Showing posts with label Alchemy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alchemy. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Lloyd Library - A Treasure Trove of Scientific Art

Lloyd Library and Museum - Cincinnati, OH

The Lloyd Library is a reclusive gem hidden in downtown Cincinnati (Plum & Court Str. corner). Despite having attended Rieveschl Hall at the University of Cincinnati to study chemistry, and having lived in the region since 1991 while pursing a carrier and hobbies that blend graphic arts with science, I missed this place entirely.  Cripes, I could have seen Rieveschl's lab notebooks in person!  Thanks to the Lloyd Library & Museum (LLM) sponsoring a clip on NPR, I learned about the institution.  It is a small venue, at least to the public; four of its five floors are off limits since they house a treasure trove of antique scientific literature.

I am a confessed bibliophile. In 2012, I had the pleasure of seeing an original, 1665 printing of Robert Hooke's Microgrograhia (thanks to Don Brooks and the McCrone Research Institute; link).  Of course, cameras did not exist then, so early scientists had to draw their data! Leonardo Davinci's notebook is a classic documentation of this, but consider early anatomists who had to draw fast since their non-refrigerated corpses/subjects decomposed (for more on this, I recommend Kemp's beautiful book: Spectacular Bodies: The Art and Science of the Human Body).  Hooke pioneered the use of the microscope and presented his survey of microstructures to the Royal Society in his "Micrographia, or Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies made by Magnifying Glasses (click to browse the interactive book). Hooke had to draw his observations as he peered into strange, microscopic worlds.

So to learn that four levels of books from similar eras were downtown at the LLM, I had to visit.  The first floor is open to the public and features some rotating and some permanent exhibits; calling ahead to arrange a visit may expedite getting inside.  They do host small educational groups, but this is really a place of research in which the librarians are used to retrieving medieval-to-early-19th-century works.  Here are some highlights:

Temporary Exhibit Back from the Brink

Description from the LLM: "This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of the last known passenger pigeon, Martha (shown at right), who died at the Cincinnati Zoo, despite attempts to find her a mate and save the species, which once numbered in the millions...Over the course of human history, we have, unfortunately, caused the end of numerous species...This exhibition features species that have made a comeback, showing those moments when our species has recognized our own folly and done something to make a difference." History of four footed beasts and serpents: 1658 (link to public domain) was one featured book (behind glass of course), turned to the Bison image (image above). The link to the public domain site shows the hidden pages that include mythological  beasts. So the image of the Bison was indeed cool....but to be able to browse through the printed version at the other entries would be remarkable (and possible it seems, especially if one has an academic reason to request access).

Permanent Exhibit: The George Rieveschl, Jr. History of Pharmaceutical Chemistry 

 The George Rieveschl, Jr. History of Pharmaceutical Chemistry Exhibit features a patented Lloyd Cold Still (at right) built in Cincinnati and used at the University of Michigan and at AYSL Corp; a key device use to invent and manufacture Benadryl.  The Cold Still was a neat, patented invention by the Lloyd brothers that heated the surface of an extract to remove solvent, as opposed to heating the bottom; the benefit was that fragile chemicals were not degraded during the separation process. The exhibit features the actual cold still...and Rieveschl's lab notebooks (see photo)!

Permanent Exhibit: Lloyd Brothers

The Lloyd Brothers set up shop in Cincinnati ~1885 and had a rich tradition of researching botantical chemistry and medicines.   Of particular interest to soap makers of past and present (i.e., Cincinnati soap makers Procter & Gamble), was their "clean" long, lasting soap: $1.40 for a dozen cakes!  

Online ExhibitThe Magic and Myth of Alchemy 

This is a very comprehensive website that blends historic drawings of real scientists with the subjective, trippy alchemists.  LLM description: "This is a permanent online exhibit: "The Magic and Myth of Alchemy" exhibit was created in honor of the International Year of Chemistry, an event celebrated by chemists and chemistry associations throughout 2011. In truth, however, there has been a wish to present the alchemical holdings of the Lloyd Library and Museum to the general public for some time. While we do not hold the most ancient treatises from Asia or the Middle East, the Lloyd holds a wealth of materials from the Early Modern and later periods, along with translations and later editions of some of the earlier volumes. A quick search in the Lloyd's online catalog yields no less than some 140 titles pertaining to that topic in some fashion, dating from 1544 to 2010. The collection includes the works of Paracelsus, Maier, Glauber, Hermes Trismegistus, and that alchemist made even more famous through a mention in the Harry Potter ™ series, Nicholas Flamel."



