Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Mrs. Jane Loudon

Jane Wells Webb Loudon (1807-1858) was an accomplished English author and gardener. Orphaned and penniless at age 17, Jane decided to try to become a writer to support herself. She published a book entitled Prose and Verse in 1826 and then achieved success the next year with an annonymously published novel when she was still only 20. The work, The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, was the first in what became a popular genre of books about mummies. It was also an early example of science fiction, in which she wrote of the future with imagined changes in society and technology, some of which—like an early form of the internet, air-conditioning and espresso machines—seem prophetic today.

One of Jane’s inventions was a steam-powered digging machine, something which caught the eye of John Claudius Loudon, a well-respected landscape designer, botanist, gardener, author and publisher of Gardener’s Magazine. He asked a friend to invite the author to lunch and was greatly surprised when this turned out to be a woman. The surprise soon turned into love and just seven months later, in 1831, Jane and John married.

Through her marriage, Jane became an enthusiastic gardener and worked closely with her husband in his research and writing, including assisting in editing John's Encyclopedia of Gardening. Jane saw that there was a need for gardening manuals aimed at the growning market of middle-class women, and began a series of guides, including Gardening for Ladies and The Ladies' Companion to the Flower-Garden.
Probably the most famous of her output were the Ladies' Flower Garden books, which were both decorative and educational. Jane had taught herself to draw and these books were illustrated with her designs, beautifully rendered in hand-colored lithographs. These prints are well-known in today's market, but the story of their remarkable creator is undeservedly less well known.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Four Great Surveys of the American West

After the Louisiana Purchase, the U.S. Government was interested in trying to get a basic understanding of what was in the vast new lands the country had acquired. Towards that end, the government sent out a number of surveys in the early nineteenth century. These included the Lewis & Clark expedition of 1803-1806, Zebulon Pike’s of 1806-07, and that of Stephen H. Long in 1819-20.

The Long expedition ended the official exploration of the West for about two decades, until finally in 1838, the U.S. Army established the Corps of Topographical Engineers, the purview of which included exploring and mapping the West. Among the most important of their surveys were the five expeditions led by John C. Frémont between 1842 and 1853.

After mid-century, exploration of the West picked up significantly when in 1853 Congress authorized $150,000 for the exploration of possible railroad routes across the continent, creating the Pacific Railroad Surveys to investigate possible routes across the West at four different latitudes. The results of these surveys were depicted in G.K. Warren’s important “Map of the Territory of the United States from Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean,” which summed up the government’s understanding of the West on the eve of the Civil War.

After the Civil War, the nation turned its attention even more to the American West, which was seen as an area of huge potential economic development. This led to a demand for better information on the region, a demand that was partially met by the General Land Office. The GLO was responsible for the surveying, platting and sale of public lands, so while their surveys were very important for the economic development of the West, there were large sections of the region they did not cover.

The Federal government was particularly interested in the economic resources of the West, which had not been a focus of the earlier military surveys. Thus, the government modified its surveys so that were more scientific, rather than military. These were called “geological” surveys, “geology” at the time having a wider definition than now, referring broadly to the science of the earth, including within its compass botany, soil science, archaeology and anthropology.

The first government survey dedicated to studying the geological, and thus economic aspects of a far western state was the 1860-74 California Geological Survey led by Josiah D. Whitney. This survey is important for several reasons, not the least of which was the new procedure for surveying alpine landscapes developed by its lead topographer, Charles Frederick Hoffmann.

The California Geological Survey established the methods and aims for future surveys by the U.S. Government, which in 1867 authorized the first in a series of systematic scientific surveys of the West. These became known as the “Four Great Surveys,” which ran pretty much concurrently and lasted until 1879.

King Survey (1867-73)
The first of these surveys, authorized on March 2, 1867, was the U.S. Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel, led by Clarence King, who had worked on with the California Geological survey. The purview of the King party was to survey the lands on either side of the Pacific Railroad from California to eastern Wyoming and it was designed primarily as a practical survey to determine the economic potential of the lands along the railroad route.

The King survey resulted in the publication of a Geological and Topographical Atlas in 1876. This included a general map, then five each of topographical and geological sectional maps in sequence along the route of King’s survey. The maps were done in very large size—most sheets measure 29” x 42”—these are rare and fascinating images of the western part of the lands on either side of the 40th parallel.

