This is Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. She died on September 1, 1914 in the Cincinnati Zoo. Shortly thereafter, her body was packed in ice and sent by railroad to Washington, DC, to become a part of the National Museum of Natural History’s collection as a lasting legacy of the harm that can be done to the natural world by humans. Just decades prior, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. The disappearance of the species helped ignite the modern conservation movement.

For the Centennial of her death, Martha was recently brought out for display and is currently on view in the exhibition Once There Were Billions, Vanished Birds of North America. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Libraries in partnership with the National Museum of Natural History and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the exhibition tells the story of the last Passenger Pigeon, a member of a species that once numbered in the billions, along with the disappearance of the Great Auk, Carolina Parakeet, and Heath Hen. These extinctions reveal the fragile connections between species and their environment. 

The Smithsonian Libraries, National Museum of Natural History, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library will be hosting a Twitter Chat on September 2, 2014 from 2-3 pm Eastern Time. This is your chance to ask questions about the Passenger Pigeon, extinction, and biodiversity literature.

Follow @SILibraries, @NMNH, and @BioDivLibrary and use the hashtag #Martha100 to tweet your questions.


Portals from Stave Churches in Norway. These photos were taken at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. I believe the typical designs (the curling lines of wood) are the branches of Yggdrasil, as syncretism was the norm during this time as Christians began the conversion of the Pagans and so Norse myth was often depicted in Stave Churches. These portals would have been on each door of the church (often there were three to four). 


For week three of my Koons-O-Rama, here’s Jeff’s Hennessy, The Civilized Way to Lay Down the Law, made in 1986 and yet another gem in his Whitney retrospective. It’s a straight re-presentation of an eighties liquor ad, although printed on canvas to become fine art. It establishes Koons as one of our most perceptive painters of modern life, such as Baudelaire would have admired. Forget feeding that life through an artist’s eye; for this piece, Koons saw that the world was strange enough to be shown as-is.

The insane overkill of the ad’s semiotics is something to behold. The young, Barbie-nosed black woman is inviting her studious black husband to bed – why, he’s been working until quarter-past-two in the morning (as the clock’s hands tell us) while his little lady has awaited his favors  (note the dent in her pillow). Finally, throwing on (barely) her man’s classy Oxford-cloth shirt, she’s decided to get help from Hennessy. She’s come hunting for lion (note the statuette on his desk) and has no truck for law books (the fat old volumes and legal pad in front of him). Just because he got to college on that baseball scholarship of his (his prize ball sits on a shelf), that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to life except schooling. Sure, we’re still in an old apartment in Harlem (the radiator is old-style; above it, the window faces south, with careful cutouts of the Chrysler Building and Empire State placed in the far distance). But Hey, Baby, we can drink up, have sex and still end up in a condo downtown. This Hennessy sure is the World’s Most Civilized Spirit, ‘cause it can even civilize us.

It’s not so hard to spot the ad’s racial cliches once Koons has focused his art on them. What’s impressive is that he spotted them out in the world and realized they deserved art’s attention. So much for this artist as politics-free. (Collection of David and Monica Zwirner; © Jeff Koons)

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Later this month, come and see a survey of the long, prolific career of one of the twentieth century’s most creative draftsmen in our new exhibition “Full Circle: Works on Paper by Richard Pousette-Dart.”

Garnet Realm,” 1941–43, by Richard Pousette-Dart (© 2014 Estate of Richard Pousette Dart/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

Smoky Quartz

Frederick County

Acquired by Fred Parker with the Maryland Suite ex-Philadelphia Academy of Sciences Collection. Apparently collected before the Civil War. The name of the original owner has disintigrated from the label. In the mid 1800’s mineral labels were not as specific regarding locality as they are today. Thus “Frederick County” is the locality.


More Art Monday: Labor Day. Working hard or hardly working?

The Curse of Man’s Work,” c. 1780 (edition c. 1860), by Christian von Mechel (after Hans Holbein the Younger)

Seated Figure,” modeled early 1890s, cast before 1926, by Auguste Rodin

Piece Work,” 1953–56, by William Gropper

The Large Bathers,” 1884–87, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir 

Whiteface Cattle, Texas,” 1935, by Howard Norton Cook

The Land of Cockaigne,” after 1570, attributed to Pieter van der Heyden (after a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder)


Archaeological Museum of Eretria:

Terracotta figurine of a centaur (950-900 B.C), from the cemetery at Leukanti.

This is the earliest known representation of the mythical creature. It was found broken in two pieces with each individual piece at a different tomb, an indication that it was shared between two owners.

There is some discussion if the symbols painted on horse figures were also painted on actual horses. To me it also seems as if he is wearing a harness of some sort.