Friday, May 27, 2011

Making and Mixing Paints - Medieval vs Digital Technology

 Tablet Technology is Revolutionizing Painting!

Finally, artisits can "draw" directly on digital screens: on the go, with unlimited color selection....and the ability to work on layers, literally mix colors within a layer, and "undo/redo" multiple edits...and instantly dry/rewet paints...it's crazy!  Some iPad Drawing Applications with mixing abilities include Art Rage and Layers. Technology for traditional computers include premium Digital Tablets from Wacom (the Cintiq), All-in-One Tablet PC's like Dell's Inspiron,  and Adobe's Photoshop CS5.5 Mixer Brush and Bristle Tips that allow for rotational control of asymmetric "fan" brushes in addition to the awesome, pressure sensitivity.

How did Medieval Artists live without these? 

Early painters could not go to Walmart or Amazon to purchase "traditional" paints or sketch pads. The industrial production of paints did not emerge until the late 18th century (ref: Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments by Francois Delamare and Bernard Guineau).  So in addition to learning how to produce art, early artists also had to learn where to find the base materials (minerals for pigments, extracts for dyes, skin for canvases, etc.) and how to cook them into paint.  They had to procure their own minerals to grind, plants to extract dyes from, etc.;  they often mingled with their compatriot shoppers of Apothecaries, the physicians and herbalists.  It was only a century ago that industrial demands for color took over the responsibility for making paints away from the painter: 
"Many of the functions of medieval art have been usurped in modern times by the machine.  The two most extensive fields of medieval art production--books and textiles--have been taken over almost entirely nowadays by the forces of mechanical production.  We need not raise the question here of whether there is any loss for us in that..."; Daniel V Thompson (The materials and techniques of medieval painting Dover 1956)
Victoria Finlay literally traveled the world to reveal the origins of pigment production, and she reminds us that there were challenges to storing paints too.  Her book "Colors" directly ties the natural sourcing of pigments and the cultures that are intimately tied to them; "Colors" amplifies the historic cultural, and spiritual, connections between pigments and the artists who harvested them:
"For centuries, artists had stored their paints in pigs' bladders.  It was a pain staking process: they, or their apprentices, would carefully cut the thin skin into squares.   Then they would spoon a nugget of wet paint into each square, and tie up the little parcels at the top with string.  When they wanted to paint, they would pierce the skin with a tack, squeeze the color onto their palette and then mend the puncture.  It was messy, especially when the bladders burst, but it was also wasteful, as the paint would dry out quickly.  Then in 1841 a fashionable American portrait painter call John Goffe Rand devised the first collapsible tube..."(p19 of Victoria Finlay's Color - A Natural History of the Palette 2004 Random House)
The process of preparing one's own materials was, and still can be, a meaningful part of the creative process. 
It was once an expectation that artists were also scientists, sourcing their own materials and working them from the earth, such that their material gathering affected their style. One of the first "technology" books that evolved from compilations of secretive recipes and pseudo-legitimate alchemy was the Mappae clavicula;: A little key to the world of medieval techniques.  It is a compilation of compilations which maintains a sense of poetry and naive embellishment; translated and reprinted by the American Philosophical Society in 1974 in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society; original illuminations available as a virtual book on the Corning Museum website.
"We forget that throughout the history of medieval art there were no prepared packaged paints, inks, or parchments leaves.  The locating of particular pigments required a familiarity with nature which was so intimate as to be incomprehensible to us today.  It required a knowledge of not only the unchanging elements of nature, but of those that vary with climate, with geography, with the time of year.  The eggs of a specific insect, at a specific time in its life, would yield a particular pigment. At other times, the eggs would be useless. " (p22 of 1974 Mappae Clavicula: A little key to the world of medieval technique)
Magic Paint 
Cyril Stanley Smith and John G. Hawthorne put into perspective how the technology of paint making was obscured with early chemistry (alchemy).  Artisans were largely ignorant of their science; and/or they were not rewarded for determining/revealing the truth:
"When there were no purified chemicals in labeled bottles and no general theory to guide him, the artisan would not lightly change his practice.  Moreover, the more spectacular recipes are the least likely to be omitted by a compiler: feeding a virgin goat with ivy and using his mixed blood and urine to carve crystal will impress the layman more than the suggestion simply to dip in turpentine." (p18 of 1974 Mappae Clavicula: A little key to the world of medieval technique)

