History

Section



History Illustration Science

A 900-Page Book Catalogs Hundreds of Medicinal Plants through Colorful Renaissance-Era Woodcuts

February 23, 2022

Grace Ebert

Mandragora officinarum L., Mandrake. All images © Taschen, shared with permission

Memorialized in his namesake flower the Fuschia, Leonhart Fuchs was a German physician and groundbreaking botanical researcher. He published an immense catalog of his studies in 1543 titled The New Herbal, which paired colorful woodcut illustrations of approximately 500 plants with detailed writings about their physical features, medical uses, and origins. Fuch’s own hand-colored copy remains in pristine condition to this day and is the basis for a forthcoming edition published by Taschen. Weighing more than 10 pounds, the nearly 900-page volume is an ode to Fuch’s research and the field of Renaissance botany, detailing plants like the leafy garden balsam and root-covered mandrake. The New Herbal is available for pre-order from Taschen and Bookshop.

 

Impatiens balsamina L., Garden Balsam, Common Balsam, Jewelweed

Pulsatilla vulgaris MILL., Pasque Flower

 

 



Design Documentary History

A Massive Chainmail Shelter Prevents a Renowned Scottish Mansion from Dissolving in the Rain

February 7, 2022

Grace Ebert

The coastal town of Helensburgh is located in one of the wettest regions of Scotland, averaging more than 190 days and 63 inches of rainfall each year, and it’s also the site of an architectural masterpiece by famed designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Built in 1904, “Hill House” is a modern construction with a focus on light and texture, and its facade is made of gray Portland cement rather than a more traditional and hardier substance like lime.

While the material was innovative at the time, it hasn’t endured the wet conditions of its surroundings and has started to deteriorate and crumble as it soaks up moisture from the air and ground—the National Trust of Scotland, which manages the home, describes it as “dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water.” To dry out the facade and hopefully preserve it for generations to come, the trust commissioned a giant, greenhouse-like box to sit over top.

English YouTuber and educator Tom Scott visits the porous covering, which at 32.4 million steel rings is the largest sheet of chainmail in the world, in a short documentary that reveals how the uniquely designed mesh structure has become a landmark of sustainability and innovative conservation in its own right. He discusses the unusual reasons for a permeable wall, the ways the chainmail offers the proper amount of ventilation without sacrificing protection, and how the multi-story walkways allow for otherwise impossible views of the “Hill House” roof and upper floors. Join Scott on his tour above to see the enclosure up-close, and in case you missed it, make sure to watch his trip to this mountain of mannequins.

 

 

 



History Photography

A New Photo Book Spotlights What Remains of American Movie Theaters

January 28, 2022

Grace Ebert

Fox Theater, Inglewood, California. All images © Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, courtesy of Prestel, shared with permission

Lights, camera, say goodbye to the action. A new book titled Movie Theaters is the culmination of two French photographers’ shared attempt to document the grandiose, historical, and now vastly altered landscape of American cinema. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have been traveling the U.S. since 2005 capturing the torn vinyl seating, chipped paint, and sometimes wildly transformed architecture of more than 200 shuttered venues. Published by Prestel, the photos are a visual memorial to a once-thriving industry and part of a broader effort to save what remains.

 

Paramount Theater, Brooklyn, New York

The first public theater in the U.S. opened in 1905 in Pittsburgh, and as a result of the boom in entertainment in the early part of the century, film studios began to commission architects to design elaborate auditoriums that were extravagant in aesthetic and often celebratory in function: ranging in style from Spanish gothic to art nouveau, most feature massive marquees flanking the entrance, ornamental trim lining high gilded ceilings, and rows of plush seating that could comfortably accommodate hundreds of people. “The movie theater was the cathedral of the beginning of the 20th century,” Meffre told Fast Company.

By the end of the 1920s, 20,500 venues were screening films, but that success began to dwindle as people bought TVs in the 60s and again decades later when streaming services became ubiquitous. Following additional closures spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, that number dropped once more, leaving less than 5,500 theaters open in 2020.

 

Proctor’s Theater, Troy, New York

Many of the buildings Marchand and Meffre visited over their nearly two-decade project are either abandoned in states of decay or firmly in their sequel, having been revitalized into new spaces like bingo halls, warehouses, and markets. Paramount Theater in Brooklyn, for example, now houses basketball courts, while others like Fox Theater in Inglewood contain remnants of their once-opulent architecture peeking through the otherwise derelict surroundings.

Some venues, including the strange storage space that was the Spooner Theater in the Bronx, have been gutted or razed entirely since the duo snapped their interiors. “The only thing that’s left is a picture,” Meffre said. “We hope that by showing many remarkable buildings in a state of decay, people will notice.”

To see dozens more of the forgotten venues, head to the pair’s Instagram and pick up a copy of the book from Bookshop.

