Tag Archives: Maria Sibylla Merian

Writing Poems about Nature

In my posts this summer, I’ve introduced or reminded you of several naturalists:

 

Maria Sibylla Merian and Titian Ramsay Peale II whose rediscovered nature illustrations have perhaps inspired you to go exploring with a sketchbook in hand.

Beatrix Potter, whose children’s books are familiar to us all, but perhaps not her lifelong interest in nature, and who may be inspiring you to write stories about the creatures you’ve seen and studied this summer.

All three of these naturalists studied plants and creatures right where they lived.

And so did poet, Aileen Fisher (1906-2002),  who wrote books of poetry for children, mostly about the nature all around us. Fisher grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, received a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and received many awards for her poetry. Eventually she settled in Colorado.

You can find some of her books at libraries, and lots of them are available from second hand suppliers through Amazon. Fisher’s poetry is in many anthologies, and some of her books have been re-released in recent years with new illustrations.

Here’s a poem by Aileen Fisher from her book, Out in the Dark and Daylight, published in 1980.

20180614_095016Bumblebee

I sat as still

as a playing-dead possum

and watched a bee

on a clover blossom,

Watched him poking

his long thin tongue

into the blossoms

pink and young,

Heard him bumble

and sort of sneeze

as pollen stuck

to his two hind knees.

I held my breath

as the bee buzzed over,

and hoped I didn’t

look sweet as clover.

Can you find two comparisons in the poem?

Yes, “still as a playing-dead possum” and “sweet as clover.” Comparisons help to create pictures for the reader. A comparison of two things using the words like or as is called a simile.

In the same poem are two examples of another type of figurative language. These are words that imitate sounds, such as clunk, thud, boom, cheep. Even the name of this type of word sounds wonderful!  Onomatopoeia.

What 2 words does Fisher use in this poem that imitate sounds? Yes, bumble and buzzed.

Poetry also often rhymes and has some rhythm. Aileen Fisher is a master at both of these. Here’s another poem from the same book.

IM000034Cricket Song

Did you ever see

a cricket’s ears

stick out upon his head?

You certainly didn’t

since they grow

below his knees instead.

It’s good he doesn’t

put stockings on

and cover his knees up tight,

or how could he hear

the songs he sings

night after autumn night?

 

Now it’s your turn to write some nature poems.

Choose a plant, a place, weather, or a creature or two that you’d like to write about

  1. Brainstorm all the ways you’d describe your subject. Include how they look—furry, scaly, feathery, colors, etc. How they move (even plants move as they follow the sun or blow in the wind). Where they live and what that looks like. What they eat and how they catch it. What is dangerous for them. Anything you learned from your research. Remember to think of sounds and smells, and how something might feel
  2. Think of how you could turn some of these descriptive words into rhymes, similes, or onomatopoeia.
  3. If you’re familiar with other forms of figurative language, such as alliteration, metaphors, or personification, you can try those, too, but it’s probably best to stick to just a few types of figurative language in any one poem. And your poem doesn’t even have to rhyme. Lots don’t!
  4. Here are some of my brainstorming thoughts organized into a couple poems. These two poetry forms might help you organize your thoughts also.

Concrete Poem

A concrete poem follows the shape of your subject or an action. Draw your shape on one piece of paper and darken it so it can be seen through another paper. Lay the second sheet over the drawing, and write your poem along those lines. When you remove the paper, you’ll have a poem in the shape you originally drew. Mine follows Molly’s lying-down shape!

 

20180824_145902

Name Poem

In a “name” poem, each letter of your subject, such as sunflower, is used as the beginning letter of each line of your poem.  Each line tells something about the subject.

20180821_100217         SUNFLOWER

Sunshine on my shelf

blUe delft dishes shining

Now filling every field

Fuzzy brown centers

Lining dusty roadsides

gOlden pollen grains raining down20180821_092645

Windblown but still blazing

Everyone snapping photos

biRds feasting on sunflower seeds

SUNFLOWER

I bet you can do a lot better, and I hope you’ll send in a poem so I can post some on this blog.

 

Here’s Molly getting up close with a painted butterfly last autumn. That butterfly didn’t stick around long!!20171003_132816

 

You don’t want to miss the next Picture Lady post, which will help connect our summer nature studies with some thoughts from God’s Word. So be sure to sign up.

For those of you who follow the Picture Lady on Facebook, Facebook is changing many policies, and will no longer automatically post from WordPress. I will continue to do it manually, but you might want to just find and start following Molly and me on WordPress. kathythepicturelady@wordpress.com

 

 

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Artists/Naturalists Maria Sibylla Merian and Titian Ramsay Peale II

Last fall Painted Lady butterflies invaded Colorado.

Their orange and black wings flickered on every bush, and they streamed across roadways in and around traffic. There were so many, that they even showed up in a 7-mile wide blob on the Denver weather radar. No one had ever seen so many in Colorado, and everyone took lots of photos.

Before photography, artists were the ones who helped people learn about the natural world. Some artists/naturalists, such as John James Audubon, are famous (an earlier Picture Lady post tells about his life and work) but most weren’t.

However in the 1700s and 1800s these mostly amateur artists/naturalists were vital parts of expeditions to explore the American West, the Pacific islands, Africa, and South America. Their careful drawings and paintings of birds and plants, mammals and insects astonished people and advanced scientific knowledge of the beauty and variety of God’s creation.

The Artists/Naturalists 

Two artists/naturalists who were especially interested in insects and butterflies have been rediscovered.

Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria_Sibylla_Merian_portrait_colors

Maria Sibylla Merian public domain, wikimedia

(1647-1717), a German woman who lived in the Netherlands, studied the insects of her own region and later traveled with just her daughter for company, to Suriname, then a Dutch colony in South America. For two years she traveled on foot and by canoe through lush tropical rainforests to study insects there, telling about ants that formed rafts to float across water and tarantulas that ate humming birds. The folks at home were fascinated!

 

 

Titian_Ramsay_Peale

Titian Ramsay Peale II public domain, wikimedia

Titian Ramsay Peale II (1799-1885) son of the American artist and naturalist, Charles Willson Peale, (an earlier Picture Lady post tells about the amazing Peale family of artists), was born in Independence Hall where his father’s museum occupied the 2nd floor. He watched while his father prepared and catalogued specimens brought back by Lewis and Clark and helped put together a mastodon skeleton his father helped dig up in New York . Later, as an artist/naturalist, himself, Titian accompanied an expedition to the Rockies.

Titian_Ramsey_Peale's_painting_'Kilauea',_1842

Kilauea, Titian Ramsay Peale II public domain, wikimedia

On a two year expedition around the Pacific islands, Titian painted an eruption of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

 

Though separated by a century and an ocean, Maria and Titian had a lot in common:

  • They were trained in art by their fathers and other family members
  • They were fascinated by butterflies and moths
  • They raised butterflies and moths in order to observe and draw their life cycles
  • Their work was recognized and appreciated early in their lives, but forgotten later
  • They went on long exploring expeditions
  • Maria’s Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname has been republished, and Titian’s unpublished manuscript Butterflies of North America, which was given to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC after his death and stayed in its rare book collection, has now been published for the first time.
  • One difference: some of Titian’s butterfly specimens are still displayed in double-sided glass boxes he designed at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences

Their Art

Maria and Titian used their observational skills to portray butterflies accurately. They painted butterflies in their own habitats, with host plants and their full life cycle from egg to caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly. Maria was one of the first to do this, and you can see her influence on Audubon and Peale

Maria’s and Titian’s artistic skills enabled them to paint the butterflies in vibrant color and pleasing compositions. Not for them dull rows of specimens. Because of the purpose of showing the butterflies accurately, there is little depth in these illustrations, but the artists have made good use of their up-close space, not crowding things together.

The illustrations are full of different types of line and shape, color and texture, and pattern—all provided by the Lord! Plants are up close and the butterflies look like they could fly off the page.

Merian_Metamorphosis_LX

Maria Sibylla Merian’s work public domain, wikimedia

Maria’s illustrations can be very dramatic, with half eaten fruits and leaves and ants battling spiders. She was definitely part of the Netherlandish vanitas painting tradition, (beautiful still lifes with partly-eaten food, insects, lizards, or other jarring elements to remind viewers of the shortness of life).

Titian’s butterflies are often arranged more lyrically—sometimes seeming to float up in lazy spirals

Automeris_io_Titian_Peale_1833

work by Titian Ramsay Peale II public domain, wikimedia

Books

Remember that it helps to understand art if you know its original purpose. So, although Maria’s and Titian’s work is in museums and private collections, most of it was made to be printed in books for many people to enjoy.

Here are some resources to see more of their beautiful illustrations.

Maria Sibylla Merian

Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, available on Amazon but expensive. Use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to see more of Maria’s illustrations.

Insects and Flowers: the Art of Maria Sibylla Merian by David Brafman, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008. Lots of up close illustrations through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd, Mariner Books, 2007, available on Amazon, and has “Look Inside” feature.

2 Children’s books about Maria

Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer by Sarah B. Pomeroy, Abrams, 2018, ages 8-12. A biography of Maria with lots of information about her times. I haven’t been able to read the whole book yet so can only say that the excerpts look interesting. One short section does make a point that Maria’s family is Protestant, but only attributes a good work ethic to that.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman, HMH Books, 2018, ages 10-12. I have a copy of this on reserve at the library, but it’s not available yet. Hopefully by my next post I can tell you more about it.

Titian Ramsay Peale II

20180619_150032

my own photo

The Butterflies of North America, Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript, Abrams, 2015, available at libraries, but you can see many of its illustrations through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. The book purposely looks old and the illustrations retain the look of a personal nature journal.

If you borrow it from a library, be sure to look at the section on caterpillars. Not many naturalists paid much attention to caterpillars, but Titian lavished much care on them.

2 Children’s Books about Charles Willson Peale. Titian’s father, Charles, fought in the Revolutionary War and painted many of America’s early leaders. He also started an art and natural science museum in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The whole family, including Titian, helped in the museum.

The Ingenious Mr. Peale: Painter, Patriot, and Man of Science by Janet Wilson, ages 11 and up. I have not read this.

The Joke’s on George, Michael O. Tunnell, George Washington was a friend of the Peales and visited their museum. In passing a trompe l’oeil painting of two of Charles’ sons, Washington bowed to them in greeting.

To view 2 videos by Khan  Academy about the museum and the painting, go to

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/british-colonies

(The Titian in the Staircase painting is an older brother who died. Titian Ramsay Peale II was named for this older brother.)

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I’m going to change up the order of the next posts about this art so you can right away enjoy some artist/naturalist activities over the summer. You don’t have to be a professional scientist to study and learn about the world in your own back yard.

Before the next post, try to find a small to medium size sketchbook that you can carry with you. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can decorate its cover.

Nature guides are helpful, too, and available at libraries.

In this series the last post will be the devotion—some thoughts for a summer of observing and learning about the small wonders of God’s creation.

 

Molly is ready to go exploring. Are you?

20180613_095717

(That isn’t a muzzle on Molly. It’s a gentle harness to keep her from pulling on our walks. She can still drink, bark, and even give kisses!)

Be sure to sign up for the next Picture Lady posts for some ideas about observing and drawing nature and suggestions for writing and reading about it.