Note, Smith and Hawthorne, translators of the Mappae Clavicula, also translated Theophilis'12th century On Divers Arts , a treatise on arts written by practicing artist. Pigments, glass blowing, stained glass, gold and silver work.  They highlight that many of the ingredients of these medieval recipes are identified by their geographic origin (location) since natural "chemicals" were not purified then and compositional heterogeneity across regions affected color.
 

This is reinforced in the 15th century work The Craftsman's Handbook "Il Libro dell'Arte" by Cennino d'Andrea Cennini (translated by D.V.Thompson). Cennini describes how his father introduced him to the sources of various pigments and plants by walking the countryside.  His spiritual experiences with being an artisan radiates throughout his detailed handbook:
"To approach the glory of the profession step by step, let us come to the working up of the colors, informing you which are the choicest colors, and the coarsest, and the most fastidious; which one needs to be worked up or ground but little, which requires another; and just as they differ in their colors, so do they also in the characters of their temperas and their working up."
Action Steps

1) Digital Painting: While playing with our new Dell Inspiron tablet/all-in-one and iPad (Adobe's mixer brush and Layer's App) ... dream about purchasing an Wacom Cintiq tablet.

2) Medieval Technology: Planting dyer's garden now with help from my wife; the goal is to harvest these materials this year/next and then begin experimenting. I will be attending this year's Monticello Natural Dye Workshop to get bootstrapped. Note to self: use glass jars to store the paints, as reinventing "pig bladder tube technology" lowers the return-on-investment.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dark Muses II: Creative Forces Driving Science and Art

Note this is Part of a series:

#1) Dark Muses I: The undercurrent of "Art" in Weird literature

#2: Dark Muses II: Creative Forces Driving Science and Art (you are here) 

#3:  Historical Anatomy: Composing Bodies and Representing the Invisible Soul 

#4) Weird, Dark Art Design: Implicit vs. Explicit Gore and Horror
__________________

Scientists and artists have long had inherent faith in their creative processes and the muses that motivate them. Scientists cannot a priori predict their theories for they begin only as mere hypotheses, like unadulterated marble blocks waiting to be carved.  Likewise, art cannot be described genuinely before its creation.  By testing hypotheses, theories emerge; by sculpting marble blocks, statues are birthed.  Artists are guided by creative forces; ultimately, art (not the artist) must reveal and represent itself.  As one works paint on a canvas, muses participate, the artist becoming an instrument and medium of sorts.

Although the Red Muse of Lords of Dyscrasia is fictional, I do rely on real muses for inspiration.  I generally subscribe to the philosophy of agnosticism, a term coined in 1869 by Thomas Henry Huxley who was an ardent supporter of his contemporary's theory of evolution (Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, 1859).   In his primer book on science, Huxley expounded on nature's inherent sourcing of man's art:

Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)
Although this distinction between nature and art, between natural and artificial things, is very easily made and very convenient, it is needful top remember that, in the long run, we owe everything to nature; that even those artificial objects which we commonly say are made by men, are only natural objects shaped and moved by men; and that, in the sense of creating, that is to say of causing something to exist which did not exist in some other shape before, man can make nothing whatever...Carpenters, builders, shoemakers, and all other artisans and artists, are persons who have learned so much of the powers and properties of certain natural objects, and of the chain of causes and effects in nature, as enables them to shape and put together those natural objects, so as to be useful to man (Huxley 1888) i
The difference between artist and scientist was once more obscure than today.  The processes of exploring the unknown via art or science are different but the methodologies share the same motivating source and subject.   For me, scientific and artistic muses connect the naturally divine to the artificially materialistic; practicing creative processes brings comfort, satisfaction, and revelation of life's mysteries; following creative muses is enlightening.  Along these lines, I have long been a resolute agnostic, refusing to arbitrarily ascribe a name, face, or religion to all that is incomprehensible (read god), but as scientist and artist, I do have a faith using creative processes to connect with the ineffable.   

The creative Muse assumed an essential role in Lords of Dyscrasia, albeit a broader inspiration than that revealed in Greek mythology; as the Muse's primary curator, Grave does echo the role of Hephaestus the smith and Endenken Lysis assumes the role of Prometheus, antagonizing the gods and procuring their fire; and Maeve is not unlike Pandora, a beautiful harbinger of pain and pawn of the gods, crafted out of earthly elements by the smith Hephaestus.  So it is appropriate to investigate the inspiration behind the gothic classic The Modern Prometheus (1818) in which Mary Bryce Shelly, guided by muses, grappled with the themes of Science, Art, and Spirit.   Her character Victor Frankenstein, the infamous artist and scientist, pieced together materials from cemeteries to create life via alchemy.  In her prologue, she described how her muse worked though her:


My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie. I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.   Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.  His success would terrify the artist...ii
In a correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Ervin Howard (1906-1936) explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns.  Howard is often credited with being the originator of today's Sword & Sorcery genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn.  In December 1933, Howard wrote to Smith about his Conan muse:
 
Gary Gianni's Looming Dark Man (Muse, Bran Mak Morn)
 'While I don't go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existing spirits or powers, though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything, I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present--or even the future--work through the thought and actions of living men.

'This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed to grow up in my mind without much labor on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen--or rather off my typewriter--almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded upon episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them.
'For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story-writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn't do it.
'I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. This has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.' iii
So where do muses lead us?  In fairy tales, the ignis fatuous (a.k.a. will-o'-the-wisp, fool's fire, jack-o-lantern, or corpse candle) is a  luminous, nondescript light that hovers over wetlands and obscures forest paths.  These lights are thought to trick people into hellish traps or endless, foolish journeys.   In Lords of Dyscrasia, I liken the role of the ignis fatuous to that of fiery muses rather than evil temptations.  I acknowledge a longstanding fascination with Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydian and his deathless, zombie soldiers the Cauldron Born who served Arawn Death-Lord.  The Cauldron Born zombies were based from the magical Cauldron of Arawn mentioned within the Welsh medieval manuscripts the Mabinogion; therein, fallen soldiers could be cast into the pot to be fully rejuvenated.

The idea of cooking with souls and men, giving life back to the dead (whether fully sentient or zombie like) builds on the themes of alchemy and the link between body, soul.  This recipe for resurrection transmutes the soul from the unreachable chaos back into earthly elements.  For Lords of Dyscrasia, the Forge assumed the role of a magical cauldron but with a more direct link to artistry; the notion that the magical fire responsible for the forge's power may be a mobile fire was very exciting to me; a dead man could be placed into a forge, be rejuvenated by its fire, and then leave the vessel an undead man with the magical fire still burning him!  This symbolism has roots in mysticism, as the divine fifth element as been described as an astral fire, with roots in alchemy; here Alexander Roob summarizes this in his Alchemy and Mysticism:
It is said of the philosopher and thaumaturge Empedocles that he claimed the existence of two suns.  The hermetic doctrines also include a double sun, and distinguish between a bright spirit-sun, the philosophical gold, and the dark natural sun, corresponding to material gold.  The former consists of the essential fire that is conjoined with the ether of the 'glowing air'.  The idea of the vivifying fire - Heraclitus (6th century B.C.) calls it 'artistic' fire running through all things - is a legacy of Persian magic.  Its invisible effect supposedly distinguishes the Work of the alchemists from that of the profane chemists.  The natural sun, however, consists of the known, consuming fire, whose precisely dosed use also determines the success of the enterprise.iv

i Huxley, T. H. (1888). Introductory, Science Primers. New York, D. Appleton and Company. p8-9
ii Shelley, M., Ed (1993). Frankenstein 1818 Text. Oxford World's Classics. New York, N.Y., Oxford University Press.
iii Lord, G. (1976). The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert Ervin Howard. Hampton Falls, NH, Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc., p57
iv Roob, A. (2006). Alchemy & Mysticism. Los Angeles, C.A., Taschen Press. p25