Explore a Beautiful Victorian Album of Seaweeds

The Victorians had a passion for admiring stylized versions of the natural world from within the comfort of their own homes. Alongside taxidermy, arrangements of shells and fossils, preserved birds and flowers beneath domes, and hair art, an upper-class Victorian home might have sported an album or two of pressed flowers and, perhaps, seaweeds.

While we may not think of seaweed as particularly lovely today, Victorians used their bright reds and greens and lacy shapes to create pretty designs or semi-realistic compositions. The Public Domain Review recently spotlighted one such album now held in the Brooklyn Museum’s Special Collections department, which has been digitized for online viewing.

The leatherbound album, which features algae and seaweeds pasted on construction paper and framed by doilies, was created by one Eliza A. Jordson of Brooklyn around 1848. It was presented as a token of esteem to Augustus Graham, a member of the board of directors of the Brooklyn Apprentice’s Library, which eventually evolved into the Brooklyn Museum. The images are a feat of delicacy, using seaweed to create tiny houses and to spell out Graham’s name as well as the title of the book.

As Allison Meier noted when writing about the album for Atlas Obscura in 2014, the album is “definitely not a scientific work, but instead a social one.” The specimens aren’t mounted with scientific precision and contain no labels, although the album does include a poem on the “flowers of the sea,” which seems to have been a feature of other seaweed albums, according to the Public Domain Review.

Other surviving examples of seaweed albums exist: As Meier notes, Harvard holds one created by a Mary Robinson, probably around Martha’s Vineyard, circa 1885. An online exhibit devoted to the prints from that book contains an explanation of the scrapbooking process, which involved submerging both the seaweed and mounting paper in saltwater at the same time, bringing them to the surface with the seaweed on top, and arranging the specimen with a needle to bring out its details.

All images via Brooklyn Museum Libraries, Special Collections.

Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
The Covers of Jack Kerouac's Classic Titles Are Getting a Makeover
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press
Tom Etherington, Penguin Press

Readers have been enjoying classic Jack Kerouac books like The Dharma Bums and On the Road for decades, but starting this August the novels will have a new look. Several abstract covers have been unveiled as part of Penguin’s "Great Kerouac" series, according to design website It’s Nice That.

The vibrant covers, designed by Tom Etherington of Penguin Press, feature the works of abstract expressionist painter Franz Kline. The artwork is intended to capture “the experience of reading Kerouac” rather than illustrating a particular scene or character, Etherington told It’s Nice That. Indeed, abstract styles of artwork seem a fitting match for Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose”—a writing style that was influenced by improvisational jazz music.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, which was published just one year after On the Road. The Great Kerouac series will be available for purchase on August 2.

[h/t It's Nice That]

John MacDougall, Getty Images
Stolpersteine: One Artist's International Memorial to the Holocaust
John MacDougall, Getty Images
John MacDougall, Getty Images

The most startling memorial to victims of the Holocaust may also be the easiest to miss. Embedded in the sidewalks of more than 20 countries, more than 60,000 Stolpersteine—German for “stumbling stones”—mark the spots where victims last resided before they were forced to leave their homes. The modest, nearly 4-by-4-inch brass blocks, each the size of a single cobblestone, are planted outside the doorways of row houses, bakeries, and coffee houses. Each tells a simple yet chilling story: A person lived here. This is what happened to them.

Here lived Hugo Lippers
Born 1878
Arrested 11/9/1938 — Altstrelitzer prison
Deported 1942 Auschwitz

The project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, who first had the idea in the early 1990s as he studied the Nazis' deportation of Sinti and Roma people. His first installations were guerrilla artwork: According to Reuters, Demnig laid his first 41 blocks in Berlin without official approval. The city, however, soon endorsed the idea and granted him permission to install more. Today, Berlin has more than 5000.

Demnig lays a Stolpersteine.
Artist Gunter Demnig lays a Stolpersteine outside a residence in Hamburg, Germany in 2012.
Patrick Lux, Getty Images

The Stolpersteine are unique in their individuality. Too often, the millions of Holocaust victims are spoken of as a nameless mass. And while the powerful memorials and museums in places such as Berlin and Washington, D.C. are an antidote to that, the Stolpersteine are special—they are decentralized, integrated into everyday life. You can walk down a sidewalk, look down, and suddenly find yourself standing where a person's life changed. History becomes unavoidably present.

That's because, unlike gravestones, the stumbling stones mark an important date between a person’s birth and death: the day that person was forced to abandon his or her home. As a result, not every stumbling stone is dedicated to a person who was murdered. Some plaques commemorate people who fled Europe and survived. Others honor people who were deported but managed to escape. The plaques aim to memorialize the moment a person’s life was irrevocably changed—no matter how it ended.

The ordinariness of the surrounding landscape—a buzzing cafe, a quaint bookstore, a tree-lined street—only heightens that effect. As David Crew writes for Not Even Past, “[Demnig] thought the stones would encourage ordinary citizens to realize that Nazi persecution and terror had begun on their very doorsteps."

A man in a shop holding a hammer making a Stolpersteine.
Artisan Michael Friedrichs-Friedlaender hammers inscriptions into the brass plaques at the Stolpersteine manufacturing studio in Berlin.
Sean Gallup, Getty Images

While Demnig installs every single Stolpersteine himself, he does not work alone. His project, which stretches from Germany to Brazil, relies on the research of hundreds of outside volunteers. Their efforts have not only helped Demnig create a striking memorial, but have also helped historians better document the lives of individuals who will never be forgotten.


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