The Cinema of Science

What do birds, cicadas, and solar prominences have in common? These were all subjects of films produced by the Institute of Science in its first decade of existence. Maybe it’s those Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom episodes I watched in syndication as a kid, but when I uncovered films made and produced by some of the Institute’s earliest scientific staff, I felt like I had hit the jackpot.

The 2014 Center for Collections and Research exhibition, Cranbrook Goes to the Movies: Films and Their Objects, 1925-1975, featured a 1960 Institute promotional film titled, So, You’re Going to Visit the Institute, which introduced viewers to the museum’s exhibit halls. Fascinating though it is, the film was hardly the Institute’s first foray into film production.

Credits and introduction of So, You’re Going to Visit the Institute, Cranbrook Institute of Science, 1960. 16mm film, 13:14 minutes (full-length). Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

In fact, the Institute’s “Ciné Film Collection” had begun in 1935, just five years after the Institute opened. Scientists at the Institute, not merely content to rely on handwritten notes and still photography, embraced the new 16mm motion picture technology to record their field research and then craft educational films for Institute members.

Some of the raw footage taken in the field was recently recovered, courtesy of the Museum of Cultural and Natural History staff at Central Michigan University. These 177 films found their way back to Cranbrook after over fifty years on the road, journeying to North Carolina and back, by way of Mt. Pleasant, MI. Created by Walter Nickell (also affiliated with CMU’s museum), Edward T. Boardman, S.P. Stackpole, Florence Maxwell, and other Institute staff, several of them can be traced directly to the aforementioned early educational films.

Take for instance, Birds in Summer, the first production, which almost certainly used footage taken that same year by zoologist Edward T. Boardman, labeled “Great Blue Herons Bird’s Nests.” Couple that with the September 1935 Institute News-Letter [sic] announcement, “New Movies in Color,” which heralded the work of zoologists that summer, and you get a fuller sense of the flurry of filming activity. The article goes on to mention the capture of new footage of Michigan animals, including hummingbirds, baby herons, and others, that were soon to be edited into films.

Institute staff continued to film birds even after the 1935 educational film was completed. Walter P. Nickell, July 27, 1944. Harvey Croze, photographer. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Another early film drew from raw footage now in the Archives, perhaps again at the hand of Boardman or Donald T. Ries, Curator of the Division of Insects. Emergence of the Periodical Cicada at Cranbrook was released the following year and had several showings.

Also in 1936, a modern solar tower was built at the new McMath-Hulbert Observatory in Pontiac that made possible a film by Robert R. McMath, Institute Trustee and Chairman of the Astronomy Division, and Director of the Observatory. The film was shown publicly for the first time in the Cranbrook Pavilion, to the largest Institute audience to date: 575 people.

View of Dr. Robert McMath at the controls of the McMath-Hulbert Observatory’s solar telescope, 1940. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Some 3,000 feet of motion picture film footage was shot in just the first year of production, alone. Though it’s not yet confirmed how many in total were produced in the 1930s, nine resulting educational films are currently preserved in the Archives. While research work is the predominate focus, other films include exhibitions and staff activities, including field trips with the museum’s junior members.

Junior Members, on a field trip, descend into a quarry in Monroe, MI, September 1935. Courtesy of Cranbrook Archives.

Like So You Want to Visit the Institute, the Archives hopes to digitize all nine films. Get your popcorn ready!

Deborah Rice, Head Archivist, Cranbrook Center for Collections and Research

A Place Where Art and Science Meet

Some of my favorite blogs, such as My Modern Met, capture the connections between science and art. At Cranbrook, the intersection of these two worlds often occurs when I delve into a research request. I recently found myself in this happy place as I discovered information about the Mary Soper Pope Memorial award, while researching botanist Emma Lucy Braun. Cranbrook Institute of Science awarded the medal to Braun in 1952.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946.

First award of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal, 1946. From L-R: Marshall Fredericks, Gustavus D. Pope, George Booth, Franz Verdoorn (recipient), Robert R. McMath, and Robert T. Hatt. Photographer, Harvey Croze.

Mary Soper Pope (1872-1940) was the wife of Gustavus Debrille Pope (1873-1952). Gustavus Pope, a Detroit manufacturer and humanitarian, was among many things the director of the Detroit Museum of Art, president of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, a Cranbrook Foundation Board of Trustees charter member, and a board member of both the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Institute of Science.

In 1946, the Trustees of the Institute announced the foundation of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal to be granted as often as the Board deemed desirable for “noteworthy and distinguished accomplishment in the field of plant sciences.” The award was a memorial to Mary Soper Pope as a tribute to her “thoughtful nature, her quiet yet inquiring spirit, and her constant pleasure in the beauty of growing things.” The Institute Trustees commissioned sculptor Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998) to design the medal. Fredericks taught at Kingswood School and Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1932 until he enlisted in the armed forces in 1942. According to correspondence in the Cranbrook Institute of Science Director’s Papers, this was Fredericks’ first commission since his return from service as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Air Forces.

I love Fredericks’ design. On the obverse, the medal bears the figure of a woman holding a delicate seedling before the eyes of a child. The reverse is a profusion of vegetal growth and in it a chameleon.

Marshall Fredericks sketches

Marsall Fredericks sketches, ca 1946.

The 3” diameter medals were cast in bronze by the Medallic Art Company in New York. The Committee of the Mary Soper Pope Memorial medal agreed on the following principles: 1) the medal should be given for noteworthy and distinguished accomplishments in plant science, 2) the medal may be given in any field of plant science, 3) the medal should be given in different fields of plant science, 4) the medal should be given without limitation (nationality, race, creed, and academic career or position), and 5) the medal is to be given at any point in a person’s career.

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award

Mary Soper Pope Memorial Award. (T.2014.1.19)

With these principles in mind, the Institute awarded the medal to seventeen scientists between 1946-1970, including botanist Emma Lucy Braun, ecologist William Vogt, and soil scientist, Edgar T. Wherry. While I enjoyed the initial research about Braun that led me to reading about this award, I loved following the Detroit and Cranbrook connections between art and science.

Gina Tecos, Archivist

Keep this Farwelliana?

botanical-gleanings

Farwell, O.A. (1926). Botanical Gleanings in Michigan. The American Midland Naturalist, 10 (1).

Late last year, a small uncatalogued archive of Oliver A. Farwell’s collections was transferred to the Archives from the Institute of Science. The collection includes many of Farwell’s published works, reference journals, a small sampling of correspondence related to his career as a botanist and druggist, a copy of Farwelliana: An Account Of The Life And Botanical Work Of Oliver Atkins Farwell, 1867-1944 by Rogers McVaugh, Stanley A. Cain, and Dale J. Hagenah, and a portrait of Farwell.

Farwell, a botanist (by hobby), drug inspector (by trade), and librarian (after my own heart) was born December 13, 1867, in Boston Massachusetts to Oliver A. Farwell and Charlotte (Brockway) Farwell. Spending his formative years in the Copper Harbor area of Michigan, Farwell developed a lifelong affinity and commitment to the study of Michigan’s flora as both a hobby and occupation. A career employee (1892-1933) of the Parke, Davis and Company (Detroit, MI), Farwell was responsible for the pharmacognosy of raw botanical products. He was also a long standing member of a multiplicity of scholarly clubs with branches pertaining to botanical interests, including the Michigan Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic. Farwell’s large personal collections of herbarium specimens are housed at the Cranbrook Institute of Science.

new-species

Farwell, O.A. (1917). New Species and Varieties from Michigan and Rare or Interesting Plans of Michigan. Michigan Academy of Science Report, 19.

After a long and prolific career (serially numbered and unnumbered collections potentially totaling 15,000), Farwell passed away in Lake Linden, Michigan in 1944.

Upon first inspection of the transferred material it was noted that a large portion of the contents were duplicative and non-original works. This discovery begged the question: is this content relevant and worthy of archival preservation? And if so, here? We determined the answer to be yes to both questions, as the collection represents the contributions and scholarly process of an individual whose botanical collections and samplings are part of the Cranbrook narrative. Although they represent an accumulation of thought and process in a period of pharmacological unearthing now well surpassed by modern scientific process and procedure, the collection of materials represents a long commitment at Cranbrook to exploration and discovery. We determined: it was a keeper.

The Cranbrook Archives looks forward to sharing this unique collection with our researchers in the coming months. Be sure to check back for more updates on newly acquired collections and material.

farwell

Oliver Atkins Farwell, Winter 1934.

-Belinda Krencicki, Associate Archivist

Author’s Note: The Oliver A. Farwell Papers are located at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. For more detail, see the finding aid here.

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