Hayden Survey (1867-79)
The second of the Great Surveys began the same year as the King survey. This was led by Ferdinand V. Hayden and though it started off focused on Nebraska, within two years it became the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. Hayden’s survey eventually encompassed parts of Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and particularly Colorado.

Hayden issued yearly reports and these standardly include illustrations as well as maps of the different areas he surveyed. The most impressive of his cartographic publications was the 1877 Geological and Geographical Atlas of Colorado, which included four general maps of the entire state, as well as topographical and geological maps of the state broken into six sections. These provide the first comprehensive and accurate mapping of the Colorado, just a year after statehood.

Powell Survey (1870-78)
The third of the four Great Surveys was the U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region led by John Wesley Powell, a survey which lasted from 1870 to 1878. Powell had become convinced that the Colorado River canyons could be explored only by boat, so in 1869, Powell formed a private expedition and set off down the Green and Colorado Rivers. The expedition members are the first known Euro-Americans to traverse the Grand Canyon.

As the 1869 expedition ended up being more about survival than science, and as much of the data he had gathered was lost, Powell asked Congress to authorize another exploration of the Grand Canyon. This Congress did with the creation of the third of the Great Surveys, the scope of which was not only the Grand Canyon, but also the surrounding plateau lands. Powell was involved in the production of a number of maps, some of which appeared in reports from this survey, but there was no major cartographic publication which resulted.

Wheeler Survey (1872-79)
The last of the four Great Surveys was under the command of Lieutenant George Montague Wheeler. Wheeler had led surveys in eastern Nevada and Arizona in 1869. These were under the aegis of the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers and the surveys had primarily military objectives. By 1870, with the creation of the other three, essentially civilian surveys, the military became concerned that the job of mapping the American West was being taken away from them. Wheeler came up with the idea of having the Army survey the entire country west of the 100th meridian. The Army bought into this concept and convinced Congress that this was a good idea, so in 1872, money was appropriated to form the U.S. Geographical Survey West of the 100th Meridian.

Wheeler was never able to complete his work, though he did map a large portion of the West by the end of 1879, covering about 360,000 square miles, though that was only about on quarter of the area originally intended. Beginning in 1876, Wheeler issued a number of maps, along with a title page for a “Topographical Atlas.” The idea was that Wheeler would issue maps as the survey progressed, with the sheets eventually all gathered into this atlas. This did not happen; the intended atlas was never completed. Over the years, however, Wheeler did continue to produce maps, most sheets showing one quarter of one of his 95 quadrangles. Each year Wheeler also produced a progress map illustrating the areas that had been surveyed. Wheeler stopped surveying in 1879 but continued to issue reports and maps until 1884.

In the end Wheeler produced 71 topographical maps. Initially he was criticized for not showing enough information about the natural resources of the areas mapped, so Wheeler started to add economic or land-use maps, as well as some geological maps. Craig Haggit, of the Denver Public Library, has produced a very nice web page about the Wheeler maps, which can be seen by clicking on this link.

Competition between the surveys
It is not really surprising that right from the beginning there was competition between the Four Great Surveys, as they ran pretty much concurrently and covered overlapping areas of the West. There was a conflict between the military and civilian surveys, the military wanting to have authority over the western surveys and the scientific community wanting the same thing. There was also conflict over getting money from Congress, as there were limited funds and each survey wanted to make sure they received sufficient appropriations. Finally, there was conflict over the scope of each survey. For instance, at one point Powell tried to extend his survey to encompass the entire Rocky Mountains, but Congress demurred, saying the Rockies belong to the Hayden survey.

The most consequential of the conflicts was between Hayden and Wheeler, whose territories did overlap. This came to a head on July 9, 1873. Wheeler had sent a party, under Lieutenant W.L. Marshall, to survey south-central Colorado and at the same time Hayden had sent one of his survey parties into the South Park area, which was just where Marshall was working.

Hayden describes what happened:

“As we were riding down into the south Park, about the 9th day of July, we came across Lt. Marshall’s party and we camped together. He was a very courteous gentleman and we were very friendly. We talked matters over, and some regrets were expressed that we were on the same ground. I simply stated to him...that I had no option but to perform this work and we had had the Territory of Colorado assigned to us as a field of exploration. He simply said that he was under orders, and therefore could not disobey his orders.”
As a result, both parties set about surveying the same area in a ridiculous duplication of effort.

It was inevitable that this conflict would come to the attention of Congress. This happened when the War Department demanded an investigation in hopes of asserting its authority, through the Wheeler survey, over all the surveys of the West. As a result, the following year, the Townsend Committee on Public Lands of the House of Representatives met to consider the conflict.

One tack taken by the military was to attack Hayden personally. Marshall accused Hayden of rushing into the area specifically to preempt Wheeler (which may or may not be true). Also, supposedly, as reported by Wheeler’s geologist, Hayden was quoted as having said, “You can tell Wheeler that if he stirs a finger or attempts to interfere with me or my survey in any way I will utterly crush him—as I have enough congressional influence to do so and will bring it to bear.”

Despite these attacks, Wheeler and the military were for the most part on the defensive, as the entire scientific community backed Hayden. Wheeler’s process and maps were assailed, with Hayden’s worked stated as being much better. However, Wheeler had the backing of President Grant and in the end the Congressional committee did nothing, concluding that “there is an abundance of work for the best talents of both the War and Interior Departments in the scientific questions of the Western Territories for many years to come.” Still the committee did reprimand Hayden and Wheeler for “ill-judged and hasty expressions...which good taste would have withheld.”

The problems of having so many concurrent government surveys in much the same area persisted. The concern over this was aggravated by the rising costs of the surveys, so in the spring of 1878, the House Committee on Appropriations undertook to see if the surveys could be consolidated and condensed. At this stage, the King survey was already done, but Hayden, Powell and Wheeler were all still in the field.

In the end Congress decided that the General Land Office was to continue to survey public lands, the Coast and Geodetic Survey would continue to do “first-order triangulation of the whole country,” but a new “U.S. Geological Survey” was to “assume all surveying, mapping and geological investigations in the West.” As a result, on March 3, 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey was established, replacing the remaining three Great Surveys and beginning a new chapter in the surveying of the American West.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Maria Sibylla Merian

As the step-granddaughter of Johann Theodor de Bry and the daughter of the well-known engraver Matthaus Merian the elder, and then step-daughter of botanical artist Jacob Marrel, Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717) was well suited to become one of the most notable natural history print-makers of either sex. Known not only as an accomplished artist, but also as a respected entomologist. Merian was the first to illustrate the full metamorphoses of many species of butterflies and moths, but her 1699-1701 scientific expedition to South America is one of the most extraordinary stories from the early days of scientific exploration.

From an early age, Maria collected and drew images of insects, taking the innovative approach of looking at the full lifecycle of her subjects. After marrying Johann Andreas Graff, one of Marrel’s apprentices, Maria achieved success as a flower painter and engraver, producing three books of flower prints between 1675 and 1680. Her interest in entomology continued and between 1679 and 1683, she produced Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung, [The Caterpillar’s wondrous metamorphosis and extraordinary nourishment from flowers], which were well received.

Then in 1685, Merian converted to communistic sect of Labadism and left her husband, Johann Graff, moving with her two daughters to the Labadist colony in Holland. This was located in the castle of the Governor of the Dutch Colony of Surinam (Guiana), whose cabinet of exotic butterflies sparked Merian’s imagination to the extent that in 1669, at the age of fifty-two, she set off, with her youngest daughter Dorothea, to study the insects and flora of Surinam.

After two years in the wilderness, recording her observations of plants and the transformations of the native insects, Merian returned to Europe where, in 1705, she produced her important masterpiece, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium.

This magnificent work documented the insects of Surinam in their full life cycles, each shown with a native plant upon which it lived. The plates blended entomological and botanical elements with an exquisite decorative appearance, providing for Europeans the first extensive visual record of the exotic colors and forms of the plant and insect life of South America, documenting many of the subjects for the first time.

In 1712, Merian began an expanded, Dutch edition of her earlier book on European insects, but this was not completed, for sadly, while in Surinam Maria had contracted a tropical illness, from which she never recovered. In 1715, she suffered a stroke and died in poverty two years later. However, her two daughters worked to complete this work, which was completed in 1717, appearing later in Latin and French editions, the last in 1730.

