Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Nature and Its Applications - an illustration index

With the wealth of information and data available through the World Wide Web, often the dilemma for the researcher is navigating this over-whelming quantity of information and data. The job of the librarian is to understand how to both evaluate and supplement this wealth of information.

A well-made and well-conceived reference book can often open up an unknown world of possibilities. These books that we still depend upon are the product of the work of creative and assiduous librarians of years past.

Jessie Croft Ellis is the creator of four such references in the Art, Music and Recreation Center.  Ms. Ellis received a Bachelors degree from the University of Michigan in 1923.  She conducted her original work at the School of Architecture but later became a librarian in the school of Business Administration at the University.

There are many ways to search for images -- a Google image search, an online database like the New York Public Library Picture Collection or specialized files organized by subject like the Etching and Engraving Picture file that we maintain at the San Francisco Public Library.  The indexes created by Jessie Croft Ellis are also organized by subject and provide references to images in books and periodicals.

Her first work was the Nature Index of 1930 which was expanded, in 1949, to become Nature and Its Applications.  The former indexed 5,000 references and the latter indexed 200,000 references. The earlier work retains value because it is not as vast and because a larger percentage of the images are in the public domain.

These two indexes are dominated by plants and animals.  Nature-scapes like "field," "forest," "garden," "pond" or "waterfall" are also included.  There are broader categories like "feather," "dog," "wildcat," "rocks," or "seed."  But most of the categories are very specific.

Using redwood as an example there are categories for Redwood Forest, Redwood Forest Road, Redwood Tree, Redwood Tree Cone, Redwood Tree Roots, Redwood Tree Twig and Redwood Wood.

The majority of images are from popular magazines from the time like American Forestry, American Museum Journal (the predecessor of Natural History), Better Homes and Gardens, California Arts and Architecture, Country Life, House Beautiful, National Geographic Magazine, Nature Magazine, etc... Selected books, dictionaries and encyclopedias are also indexed.

One entry under Redwood Tree is the citation "Count life 35:67 Mar '19" refering to Country Life vol. 35 (March 1919), 67.  The image above (located in Google books using Ms. Ellis's index) accompanies an advertisement for the California Redwood Association.  This association existed not to conserve the redwood, but to exploit it.  They extol the conifer's "soft ... (yet firm) texture [that] makes it especially suitable for sand-blasting, hand-carving and other unusual treatments."

It's nonetheless a striking image with the primitive truck bathed in sunbeams showing the scale of the forest's grandeur and wonder.

The citation for the above image is "Fortune 3: 3 My '31" meaning Fortune vol. 3 (May 1931), 3. It is also part of an advertisement, this one by "Californians Inc." promoting our City of San Francisco "where life is better."
San Francisco is the center of the world's most varied outdoorland [sic]... Almost in an instant, whenever you choose, the stir of the city may be left behind as you drive along the ocean or through fragrant valleys.
This artistic photograph truly gives a sense of the redwood's scale.  The presence of the lone car projects a dual sense of escape and accessibility (fundamentals of advertising to this day).  But even without knowing the wider context, the photograph works on its own as a work of art.

By consulting Nature and Its Applications, the user can get more than just a beautiful or striking image but also an understanding of how nature was viewed -- as an area of study, wonder, beauty or exploitation.

Here is a bibliography of Jessie Croft Ellis' works at the Library.

General Index to Illustrations; 22000 Selected References In all fields Exclusive of Nature, compiled by Jessie Croft Ellis (The F.W. Faxon Company, 1931).

Index to Illustrations, by Jessie Croft Ellis (Boston : F. W. Faxon Co., 1966).

Nature and Its Applications; Over 200,000 Selected References to Nature Forms and Illustrations of Nature as Used in Every Way, compiled by Jessie Croft Ellis (F.W. Faxon Co., 1949).

Nature Index; 5000 Selected References to Nature Forms and Illustrations of Nature in Design, Painting and Sculpture, compiled by Jessie Croft Ellis (The F.W. Faxon Company, 1930).

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