Archive for the ‘shells’ Category

Onto the extant mollusks at the Natural History Museum. The museum with which I am most acquainted, AMNH in New York, has lots of preserved specimens, but not that many invertebrates. They really focus on the mammal dioramas there and the creepy halls of stuffed birds. The NMNH in DC, in addition to doing the taxidermy thing, is not afraid of stuff in jars, including giant squid!Here’s one.

And here’s the other one, laid out horizontally, which really does give a better effect. I was excited to see how many people were constantly crowded around this. It’s also about as gory a thing as you’re likely to see in a museum, frankly. Well, I haven’t been to the Mütter Museum, which is likely a notable exception.
Also a clubhook squid.
There were also plenty of seashells to be seen, as you can see here.
Next up, the fossils! Here’s a teaser:

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I’m back from St. Louis, and I really do want to recap the goings-on from my weekend in DC, but there’s a very pressing issue at hand.

I was visiting a friend who lives in an old farmhouse, and he is very tastefully outfitting it in a charming, antiquey style. Behold.

We spent some time at antique malls and flea markets, and, well, have a look for yourself.

Hm, that’s ugly.

The glitter! My eyes!

Now it’s hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure they dragged a sea urchin into the fray here.

Ouch. Was the carving really necessary?

I’m not even sure how this one works, plug-wise.

This is just the pièce de résistance, isn’t it? Words other than “Parrots? Really?” fail me.

I can’t stand idly by. I’ll call it the Society for the Prevention of Seashell Atrocities. These are all “antiques,” but something tells me the desecration of perfectly lovely seashells for profit is not an activity only done in days of yore. Who will join me in the fight?

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I’m going to San Francisco! Tomorrow, in fact, for the National Science Teachers Association conference. I’ve been furiously browsing the schedule to figure out what sessions will be best for me to go to, but I was delighted to find quite a few sessions that focus on mollusks! There are not one but two sessions about squid dissection, one about the Queen Conch Research Refuge Ranch (which there doesn’t seem to be information about online), and one about seashell taxonomy. Weirdly I also can’t link to the individual sessions, but in any case I’ll report back if I make it to any of these. I’m hoping my proximity to the Pacific Ocean may also facilitate a mollusk encounter of some fashion. And, holy cow, am I going to eat a burrito while I’m there.

During my flights and downtime, I hope I’ll finish these mittens I’ve been knitting. Snaily!

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I recently watched two documentaries (available instantly on Netflix) that got me thinking. One was called A Man Named Pearl, about an extraordinary topiary artist named Pearl Fryar, who lives in Bishopville, SC. The other was a documentary about paper folding/origami called Between the Folds.

A Man Named Pearl was interesting mostly because his topiaries are stunning and he himself is quite the dude. I got a bit annoyed with the movie for the same reason I gave up on the Ken Burns National Parks series despite my intense love for the National Parks system– it was weighed down with unnecessary religiosity. That said, it’s still a movie worth watching, and not just for the topiaries, because it also has some interesting commentary on race and class in the South.

Between the Folds was just fascinating, hands down. I liked how the film profiles people with different approaches to paper folding, from craftspeople to technicians to anarchists. I suppose most artforms can accomodate all those types. What I also hadn’t really ever thought about is how origami is a transformative art– there’s no adding of media (as there is in, say, painting), nor is there subtracting of media (e.g. some kinds of sculpture). That kind of constraint is really intriguing to me. One of my other favorite artforms, glassblowing, is similar in that regard, though not as rigid since adding and subtracting does happen. Thinking back to Pearl’s topiary, he’s got this incredible task of subtracting, transforming (by training branches, etc) and anticipating the addition that happens naturally and ever so gradually.

Fiber arts, my media of choice, also has that quality of transformation. Where paper folding is taking something two dimensional and giving it a third dimension, knitting and related crafts take something essentially one dimensional and transform it into higher dimensions. Cool stuff. It’s no coincidence that I’m a math geek and a knitting/crocheting enthusiast.

So what does this have to do with mollusks? Well, part of why I love mollusks is that people are so inspired by them, including both topiary artists and paper folders. I’m sorely tempted to attempt a wee topiary of my own, like so:

But there are some great topiaries to be seen: check these out!

And origami! Just check out the underside of this octopus!

Octopus (hunting) take 5
(photo: josephwuorigami)

Mollusks lend themselves wonderfully to paper folding, especially shells and snails.

