Friday, May 13, 2016

A Marine Biology Professor who loved Curves


The King Penguin series of books, published between 1939 and 1959, covered a very wide range of topics. This is one of my favourites because it seems to have been written by someone who was untroubled by the boundaries between the arts and science.

































Seashore Life and Pattern was written by T.A. Stephenson, Professor of Zoology at the University of Wales, and published in 1944. 

































Thomas Alan Stephenson was born in 1898 and died in 1961. He was a talented zoologist and artist and was a leading authority on sea anemones, writing and illustrating the definitive texts on them. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951. You can read more about his career in science here.

He was clearly someone who appreciated nature for its aesthetic qualities, as well having the enquiring mind of a scientific researcher. He was fascinated by the relationship between beauty in nature and beauty in art. 


In his own words, in his introduction " ..... the author of the volume has been painting seashore and other subjects for thirty-five years, and is as much interested in marine life from a decorative point of view as from a zoological."




































Stephenson produced all the illustrations for the book - monochrome in the text ....





































 ... and colour plates at the end. He also designed the book cover.




"It is perhaps a pity, " he wrote in his introduction, "that artists and scientific workers are, naturally enough, usually afraid to venture a single inch beyond the boundaries of one another's territory. They have some fields of common interest; and sooner of later these must be explored by both sides....."

Stephenson's book has one of the most unusual and charming dedications that I have ever some across, and perhaps encapsulates that 'common interest'. Whenever scientists write dedications to those who have inspired them the result is usually interminably tedious and dull but here the author simply chose to illustrate his sources of inspiration, in the shape of the elegant curves of his wife and of a fast car. 

You don't see dedications like that in scientific publications these days, sadly.


3 comments:

  1. I must look for some of his work. It's inspirational, beautiful and mathematical I suspect he must have studied pure geometry. He would have loved the left hand threaded snail you found the other day.

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  2. Thanks for posting this. As an amateur naturalist and dabbling artist I was very taken with the book. So much so that I've just managed to get my hands on a copy, and it's an absolute gem.

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