 

Robins Theaters, Warren, Ohio

Spooner Theater, Bronx, New York

Metropolitan Opera House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

 



Craft History

Archeologists Unearth a Roman Glass Bowl Dating Back 2,000 Years in Pristine Condition

January 27, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy Marieke Mom, shared with permission

Sitting a few miles from the German border, Nijmegen is the oldest city in The Netherlands, and after a recent archeological dig, it’s also the site that unearthed a stunningly preserved bowl made of blue glass. The pristine finding, which is estimated to be about 2,000 years old, is from the agricultural Bataven settlement that once populated the region. Featuring diagonal ridges, the translucent vessel was made by pouring molten glass into a mold, sculpting the stripes while the material was liquid, and using metal oxide to produce the vibrant blue. Archeologists uncovered it without a single chip or crack.

Around the time the bowl was procured, Nijmegen was an early Roman military camp and later, the first to be named a municipium, or Roman city. Archeologist Pepjin van de Geer, who led the excavation, told the De Stentor that while it’s possible the vessel was created in a German glass workshop in cities like Cologne or Xanten, it’s also likely that the Batavians traded cattle hides to procure it. In addition to the piece, van de Geer’s team has also uncovered human bones, pitchers, cups, and other precious goods like jewelry, which indicates the site was once a burial ground. (via Hyperallergic)

 

The excavation site

 

 



History Illustration Science

Dig Into an Enormous Archive of Drawings Unveiling the Complex Root Systems of 1,180 Plants

January 10, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images courtesy of Wageningen University & Research

It’s generally understood that terrestrial plant life evolved from algae, one key to its successful adaptation being roots that sprawled underground to absorb important nutrients and water. Billions of years later, the fibrous networks are essential to life across the planet as they ensure the growth and health of individual specimens, help prevent erosion, and capture carbon from the air.

A collaborative project of the late botanists Erwin Lichtenegger and Lore Kutschera celebrates the power and beauty of these otherwise hidden systems through detailed drawings of agricultural crops, shrubs, trees, and weeds. Digitized by the Wageningen University & Research, the extensive archive is the culmination of 40 years of research in Austria that involved cultivating and carefully retrieving developed plant life from the soil for study. It now boasts more than 1,000 renderings of the winding, spindly roots, some of which branch multiple feet wide.

We’ve gathered some of the biological studies here, but you can pore through the full collection on the Wageningen University site. (via MetaFilter)

 

 

 



History Photography

Exquisite Architectural Photos by Andrew Moore Glimpse Life in Late '90s Cuba

January 10, 2022

Grace Ebert

All images © Andrew Moore, shared with permission

Between September 1998 and January 2001, Andrew Moore traveled around Cuba meeting residents and photographing them among their built environments. He snapped more than 700 8 x 10 color negatives during that period, producing a staggering visual record of a particular moment in the country’s history primarily shown through its architecture.

Through Moore’s lens, Cuba’s palatial residences and generally lavish interiors with marble and gilded details are shown tinged with decay: Paint peels from a ceiling to reveal structural wooden slats, broken windows are left in disrepair, and mismatched outdoor seating and modern appliances become out-of-place furnishings in once opulent rooms.

Shot mostly in urban metropolises, the alluring images are evidence of architecture’s power to both respond to and produce a community’s way of life. Havana, Moore shares with Colossal, is built vertically, with tile roofs, high ceilings, and tall windows that encircle central courtyards and offer relief from the fierce heat and sun. “The daylight is generally hard and creates deep shadows, while by night, which falls quickly, the city is quite dark with little by way of street lighting,” he says. Outdoor walls bleach over time from the sun, and verdant foliage and plant life grow in lush tufts from window boxes and landscaped villas.

 

Many of the buildings Moore photographed were constructed before air-conditioning was ubiquitous and at the time, hadn’t undergone significant updates. During his visit—Cuba and its residents were notably experiencing the effects of U.S. embargos between 1998 and 2001—this resulted in dozens of residents living together in a structure designed for single families. He explains:

These domestic clusters are known as solars. Given these crowded living conditions, and the tropical climate, Havana can seem like a city inside out: in their extraordinary activity, the overflowing streets remind one of a vast living room. Thus it became of particular importance to me to depict the architectural fabric of this unique city and country within the context of its people.

Residents, while often seen in the distance of the frame, add intimacy and humanity to the series. Along with assistants Ondrej Kubicek, Laurence Dutton, Kevin Fletcher, and Bart Michels, Moore interacted with locals and heard stories about their lives, which were translated by his friend Paquito Vives, while producing the collection. “All of us learned about the city by walking its streets, by knocking on doors, and through talking with the residents about the history of their city,” he shares. “People would frequently complain about the condition of their houses, but they were always friendly and most freely invited us into their homes for a small coffee and long conversations.”

 

Professionally for Moore, this staggering body of work was his first chance to gather “color harmony, natural light, deep and shallow space, narrative detail, cultural history, and the human figure” within a single image. It was inspired by Julius Schulman’s photos of Mid-Century Modern architecture and the way people configure within a space, a concern that’s visible throughout his extensive archive of locales in Russia and Ukraine, New York, and Detroit.

Currently based in Kingston, New York, Moore has published six volumes of his photos, and you can find two of the most recent, Blue Alabama and Dirt Meridian, on Bookshop. He’s currently preparing for a solo show featuring Hudson Valley landscapes, which will be on view in 2023 at Yancey Richardson. Until then, see more of his work on his site and Instagram. (via swissmiss)