Showing posts from 2013

Trilobite Limbs, Antennae and Guts: Raymond (1920)

Trilobites are amongst the most popular of all extinct animals. Most commonly found are disarticulated fragments of their calcareous exoskeletons. Occasionally, when the animals were abruptly killed and buried, complete exoskeletons were preserved. Most exceptionally of all, in extremely rare circumstances, early precipitation of minerals around the freshly buried trilobite carcasses preserved a record of the animals' limbs, antennae and even features of the internal anatomy such as the digestive system.
Charles Doolittle Walcott made the first discovery of trilobite limbs, announced in 1876 and summarized in Walcott (1881). His paper compiled seven years of work studying thin sections of enrolled specimens of Calymene (now Flexicalymene) senaria, Ceraurus pleurexanthemus, Isotelus gigas and Acidaspis sp. The material came from the Ordovician Trenton Limestone of New York State. Photographs of some of these original thin sections are reproduced in Bonino & Kier (2010).
The ne…

Jan Gordon as William Gore: "There's Death in the Churchyard"

The output of books by Jan and Cora Gordon between 1916 and 1944 was prolific, including travel books, books on art and a series of short stories and novels.

Three crime novels by Jan Gordon were published under the name of William Gore and the first of these was “There’s Death in the Churchyard” (1934), now a very rare book indeed.

The novel contains several semi-biographical references to the art world and the experiences of Jan and Cora Gordon during and after the First World War. There are also several allusions to changing societal conditions following the war.

The character "Belle" in the book had studied at the Slade School of Art in London, as did Cora (“Jo”) Gordon. ".. she had nevertheless retained many of the faculties which the art course develops, notably a habit of unconscious observation." This ability proves useful in the solving of the crime.

The character "Gunning" the painter, Like Jan Gordon, had been a munitions worker during the Fir…

Jan Gordon and Bernard Meninsky: Mother and Child (1920)

I just read an article by K.J. Bryant on the books of Jan and Cora Gordon in "Book and Magazine Collector" (March 1990). He emphasizes the rarity of a book, published in 1920, combining an essay on art by Jan Gordon with twenty-eight Mother and Child drawings by Bernard Meninsky. Bryant writes, "The only copies I have seen are in the V&A and the British Museum." Since I have a copy of this book, I was inspired to revisit it.

The publisher's note of acknowledgement to the various people who loaned drawings is already interesting. The name of Jacob Epstein jumped out at me, not because he was a famous sculptor, but because of two wonderfully hypnotic Fang bieri sculptures from Gabon that he owned. I lived for five years in Gabon and these two sculptures, plus another in the British Museum (the Plath bieri) used to fascinate me.

Jan Gordon's essay hardly refers to the Meninsky drawings at all, "for it is not possible to explain any work of art."…

Insects that walked with dinosaurs: exceptional preservation in Cretaceous amber

I've been looking again at some amazingly well-preserved insects trapped in Cretaceous amber.

Amber is in some ways the best preserving medium of fossil plants and animals known. The fossils are preserved in three dimensions, with great surface detail, and allow snapshots of interactions between animals or between animals and the flows of resin that engulfed them. No other style of exceptional fossil preservation can compare.

The oldest ambers with included animal fossils date back to the Triassic, but the best known early occurrences are Cretaceous in age, from Lebanon, France, Burma/Myanmar and New Jersey (USA). The New Jersey material comes from the Raritan Formation (Turonian, ca 90 Ma), excavated (from lignite occurring 6 to 10 feet below the surface) at a locality near Sayreville, New Jersey, USA. The amber is thought to have been produced by a forest of Cupressaceae in a warm temperate or sub-tropical environment (Grimaldi et al. 2000).

The amber represents aged, hardened r…

Jan and Cora Gordon: Behind the Film

A large hard back book printed in 1935 just arrived. Its title is “The Big Book for Girls”, but what interested me was the seven-page article by Jan and Cora Gordon called “Behind the Film”

They start with a small story about how widely appreciated the cinema already was: “The film has even penetrated to the Arctic Circle, where on one occasion a righteous Eskimo dashed from the audience and stabbed the villain while the surrounding white men remained callously in their seats.”

They go on to describe the process of film-making and the “self-hypnotism” of the actors, informed by their visit to Hollywood seven or so years earlier. The full story of that journey was published in 1930 as “Star-Dust in Hollywood” and began with Jan Gordon recuperating in a Los Angeles house. When I visited Los Angeles in April 2012 I found that many of their observations still resonate today, eighty five years later.

In "Chaplin: The Mirror of Opinion", David Robinson writes that Jan and Cora Go…

Viking Art

As it has turned out I have quite a strong association with Viking culture and Viking art.
I grew up in Yorkshire, surrounded by Norse place names (including the main streets of my home town) and it was fun to find familiar words during the years we later lived in Norway. There was also Jorvik at York (visited many times over the years, without and with kids); the battleground of Stamford Bridge (site of the last great Viking battle in 1066, following the burning of Scarborough in September of that year); and the Gauber High Pasture "Viking Site" at Ribblehead (excavated by Alan King). Numerous Viking artefacts have been discovered by detectorists in the Northern counties.
In subsequent years (1987, 1995) there were visits to Lindisfarne, site of the early Viking attack against England in 793 (I remember abandoned cars on the tidal causeway!) and beautiful peaceful Iona, which was raided by Vikings in 802. We saw a tower built to defend against such attacks in Ireland at Monis…

Calcite twinning: the four classes

Calcite (Calcium carbonate) is a very common mineral, but fascinating in the vast variety of crystal forms it assumes, including some beautiful symmetries produced by the phenomenon of crystal twinning.

The crystals are trigonal, meaning that there is a single axis of three-fold rotational symmetry (the c-axis) as well as three equal axes perpendicular to the c-axis. They occur in a myriad of forms, from squat rhombohedra to flat-ended prisms to elongate pointy scalenohedra. Some crystals display very large numbers of faces.

Here is an example of an untwinned calcite crystal, 67 mm tall from the Rotherhope Fell Mine, Alston Moor, Cumbria, England (collected in 1922).

The complex shapes produced by twinning have long been admired and here is a page from a famous mineralogy textbook by Edward Dana (6th Edition of "The System of Mineralogy" 1904). The first edition of this work was produced by James Dwight Dana in 1837.

Then, as now, four distinct classes of calcite twin were …

Gabon Manatees, Gorillas and Paul du Chaillu