With all these wonderful volumes, Merian’s work, both as science and art, lives on. In 1991, Germany issued a 500 Deutschemark bill with her likeness on is, and in 2005 named its state-of-the-art research ship the RV Maria S. Merian in her honor.

Original, antique prints from Merian's publications are rare, but they can still be acquired at reasonable prices. They are a tremendous legacy of this remarkable woman anturalist.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Elizabeth Blackwell, naturalist

Elizabeth Blackwell (1707-1758) of Scotland is not a well-known as the American pioneer doctor of the same name, but she is one of the most famous and impressive early eighteenth-century botanical illustrators. Born Elizabeth Blachrie and trained as an artist, she married her cousin Alexander Blackwell, who though enterprising and well educated, failed in both his Aberdeen medical practice and his London printing shop. Alexander’s excessive spending and fines from his failed business led him into debtor’s prison.

Needing to raise funds to get her husband out of prison, not to mention care for her family and home, Elizabeth came up with an ambitious plan, to create an herbal to document and illustrate the exotic plants of the Old and New World. With her artistic training, Elizabeth could draw the plants and her husband, with his medical background, could provide the proper names and descriptions for the herbal. Encouraged by Sir Hans Sloane and at the recommendation of Isaac Rand, the curator of the Chelsea Physick Garden, Elizabeth took up lodging nearby and drew the plants from the gardens, visiting her husband to get the needed textual information.

Elizabeth not only made the drawings, but she engraved the 500 copper plates and then hand-colored each individually. The resulting A Curious Herbal, published between 1737 and 1739 was successful enough to spring Alexander from prison. [The “curious” in the title is an archaic use of the word, meaning ‘accurate and precise’] Alas, Alexander became involved in more unsuccessful businesses and debts again grew for the Blackwell family. In 1742, hoping to find greener pastures, Alexander moved to Sweden where he was more successful, even being appointed as court physician to Frederick I of Sweden. Still, he managed to reach too far and ended up being convicted of conspiracy of trying to alter the line of Swedish succession and beheaded on July 29th, 1747. In an interesting side-note, he laid his head the wrong way on the chopping block and when corrected by the executioner, noted that he lacked the needed experience as this was his first beheading.

The published product of Elizabeth and Alexander’s labors, though, was an enduring success. It was acclaimed especially by physicians and apothecaries and received the approval of both the Royal College of Physicians and College of Surgeons. Such was the demand for the herbal that two decades after the first edition, botanist and pharmacist Dr. Christoph Jacob Trew reissued the work in a German edition. Prints from the original edition are not only rare and lovely but are testament to determination and skill of the remarkable, Elizabeth Blackwell.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Fanny Palmer

Frances Flora Bond Palmer (1812-1876), usually called Fanny, was perhaps the greatest of the artists who worked for the American printmaker, Nathaniel Currier and then Currier & Ives. She produced over 200 prints, both as the original artist and the lithographer.

Born in England, Fanny was trained in art as a young student at Mary Linwood’s School for young ladies and she later opened a drawing school in Leicester. By 1841, Fanny had formed a lithography business with her husband Edmund Seymour Palmer (called Seymour), Fanny providing the art and lithography and Edmund doing the printing. The couple emigrated to New York City in 1843, where they continued their business as F.&S. Palmer, lithographers. They provided images for a number of works, like the two prints above.

Unfortunately, the business was not successful and in 1849 Fanny began to work for Nathaniel Currier. Currier, known for his keen artistic eye and business sense, soon had Fanny working regularly for his firm. For about two decades, Fanny produced drawings and created lithographic designs on stone for Currier and then Currier & Ives.

Fanny was particularly skilled at architectural drawings, but her landscapes and genre pictures were also excellent. Her early prints often depicted scenes on Long Island, where she lived, but Fanny also created images of places further afield, including locations she never herself visited, such as the American West.
Her work, both in terms of artistic renderings and lithographic skill, is considered to be unsurpassed by any other Currier & Ives artist and her prints remain some of the most popular from the firm.

