Mapping the Marvellous

Itineraries of curious objects and collections.

Tracking Polar Bears


Michael Collier and polar bear in northeastern Alaska

This fantastic photo was sent to me by Mapping the Marvellous reader Paul Bindel, who works for the Grand Canyon Trust, an environmental non-profit organisation based in Flagstaff, Arizona.

It shows Michael Collier, who, according to Paul, “is a real renaissance man and curious beyond belief. He’s a physician, photographer, geologist, accomplished author and pilot. He has published several books on photography from the air and interpreting geology from the air. In this case Michael was photographing up in ANWR and got invited along on a USFWS or State Wildlife polar bear tagging operation. He is working on a book about climate change in Alaska called The Melting Edge.”

Looking at the image, I was struck by my immediate need to invent a story around it – the events leading up to the shot, assumptions about Michael’s relationship with the bear, what happened next. We could talk about human-animal relationships, climate change, scientific research. But maybe what matters most, ultimately, is that we are all animals in a shared environment?

Sophie Calle’s Collection: “Death, I guess.”

Artist Sophie Calle in her studio outside Paris, surrounded by taxidermied animals. Photograph by Alastair Miller in The Independent, Radar, 10.11.2012.

From In the Studio by Karen Wright:

Around us is a menagerie of stuffed animals. Calle tells me they represent people she knows, living and dead. A lion wearing a crown, she says, represents her father; a truncated giraffe, her mother. “She is the giraffe. She is dead. She looks at me with sadness and irony.”

On one wall are works Calle has exchanged with other artists, including Cindy Sherman and Robert Gober. Dramatic eyelashes turn out to be by English artist Lisa Milroy. A series of small coffins, made in China, are for burying pet crickets, Calle tells me.

Why does she collect these macabre items? She shrugs. “I don’t know. Death, I guess.”

Coral Décor

Bathroom in designer S.R. Gambrel’s holiday home, wallpapered with pages from Albertus Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

Sarah Boardman’s natural curiosities library

Glass bell jar

Bookshelf stocked with ‘unnatural’ treasures posing as the real thing

Red precious coral

Cabinet in Hollister and Porter Hovey’s apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Coral-topped bookshelf in Katie Armour’s apartment

Tony Duquette’s design of Dodie Rosenkran’s Palazzo in Venice

Faux coral door handle

Coral wall hanging, imprinted with an original illustration by eighteenth-century naturalist John Ellis

Coral branch in textile designer Carolina Irving’s home

Seashell Nostalgia II

Glass and seashell souvenir of the Empress of Ireland, 1906-14 (Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool).

“Nothing looks as dead as a seashell in suburbia…”

James Hamilton-Paterson, The Great Deep: The Sea and its Thresholds, New York: Random House, 1992, p. 118.

Seashell Nostalgia I

“…la nostalgie pour le goût du cabinet, du mélange d’artificialia et de naturalia, au moment même de l’épanouissement du musée…”

Alexandre Isidore Leroy de Barde, Choix de coquillages, c. 1810 (Louvre, Paris).

“…cette récupération par l’imaginaire artistique de l’univers de la curiosité se transforma au début du XIXe siècle en une forme de mélancolie postrévolutionnaire pour une société d’Ancien Régime qui n’existait plus. Sous cet angle, il est intéressant de méditer aussi le tout premier daguerréotype qui représentait – en ligne direct avec le dessin de Leroy de Barde – des coquillages sur des étagères.”

Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, Coquillages, 1839, daguerréotype (Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris, inv. 8745-2).

Quoted from Anne Lafont, 1740, Un Abrégé du monde: savoirs et collections autour de Dezallier d’Argenville, exh. cat., Paris: INHA, 2012, pp. 18/21.

Having a Coke with You by Frank O’Hara

Having a Coke with You

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles

and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them

I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it

by Frank O’Hara

Watch Frank O’Hara read the poem here.

Dream Kitsch

Colette (1873-1954) surrounded by her paperweight collection. