Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Snowflake Man

Just after I started my new job, I encountered an article about Wilson A. Bentley of Jericho, Vermont. He's known as the first person to take pictures of snowflakes. He took well over 5,000 pictures of snowflakes beginning in 1885 until he died in 1931. Bentley combined a bellows camera with a microscope to take his amazing photos, which required a lot of patience and holding of breath to keep his subjects from melting. People still use his pictures as references and as springboards for arts and crafts projects.

My aunt and uncle (I have the same first name and middle name as the uncle, my father's brother - both now deceased) lived for many years in Jericho, not far from the village green in Jericho Center, where there's a roadside marker commemorating Bentley. Many years ago, I'd seen some of Bentley's photos, most likely in our family's mid-1950s copy of The World Book Encyclopedia. When I first saw the marker in Jericho Center, I knew why it was there. He was certainly in the right place to become a snowflake photographer. Jericho is just to the west of Vermont's highest peak, Mt. Mansfield, and east of Lake Champlain, so it would get some lake effect flurries until the lake froze, and lake effect snow sometimes even reached Jericho from Lake Ontario on the other side of the Adirondacks.

I've been trying to remember where I saw the article. I thought it was Wikipedia, but I can't see where the entry for Bentley was featured anywhere. So I probably saw it someplace else. I did use the Wikipedia entry as a source when I decided Bentley would be a good subject for a Squidoo lens (aka web page). The first thing I did on Squidoo was make sure nobody else had started a lens on the same subject, and nobody had. So I started looking around. Wikipedia had the picture I've used at the beginning of this post, which I edited into its separate images to scatter throughout the book listings. In addition to the books on the page, I also found links to some businesses in Jericho related to Bentley, a link to the University of Buffalo, and of course, Wikipedia.

I called it Wilson A. Bentley - The Snowflake Man. I got enough done the first day to publish it, then added some finishing touches the next day.

During my research, I discovered a book illustrated by Mary Azarian, a Vermont artist who specializes in woodcuts. It's aimed at children aged 4 to 8 and written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Mary Azarian won the 1999 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations. I remembered Mary from my folk music days back East, when I helped run a coffeehouse in a Unitarian church basement in Fitchburg, MA. It's where I met Joanna in 1980. Joanna and I were together for six years, and she introduced me to the New England Folk Festival in Natick, MA (late April - and the festival moved to Mansfield, MA starting in 2007) and the Old Songs Festival near Albany, NY (late June). I encountered Mary's artwork at these festivals, and Mary herself on one or two occasions. I may have said a few complimentary words to her, but didn't get into any real conversation. I really recommend you check out her website at One of these days I may do a lens about her. I'm not sure how widely known she is outside the Northeast.

Darn, now I'm feeling all nostalgic about Vermont and folk festivals I used to love going to. One of these years I'd love to go to Old Songs again. I went every year from 1985 to 2000 except for '88 and it was like going home for a weekend. I was reminded of that feeling this past summer when I went for the first time to the Oregon Country Fair, which has been running in one form or another since the late '60s. As the bus entered the grounds, I saw a sign that said "Welcome Home" and knew exactly how people returning year after year felt on seeing it.

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