Recently, Katie Wood Kirchhoff, Associate Curator at the Shelburne Museum, and Dr. Stephanie Delamaire, Associate Curator of Fine Arts at Winterthur Museum and Country Estate, held a very interesting discussion of Fanny Palmer's work. This is available on line, which you can see by clicking on this link.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Louis Kurz

Louis Kurz (1835-1921) was born in Salzburg, Austria, as Ludwig Ferdinand Joseph Kurz von Goldenstein. His family emigrated to Milwaukee in 1848, where his father became involved in the German language theater. Louis’ artistic pursuits began with his painting scenery for his father’s stage productions and he also work with Otto Stietz painting stage scenery for other plays at Milwaukee’s Market Hall.

In 1853, the family moved to Chicago, where Louis worked as a muralist creating “views to decorate numerous entertainment spots” (Peter Marzio, The Democratic Art, p. 178). It was in Chicago that he likely received training in lithography, for when Louis returned to Milwaukee in 1856, he listed himself as “artist and lithographer.” In 1861 he joined with Henry Seifert to form the short-lived lithographic company of Kurz & Seifert, which produced a number of Wisconsin views drawn by Kurz.

Kurz then briefly served in the Civil War and in 1862 returned to Milwaukee to form another lithographic firm, L. Kurz & Company, financially backed by Hans Boebel. It was with this firm that Kurz began his work with tinted lithography and chromolithography, as evidenced by his prints of “Chicago, the Metropolis of the North West” and of the “Madison Engine Company No. 2.”

An 1863 Civil War token calls Louis Kurz a “Pictorial Lithographer,” and in this period he issued a number of finally rendered prints related to the war.

By 1865, Louis Kurz had moved to Chicago and became one of the founders of the Chicago Lithographing Company, along with Otto Jevne and Peter M. Almini. Jevne and Almini were emigrants from Scandinavia who had formed a decorating firm which specialized in fresco painting in a number of Chicago’s buildings. In 1866, the new lithographic firm embarked on the publication of an elaborate portfolio of views drawn by Kurz entitled Chicago Illustrated, intended to be issued in twenty-five parts, each of which was to include at least four tinted lithographs. The project ended in January 1867 after fifty-two images were completed.

A few years later the firm was ended by the great Chicago Fire of 1871, at which time Kurz returned to Milwaukee to found the American Oleograph Company with Hugo Broich. This firm lasted until 1878. After that moved once again to Chicago, and once again founding a new firm, this time with a financial partner named Alexander Allison. This was Kurz’s last new company, the firm of Kurz & Allison surviving until his death in 1921, when its assets were sold to Daleiden and Company.

Kurz & Allison became one of the biggest American lithographic firms of late nineteenth century, particularly well known for its production of bright, decorative chromolithographs. Their avowed purpose was to design “for large scale establishments of all kinds, and in originating and placing on the market artistic and fancy prints of the most elaborate workmanship.” Elaborate they certainly were–the majority of their prints being extremely busy, with action throughout the image. The prints published by Kurz & Allison were drawn, mostly by Kurz, in a rigid style that follows from Kurz’s background as a muralist, these prints have a simplicity and vividness that makes them not only interesting historical and social documents but also excellent large scale decorative images.

Kurz & Allison achieved the pinnacle of their success with prints of Civil War. Inspired by Paul Philppoteaux’s cyclorama of the battle of Gettysburg in 1884 (and directly copying it), Kurz & Allison issued a bright chromolithograph of the battle. This was a period of some nostalgia for the Civil War among veterans, who were now far enough past the actual war to think of their participation with some pride. When Louis Prang began to issue a series of Civil War prints in 1886, Kurz & Allisson reissued their Gettysburg image and began to add others, ending up with a total of 36 Civil War prints by 1893, all issued in a large format size of 21 by 28 inches.

For the most part, the prints were issued on or near the 25th anniversary of the battle depicted. They did not attempt to be strictly accurate, but rather to inspire patriotic feelings. Interestingly, a number of their prints showed the participation of Blacks in the battles, an unusual thing for the period.

Kurz & Allison later did prints of the Spanish-American War and the Russo-Japanese War, as well as portraits, sentimentals, religious images, views and disaster prints. Basically, Kurz & Allison followed the same popular print strategy as Currier & Ives had done earlier in the century, but using mostly chromolithography. When the firm was finally bought out by Dalieden & Co., they advertised the Kurz & Allison prints they continued to sell as “Pictures for the School Room and Hall.”