This 7th edition of Cabinet of Curiosities draws its inspiration from the artistic vision of zoologist Ernst Haeckel. A staunch Darwinist, Haeckel established The Phyletical Museum for the theory of evolution in Jena, Germany. His 1899-1904 Kunstformen von der Natur (Art Forms in Nature) is a masterpiece of blended art and science. Haeckel was fascinated by natural forms and structures. Stephen Worth of ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive describes his evolutionary aesthetic:
"Haeckel saw no contradiction in his role as scientist/artist. In fact, he considered his work to be an expression of his own natural place in the world he was attempting to represent. Instead of approaching the subject from an objective viewpoint, he subjectively and selectively edited what he saw to reduce it to a form that appealed to him on a basic level as an artist. Thus, the scales of a fish become arabesques, and microscopic diatoms become beautiful sculptural forms. Haeckel was using nature's imagery to express his own inner nature."
A love of reinvented natural form is something Ernst Haeckel has in common with the creator of Wing's Castle. Millbrook, NY, the town where I grew up, actually has two castles: Daheim Castle, the gatehouse to the Hitchcock estate where Timothy Leary was long a guest in residence in the 1960s, and Wing's. Peter and Toni Wing have been building their castle for more than 25 years, often from found or salvaged materials, and it continues to grow organically as time and whimsy takes them. One visitor reports:
"Where another castle might have a plain wall, Mr. Wing has crafted a face out of stone fragments. Where another castle might have a bathroom in the shape of a square or a rectangle, Wing's castle has one shaped something like a 3 leaf clover. Seeing the bathroom alone was worth the price of the tour, you will never see another one like it. Anyone who is a castle lover and is passing through the area where Wing's Castle is located (not too far from Poughkeepsie), should make an effort to stop and see this one."
Visitors may visit the castle for a small fee. Other examples of Wing's public art include a variety of figureheads, cigar store Indians, and such that he carved for Millbrook merchants, some of which are still still on display, and a bronze Civil War memorial statue in nearby Stanfordville.
J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 reveals that members of the Massachusetts delegation to the 2nd Continental Congress visited Edward Arnold's Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut. It made such an impression on John Adams that two years later, he considered sending such "American Curiosities" as rattlesnakes "Upon a Hint, from one of our Commissioners abroad... across the Atlantic as presents to the Ladies." I'm sure Marie Antoinette would have been enchanted with her very own pit viper, but maybe it was intended for the Dutch.
Antiquarian's Attic reports the discovery of the oldest parrot fossil ever, a rare bird indeed as it made its home in what is now Denmark. Nicknamed "the Danish Blue", there is no word as yet as to whether this ex-parrot died while pining for the fjords.
I've become enchanted by the pioneers of color photography from the early 20th century. Decades before Kodachrome there was Autochrome, and there still exist some truly spectacular collections of these extraordinary images. One of the finest was created by French millionaire philanthropist Albert Kahn, who set out in 1909 to record the peoples of the world in true color and promote cross-cultural understanding. London Kills Me shares a few of Kahn's photographs: a window to a vanished time when many of the people and places he recorded were about to be forever altered by modernity and global war.
I am also partial to clothing from other eras. The very first post from the Jungle Trader, which celebrated its 1 year blogiversary this month, recommends pith helmets from Lock & Co Hatters of St. James St., London, while everything from frock coats to Victorian ladies accessories abound at River Junction Trade Company. Lady Lavona's Cabinet of Curiosities has a curiosity shop to meet your magic charm needs, which calls to mind a few choice lines from Richard Thompson I've been saving up for just such an occasion:
"I've got war paints, the skulls of saints, don't you want to see 'em
The blood of popes, and Tyburn ropes from the Black Museum
I've got Frederick Delius' finger, Wordsworth's tattoo
And I'm going to love you with everything, and I think you're going to love me too
I've got all the magic I need, all the magic I need."
Damn Data: Cabinet of Wonders offers the All Things Small Edition of its recurring Compendium of Curiosities. See the cast of the Wizard of Oz dancing on the eye of a needle and lavish doll house created for Queen Mary, royal consort of Britain's George V.
Lenzbreakr's Weblog features one of San Franciso's architectural oddities: The Roman Columbarium houses cremated remains and personal items in small boxes representing the lives of the departed. "This is a truly unique place, as the San Francisco Columbarium is the only remaining Roman-style Columbarium in the world. It’s a place in which people can think outside the box, while at the same time being dead, and inside a box."
In an aftershock from CofC #5, Brass Goggles clues us in to a rather Gothic steampunk alphabet done in decorative ceramic tiles. $600 buys the lot. Z is for Zeppelin, naturally, but N is for No Man's Land and X is for Xenophobe.
L. H. Crawley's The Virtual Dime Museum has two submissions this month. With Hasegawa's Untearable Crepe, a post that just missed the deadline for CofC #6 and has been patiently waiting for this edition, she shares images from a marvelous children's book from around 1900 made of crepe paper, a Japanese form called Chirimen-bon. This month she shifts from the sublime to the ridiculous with a feature on sheet music about rat poison, an early advertising jingle pushing nearly pure arsenic that is "Rough on Rats!" All together now! "R-r-r-rats, rats, Rough on Rats! /Hang your dogs and drown your cats!"
Bill West of West in New England is collecting funny place names and invites you to join in. See if you can top his Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. One of my personal favorites from Central Massachusetts.
Thomas MacEntee discovers a portrait of a different sort. The subject was his Great Uncle and the artist was Bil Baird, who was also the puppeteer who designed and performed the Lonely Goatherd sequence of The Sound of Music! A fabulous discovery and a great tale besides.
And so we come full circle with art inseparable from life. Haeckel may not have crafted marionettes, but he would have recognized their forms in the filaments of jellyfish. But who, or what, is the the puppet master: a deity or strands of DNA? Divine what you will.
The 8th edition of Cabinet of Curiosities will be on June 16th. Anyone who wishes to host a future edition is most welcome to do so. Submissions for June are due by noon EST on the 15th and can be made directly at greensleevesenviro AT sbcglobal DOT net or with the handy submission form.