Monthly Archives: November 2017

Robert Furber – Twelve Months of the Year in Flowers

Robert Furber (1674–1756) was a British horticulturist and author, best known for writing the first seed catalogue produced in England.

Furber was a member of the “English Society of Gardners”, a group formed in 1724 to protect the reputations of plant growers by mutually agreeing to names for newly discovered plants. Furber contributed to the group’s work, including collaborating on a book documenting the plants discovered and named by the group.

Furber’s most notable work was Twelve Months of Flowers, published in 1730. The book was written as a catalog of plants and seeds, and featured twelve detailed engravings of seasonal plants in bloom. Henry Fletcher produced each of the twelve hand-colored engravings from paintings by Pieter Casteels. Each plant was numbered, with a list of the corresponding species names provided. More than 400 different species of plant were featured.

In 1732, Furber produced a follow-up work entitled Twelve Months of Fruit. Like his previous collection of flowers, Twelve Months of Fruit featured twelve full-color plates with 364 different fruit. Each plate focused on one month, and showed the varieties of fruit that would ripen during that month.

Alexander von Humboldt – Causes and effects

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (14 September 1769 – 6 May 1859) was a Prussian geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. He was the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Humboldt’s quantitative work on botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography. Humboldt’s advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt traveled extensively in Latin America, exploring and describing it for the first time from a modern scientific point of view. His description of the journey was written up and published in an enormous set of volumes over 21 years. Humboldt was one of the first people to propose that the lands bordering the Atlantic Ocean were once joined (South America and Africa in particular). Humboldt resurrected the use of the word cosmos from the ancient Greek and assigned it to his multi-volume treatise, Kosmos, in which he sought to unify diverse branches of scientific knowledge and culture. This important work also motivated a holistic perception of the universe as one interacting entity. He was the first person to describe the phenomenon and cause of human-induced climate change, in 1800 and again in 1831, based on observations generated during his travels.

Alexander von Humboldt spent his early life disappointing his parents. He was outdoorsy and adventurous. The young Humboldt spent so much time collecting plants and insects that his parents teasingly dubbed him “the little apothecary”. Humboldt was more blunt about it, dubbing the family home The Castle of Boredom. When he was older, Humboldt traveled Europe with Joseph Banks, a naturalist who had sailed with Captain Cook. When his father died, the Humboldt’s widowed mother insisted he become a mine inspector. Humboldt agreed, studied geology and managed mines for the Prussian government for five years, during which time he invented safer lamps for miners, opened a mining school, started an emergency fund for injured miners and cataloged species of subterranean plants. When his mother, Maria Elisabeth von Humboldt, died in 1796 Alexander was freed of family control and left with an impressive fortune. He could have lived comfortably for the rest of his life but he decided to spend most of it on science.

His worked earned him international fame in his own lifetime. Humboldt was admitted to the American Philosophical Society, The Prussian Academy of Sciences, The New York Historical Society, The American Ethnological Society, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Royal Swedish Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal Society. He talked extensively with Jefferson on his return trip, sharing troves of data that might have influenced Jefferson to pursue the Louisiana Purchase. Humboldt’s fame, scientific acumen and his support of indigenous inhabitants of New Spain and disgust with slavery led early German-Americans to adopt him as an icon, naming towns and cities after him. German-American Quakers had founded the abolitionists, after all. He inspired Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, John Muir, George Perkins Marsh and Charles Darwin. Humboldt and Darwin corresponded as the young Darwin published his first works. Humboldt met and befriended Simon Bolivar when the two were in Paris. The two climbed Mount Vesuvius together. Bolivar called him the “true discoverer of South America”. Muir, 70 years after his death, wished he “could be a young Humboldt”.

Humboldt, in many ways, was a man before his time. and of his time. He developed such a thoroughly-modern understanding of the way that living things interact with each other and the environment that we forgot that it had to be developed in the first place. He was a strict empirical, scientist at a time when it was appropriate to cite God when discussing nature. He disagreed and railed against American and Spanish slavery and treatment of native peoples at a time when racial caste systems were “scientific”. Humboldt, from beyond the grave, from two centuries ago is relevant. This month, for Pride Month, I urge you to rediscover Humboldt and connect with one of the foundations of the environmental movement.

Posts about him in Botanical Research Institute of Texas
Further information can also be found on the website of the Alexander von Humboldt Portal in Berlin State Library

Gertrude Käsebier – A Waman

American photography has many fathers, like Mathew Brady and Alfred Stieglitz, but there was just one woman who was its mother, Gertrude Käsebier. Not only was she one of the first American women to have a successful career as a photographer, but she was one of the first photographers anywhere to focus on the family. In her timeless images of mothers and children, she helped to shape the modern way we photograph today. In her day, she was famous and influential, a model for young women photographers at a time when proper women were supposed to stay home and tend to their families. Gertrude Käsebier (May 18, 1852 – October 12, 1934) was one of the most influential American photographers of the early 20th century. She was known for her images of motherhood, her portraits of Native Americans and her promotion of photography as a career for women.

In 1864 her family moved to Brooklyn, New York. Ten years later Gertrude Stanton married Eduard Käsebier, a German immigrant and businessman. After raising her family, from 1889 to 1896 she studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and quickly gravitated toward photography. However, the marriage did not work out and in 1880 the couple separated. Käsebier described her marriage thus:

“If my husband has gone to Heaven, I want to go to Hell. He was terrible… Nothing was ever good enough for him.”

Soon her work became recognized and was often exhibited. Her first solo exhibition was held in 1896 at the Boston Camera Club, and the following year Käsebier opened her own studio in New York City. Her photographs were included in the Philadelphia Photographic salons of 1898, 1899, and 1900. She exhibited her photograph titled The Manger at the salon of 1899, and it was purchased for $100, setting a new precedent in the photography art market. Her photographs also appeared in numerous magazines and were featured in the first issue of the influential Camera Work.

At the turn of the century, American photography was dominated by “pictorialism“, whose adherents believed that the photographer had to manipulate images, using soft focus, printing in colors other than black-and-white, or adding visible brush strokes and other surface manipulation to the photograph. Like other photographers of the period working in the Pictorialist style, Käsebier was interested in promoting the medium as a fine art. As part of this effort, in 1902 she, Alfred Stieglitz, Clarence H. White, and Edward Steichen formed the Photo-Secession. She was also a member of the Professional Photographers of New York and of the Linked Ring in London and a cofounder of the Women’s Federation of the Photographers’ Association of America (1910). In 1916 she broke openly with Stieglitz and cofounded the Pictorial Photographers of America with White. About 1927 she closed her portrait studio. A retrospective exhibition of her photography was held at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1929.

In all her work she attempted to capture a symbolic, yet intimate view of her subjects. Käsebier worked primarily with platinum prints, although she began using a gum-bichromate process in 1901.

In 1900, Käsebier was called by Steiglitz “the foremost professional photographer in the United States.” Her work inspired other women like Imogen Cunningham and Laura Gilpin to become photographers, and she helped guide photography away from the manipulated imagery of pictorialism. Today, she is hardly remembered. Nonetheless, whether we aware of it or not, we are all the children of Gertrude Käsebier.