Although he isn’t strictly Christmas, I bet Wilson A. Bentley (1865-1931), the first man to ever photograph a snowflake, would have loved the wet snowfall yesterday. The snowflakes were huge, ideal conditions for studying the hexagonal ice crystals.
I stumbled across a short documentary about him when I was looking for more paper snowflake crafts. His obsession with capturing the snowflakes on his Vermont farm required a unique rig of a microscope attached to one of the first cameras. This type of photography is called “photomicrography.” In his lifetime, he took photos of over 5,000 snowflakes, one at a time–in a place where there snowfall averages 120 inches a year, I guess he really loved snow. As the flakes fell from the sky, he caught them on a black velvet-covered tray. Then, he pushed them into position with a chicken feather so he could photograph each one.
(I’ve got plenty of chicken feathers but none of the obsessive patience it must have taken to do this!)
The Jericho Historical Society was established in 1972 to preserve Bentley’s life and legacy, and this year they celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wilson Bentley’s birthday. In conjunction with the historical society, there are authorized snowflake gifts for purchase.
One way to learn more about this remarkable man is to read about him.In 1998, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Mary Azarian published Snowflake Bentley, based on the true story of his life. Azarian won the 1999 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations.
I would like to buy a copy of this book for my grandson. We love “spiriments,” and I can imagine he and I would be out in the cold trying to gather snowflakes to photograph. The photos would make beautiful Christmas cards or winter thank you notes. Watch out. . .I’m cooking up a great idea. . . and from the weather report, it looks like we might have our photo opportunity this weekend. Fingers crossed!