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Monday, February 15, 2010

"Snowflake" Bentley's fleeting beauty

Every snowflake has an infinite beauty, which is enhanced by knowledge that the investigator will, in all probability, never find another exactly like it.

Last week saw a unique weather event---snow in 49 of the 50 U.S. states.  It seems an appropriate moment to honor the romantic Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley (1866-1931), whose picture, and pictures, hung in my childhood home.  At age 15, Bentley was given a microscope and began looking at snowflakes.  By age 19, he had developed the techniques that allowed him to photograph individual snow crystals.

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind."








Over his lifetime, Bentley photographed 5,381 crystals, and no two are alike.  In 1931, his book Snow Crystals, containing more than 2400 snow crystal images, was published.  As kids, we would pore over this book trying to choose our favorite snowflakes and confirm for ourselves that no two were alike.

Ironically, Bentley died from pneumonia contracted during a walk in a blizzard.   Last week ten of his original photographs were put up for sale by the Carl Hammer Gallery at the American Antiques Show in NYC.  They cost $4800 each.  The photos above were all taken from the gallery website.