Archive for May 2010

Point Pelee-Really!

May 29, 2010

I was at Point Pelee from Tuesday May 25th to Friday the 28th.  My family came with me and we arrived  late in the afternoon, too tired to go to the park.  Early Wednesday morning though, we were in the park by 7am.  The big bird migration push was already past so we were the only ones at the point that early.  We rode our bikes down to the tip where I figured the diorama site was located.  As we walked around,  all I could find that was familiar was the stellated false solomon seal and the hoptree.  I began to worry that the hairy pucoon was gone or past bloom.  Where was the juniper?  None of the landscape looked right and I thought because of the smell that we were in a heron rookery.  We discovered it was actually thousands of small fish (smelt) washed up on the shore.  We learned that the fish die naturally after spawning and normally sink to the bottom of the lake.  This year, a storm came through and washed the fish onshore.  It was headline news in Pelee.  My wife and I birded the point.  Most common birds were: kingbirds, cedar waxwings, yellow warbler, indigo buntings, both Baltimore and orchard orioles, brown thrasher, and barn swallows.

We left there and went to an area called West Beach.  The kids ran to the lakeside and looked for interesting things on the beach.  Finn found fossilized shells and corals.  We looked up fossils at Point Pelee and discovered that there are many fossilized invertebrates and coral from the Devonian since the area was an inland ocean.  While they played on the beach, I went poking around in the dunes behind the beach and I was relieved to find the hairy pucoon in good numbers.  They were in full bloom so I got good photos.  I even found one stellated solomon seal in bloom (they were past bloom) so I took more photos.

Hairy Pucoon

Stellated False Solomon Seal

Encountering the real flowers was humbling.  The hairy pucoon flowers were smaller than I have made mine and the depth of the base of the flower was deeper.  The sepals only come up half way on the actual flower (my wax ones went all the way to the petals)  Also, the petals are joined together for half their length and are much more convoluted than I have made mine.  Back to the drawing board!  The “hair” of the hairy pucoon is beautiful and has a very regular pattern.  I can’t imagine how I might get that effect.  The solomon seal leaves are ribbed more than I made them and glow with intrinsic coloration.  I will have to try Gary Hoyle’s recipe of hot melt glue and parrafin to make leaves.

While still in CT, I made an appointment with Sarah Rupert, a park ranger, to show me around and I met her at the nature center at 10 am.  She printed out a photo of the diorama and said that the area looked like the northwestern beach area.  Another ranger, John, was listening in and offered to take us up there.  John knew more about plants than Sarah (she is a bird person), so it was decided he would give us a tour of the northwest beach.

When we got there we walked out over an old parking lot that the park was letting grow over.  We continued south to an area that was close to what was painted in the diorama, but I told John that there was nowhere I could see that had all the elements, the dunes, the juniper, the canadian wild rye grass, the flowers, the hoptree.  There was a lot of each in various places, but nothing struck me as the site.  John was interested in trying to find the Canadian wild rye, so we looked and found it in the area quite close to the beach/high tide mark.  I looked for it in other places, but the beach region was the only area it was found.  This is too bad since all the grasses I had put in the midground of the diorama were C. wild rye.  The grasses I did find in the mid-region were switchgrass and a common-looking grass with a conspicuous seedhead (I’ll have Patrick Sweeney ID it).  I will be removing the grasses from the foreground and collecting the other grasses in CT to replace them.

Northwest Beach-Point Pelee

My sense from this photo is that this is probably the site, but the photo was taken standing much closer to the beach than Wilson did back in 1964.  In fact, about 40′ behind me there was a high vantage point that very well might have been the point at which Wilson made his studies.  The large deciduous trees that show in the diorama to the right, now covered the entire area.  Plant succession had made it virtually inaccessable.  What was left of the juniper in this area was dead.  There were tangles of low vegetation barring easy access and I wasn’t convinced that a photo taken from that point would reveal anything, so I didn’t choose to explore it.  John showed us several other plants common to the area: Goat’s beard, sweet clover, rock sand wort, wormwood, and prickly pear.  He told me that the hognose snake was long gone as was the Fowler’s toad that it fed on, victims of habitat destruction.  Removing the hognose snake is yet another change I will make.  He said that the 5 lined skink was a much more representative reptile.  Insects were also discussed and these are his suggestions: Red Admiral and American Lady butterflies, the robber fly, and the ant lion whose inverted sandy cones were evident everywhere.  In the original diorama there were a pair of bobwhite.  I noticed on the Point Pelee bird list that bobwhite was listed as “extripated”.  A discussion will ensue when I get back to Peabody about whether we go ahead and put the bobwhite, hognose snake, and fowler’s toad in the diorama and install signage about the human impact on this habitat.  Otherwise, none of these should go in the foreground.

This visit did nothing short of impell me to change the entire foreground.  Well, maybe not the entire foreground, but significant parts of it.  Constructing/installing the foreground to a James Perry Wilson diorama charges me to strive for a high level of accuracy.  So, I need to resculpt and cast new hairy pucoon flowers, experiment with the hot melt glue/parrifin mixture for new leaves, remake the stems of both flowers, and change out the grasses.  I think Wilson would not only approve, he would insist on it!

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JPW at the Natl. Academy of Sciences

May 10, 2010

I was in Washington DC for most of last week.  I had a museum mountmaking conference at the Smithsonian on Weds and Thurs, but I took Friday to visit the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).  The NAS is a Goodhue building (1924) and James Perry Wilson had a prominent role in its construction.  The museum has two artworks from 1922 by Wilson on display.  One is a watercolor rendering of the building and the other is an oil on canvas of the building by moonlight.

I couldn’t help think how Wilson studied how to paint moonlit landscapes all through his life.  This puts his study of moonlight back into the early 1920’s.  I know of two other moonlit seascapes from Monhegan painted in the 1920’s.  Conrad Schweiring writes about how Wilson at age 69 came out West in the summer of 1959 on an expedition to collect reference paintings/photographs for the Badger and the Flying Squirrel dioramas in the Small Mammal Hall at the AMNH.  The Flying Squirrel  is a nocturnal diorama and he and Wilson stayed up one night during the full moon to practice  painting by moonight.  They concluded that all the colors are present in a moonlit landscape, but they are all muted down by the gray, which puts them close together in value.  The Racoon diorama is also a nocturnal diorama and it predates the Flying Squirrel by 6 or 7 years.  I always remember the Racoon diorama because it has tiny specks of broken mirror glued to the background painting to catch light from above to simulate stars.  It is a quite convincing effect-not to mention baffling if you don’t know how it is done.  I thought they had drilled holes in the wall to let light from behind shine through!

There are also several plein air paintings JPW paintied at night.  There are a couple of houses painted in the moonlight with light shing out from the windows-very similar to the NAS painting.  There are at least three seascapes From Monhegan painted in the moonlight.