he will be sorely missed by all.  Fred is truly one of a dying breed; dedicated to his family, his job, his friends, and his community.  He has spent his entire life working out of doors, running a large estate using the the knowledge passed down from his father before him. In his spare time he was a volunteer fireman, an antique car enthusiast, and always has time to lend a helping hand to anyone who finds themselves in a fix.

After 51 years of working for the same employer Fred celebrated his retirement this year. He made his mark on an entire community and he will be sorely missed by all.

Fred is truly one of a dying breed; dedicated to his family, his job, his friends, and his community.  He has spent his entire life working out of doors, running a large estate using the the knowledge passed down from his father before him. In his spare time he was a volunteer fireman, an antique car enthusiast, and always has time to lend a helping hand to anyone who finds themselves in a fix.