Published by Harcourt, Inc. 2007. 282 pages. Includes both black/white and color plate reproductions of Merian’s artwork.
This book addresses several of my favorite subjects – nature, science, history and art – and the role of women in all of the above! Add to this that the writing is clear and lively, and it’s an all around winner.
Maria Sibylla Merian lived from 1647 to 1717. She was born into a family of printers and artists, and had unusual opportunities for education and training in art. She was a type of child still recognizable today, one totally fascinated by insects! (I meet many such children in various settings and at various ages. How I wish they could all be thoroughly “indulged” in their passion!)
If you investigate Merian on line, you will find many more of her pictures than pictures of her. Her artwork is stunning – colorful, detailed, lifelike and comprehensive, often including all the life stages of a moth or butterfly, plus associated plants.
One unusual feature of her life story is that Merian spent six years living in the “cloistered” religious community of a radical Protestant sect called Labadists or pietists. Merian’s half brother joined the group and a community was established near his remote country manor in Friesland (Netherlands). Merian continued her scientific study and artwork during her time with the pietists.
Returning to the secular world, Merian further established herself as an artist and scientist, then (at age 52) left Europe for an extended stay in Surinam, to continue her studies. After two years, malaria forced her to return home.
I don’t know whether Kim Todd considers herself a biographer or a nature writer. This book combines the two seamlessly, and I found it intelligent and entertaining.
This is a review not just of this book but also of a lecture by the author presented on January 27, 2014. It wasn’t the first time I had the pleasure of hearing Douglas Tallamy speak.
To those frightened by what’s happening to our planet and discouraged about the limited impact an individual can have, Tallamy offers practical advice and hope in an important arena, the preservation of wildlife through careful landscaping decisions. Many of us own a yard , and even a small patch of ground can provide host plants that attract butterflies and moths. These lay eggs which hatch into caterpillars that are a vital food supply for breeding songbirds.
Interesting questions came up after Tallamy had showed his gorgeous slides of butterflies and birds.
How far will insects travel to get to a desirable host plant? Pretty far! Tallamy cited an enclosed (urban?) courtyard only 15 by 15 feet that developed healthy insect populations a few years after native plants were established. He has found a few surprises in his own back yard in Delaware, which is one of his primary sites for scientific study.
Is it helpful to feed birds? Yes, but feeding should be restricted to winter unless you can keep everything very clean. Summer feeding can, unfortunately, spread disease.
Tallamy issued some stern warnings. Sadly, the monarch butterfly population “is crashing”. People need to know “how close to the edge we are” in terms of species extinctions of insects and birds.
BUT landscaping with native species can make a BIG difference! Bring on the Virginia creeper and plant oak trees and wild cherries. Reduce your lawn and plant flowers, shrubs and trees. It will look beautiful and be less work.
I’ve moved towards the encouragement of native species in my yard. I carefully protect holly trees and whack out autumn olive. I planted birch trees last year.
One more thing – Bringing Nature Home contains beautiful photographs. They make lovely browsing for any idle moment.