Have you noticed? Cranbrook campus is awash in color!
The drive in every morning, a walk outside, or a quick glance out the window, and it’s hard to miss.
But like every year, just as the foliage begins turning brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges, it is soon falling to the ground. Squirrels scurry past, busy adding to their winter store. The Triton Pools are emptied. A trash can marked “Salt” mysteriously appears along the walk by the Academy Studios. The air is crisp; the days shorter. Fall is undeniably here. And Winter – just around the corner.
While musing on this rite of seasonal change, I happened to come across an article written in the Cranbrook Institute of Science News Letter [sic], November 1949 (Vol. 19, No. 3), apropos to my current mood. It was titled: “The Hibernation of Plants,” by Stanley A. Cain. It begins:
“Had you been a wealthy Roman you would have owned what you called an hibernaculum, or winter residence, somewhere on the sunny warmer shores of the Mediterranean … but the theme of these few pages is the hibernation of plants … plants do not migrate with the changing seasons, induced by shortening days and the onset of cold or drought, but are mostly rooted to the earth and must stand and take it.”
Most of us Michiganders must stand and take it, as well. But, as humans, we weather the colder temperatures by finding comfort in a warm fire, a snug scarf, or a hot mug of our favorite beverage. Plants – well, plants have other coping mechanisms.
In his article, Cain elaborates on the structural and functional changes plants undergo in “preparing for the difficult times ahead.” Central to the scientific discussion, Cain includes the importance of buds, seeds, and root structures for deciduous perennials.
Stanley Cain was a botanist on staff at Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) from 1946-1950, who became well-known as a conservationist. In fact, he was awarded the CIS Mary Soper Pope Award in 1969 for distinguished accomplishment in plant science.
His article on plant hibernation is typical of CIS newsletters from 1931-1968, which included feature articles illuminating research conducted by its scientific staff. CIS had an ambitious program of research and publication since its inception, and botany was long a main focus. According to the first annual report, the Division of Botany was one of eight original scientific divisions. In 1949, over 30 staff publications are listed in the annual report, a quarter of those on vegetation. The News Letter [sic] was published for Institute members, and summarized developments and events on a monthly basis, September through May, from 1931 to the mid-1980s. In 1993 it became Science Scope and continues to be published under that name on a quarterly basis today.
While the article itself is intriguing and particularly interesting to botany enthusiasts, it is the accompanying drawings that captivate me.
Reminiscent of the recent popularity of vintage botanical specimen school charts or nature illustrations, like those of Julia Rothman, these drawings point to the function of illustration in the research process. Here, before me, was a classic example of ‘art meeting science’. A topic (drawing as an analytic tool), in fact, addressed in the 2013/2014 Cranbrook Art Museum exhibit, which included Stanley Cain’s own drawings.
But these drawings were not Cain’s! Cain often used Academy of Art students for illustrators, as indicated by another 1949 article, “Plants and Vegetation as Exhaustible Resources,” which feature drawings by Matt Kahn. In the case of the hibernation article, however, the illustrations are attributed to Jim Carmel, Cranbrook Institute of Science Preparator, circa 1944-1973 (prior to WWII he had been Assistant Preparator). Better known for his work with the Institute’s exhibits, Carmel was educated as an artist and designer. In the 1949 annual report he is listed as Artist and Preparator under the division of Arts of Exhibition and Illustration.
Carmel’s papers were graciously donated by his son in 2016, but unfortunately do not cover his years at Cranbrook. CIS Office of the Director Records only include Carmel’s exhibit design work. The newsletter remains the only known record of these early drawings, striking as they are, in their black & white simplicity.
Exploring the natural world around us in both a scholarly and creative fashion is the very essence of Cranbrook. The next time you’re on campus, instead of thinking, “oh, there’s a pretty tree!”, consider the myriad ways in which Cranbrook’s flora has inspired scientific study and artistic endeavor. This may just spark your enthusiasm for learning more about nature, and deepen your appreciation of our landscape in all its Fall glory as it prepares to hibernate for the Winter.
–Deborah Rice, Head Archivist
Pingback: Cranbrook Kitchen Sink: Best of 2019 | Cranbrook Kitchen Sink