There’s a bonanza of clickage in this post. If you missed the origami squid attacking the old timey ship, I urge you to retrace your steps!

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Maybe I’m a tourist in my own city, but I always jump at the opportunity to bring visitors to certain places I love– the zoo, the Met, the Natural History Museum, etc. This weekend included both the Bronx Zoo and the Met. The zoo was fantastic– no mollusks, as usual, but excellent sightings of some of my favorite animals who tend to be unconscious when I’m there: the slow loris and the red panda. Super adorable.

Then there was the Met. I love visiting the roof exhibition at the Met in the summer, because there’s a great skyline view over the park, and it’s just a cool place for an installation. This year is Big Bambú. This was a really fun installation. The summer installation breathes some life and energy into the Met, which can get a little laden down in classics and antiquities for me, as much as I do love that stuff to. Big Bambú reminded me of the City Museum in St. Louis, one of the best and most fun museums I’ve ever been to, and no doubt the most dangerous.

It’s a big bamboo structure.
Lashed together.
bamboo path & ties
There are paths through it into the upper reaches.
Big Bambu
But it also has this wild, birdsnest-like look to it.
big bambu
(photos there are from asterix611, marc dalio, Garrett Ziegler, and Rob Zand, respectively)

Because I do keep my eye out for these things, I did spot some mollusks in the art at the Met. First, this is a detail of a piece by Dali, that has some little shells on some sort of blob. Surreal!

Here’s the whole painting, The Accommodations of Desire.

Then in the European Paintings wing, there was this still life with oysters by Willem Claesz Heda.

Speaking of opulent meals, that evening was dinner at wd-50. What a weird, interesting meal! I started off with a cocktail that tasted exactly like Juicy Fruit gum and it was all fun and surprising tastes and textures from there. I want to go back for the 5 course dessert tasting. We also got a tour of the kitchen and met the chef, so it was a special evening. No mollusks were consumed by anyone at my table. This octopus in the bathroom seemed pleased about that. Or maybe surprised.

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During my recent trip to the American Museum of Natural History, I stumbled upon a section I’d never been to before: The Hall of Mollusks! That’s not really what it’s called. I wish I had written down the name of the exhibition, because it was named after a person. Hopefully next time I’m there it’ll still be there, because it’s not labeled on the floor plan and I only found it accidentally while on my way to the restroom. If you’re ever at AMNH, here’s where to go:

This hallway is primarily a collection of shells, but there are also some models of cephalopods, nudibranchs, slugs, and the like. I think my favorite were the painted tree snails, Polymita picta, whose colors are the very definition of whimsy. My photo is awful and blurry, but here’s a much better one:

(photo: Incognita Nom de Plume)

The next section of the hallway was devoted to the mollusks of New York state. I got really excited, because it meant I might be able to identify those two kinds of snails whose shells I find in the Harlem Meer. Here those are once more.

And so here are my best guesses for both of these. Chinese mystery snail (how appropriate!) and Three whorled ram’s horn. Check out the AMNH specimens.

They look pretty good to me, but I’m certainly no expert. In any case, I was completely thrilled to find this corridor and have a tentative answer to my question. Museums for the win!

On to other parts of AMNH. I just can’t stay away from the Hall of Biodiversity.

(There’s nothing here for scale, but I do see people sitting inside this shell quite often.)
This octopus hangs from the ceiling, and I sort of love how glowy this photo is.

Of course, no trip to AMNH is complete without saying hello to the blue whale in the Millstein Hall of Ocean Life. When I first lived in New York City in 2002, the hall was closed for renovation. When they reopened it, there was a lot of fanfare– street banners saying “The whale is back!” and the like. I hadn’t seen the whale since I was but a wee girl on one of my family’s semiannual trips to the city. In my memory it was just the hugest thing I had ever seen. I was hesitant about going back, because it can be really disappointing to see something that awed you as a child and lose that sense of awe when you see that it’s nothing spectacular after all. Still, I couldn’t resist going back; AMNH has been such an incredible place for learning and making memories all my life. So, I went to see the whale. And you know what? It’s still just as awe inspiring as it was when I was 6. That’s how big blue whales are. It’ll be a banner day when I see one that’s not made of plaster.

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There’s a breathaking slideshow in today’s New York Times of photos from The Book of Shells by M. G. Harasewych and Fabio Moretzsohn.

I love so many of these shells, but my favorite among the ones in the slideshow might be the zebra periwinkle, because it is “a riot of color and pattern,” which describes a lot of things that fall under my aesthetic preferences.

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