Saturday, February 18, 2006

Edward Wilson, Antarctic Cartoonist

As our Minnesota winter dips into the "It's f***ing cold out here" range for the first time this season, the great British naturalist Edward Adrian Wilson comes to mind. Wilson travelled on two Antarctic expeditions at a time when a talented artist could capture the mysterious Antarctic better than expensive and bulky photographic equipment. A highly skilled and mostly self-taught naturalist, Wilson brought life to drawings of polar animals, which prior to Wilson had been drawn from stuffed samples. Drawing from life was particularly challenging in the deep south:

"[Wilson] walked to the top of Crater Hill with Shackleton almost daily to read the temperatures at the outlying meteorological station. It was during such walks that he sketched, under extremely difficult conditions, some of the phenomena of an Antarctic winter. Able to work in pencil for only a few minutes at a time, he would then warm his hands in his armpits until the pain of their re-warming had passed, then continue to sketch."

On his second trip to Antarctica, Wilson was hand-picked by Scott to travel to the South Pole. The trip to the pole was successful, although the Brits were beaten to the pole by the Norwegians. Sadly, on the return trip the team of five (including the Captain Oates) perished under unseasonable frigid conditions. Wilson was a naturalist to the end, however, and his notebooks, sketches, and collected specimens enriched the world of art as well as science.

Fans of Bone Sharps will enjoy reading Wilson's biography, as the pre-Antarctic Wilson reads like a Cope/Knight hybrid. Like Cope, Wilson grew up keeping a detailed naturalist notebook, kept a studio littered with live and dead animals, and eventually died in the field. Like Knight, Wilson studied under taxidermists, spending much of his time in zoos. Indeed, Wilson's last great achievement was a sub-zero trek to collect Emperor Penguin eggs, which were thought to provide a link between dinosaurs and birds.


Matt Schuster said...

Between Bone Sharps, Armitage Shanks and now this guy I half expect you to disappear on a freighter in the middle of the night. With only your sketchbook and menacing squint for company you head to "Sketch the last of the Kraken!" or die trying.

Shad said...

Matt, WE ALL expect Kevin to disappear on a freighter in the middle of the night. We're hoping that between episode "The OC" and the convenience of Burger King that there is enough here to keep him away from the arctic.

Matt Schuster said...

We're just lucky we're not a port town.

Max Konrardy said...

I seem to recall that there was also a period where Tim was convinced that after college, posessing nothing but a degree in comics and a change of pants, he would set off to begin a new life in Ireland. Not sure what the status on that is now, but I'm sure that when Kevin vanishes, he will leave a note for us to romantically ponder over for years. When Tim vanishes, I'm not sure we'd even get that.

Shad said...

Max, don't remind people of their dreams. They might quit.

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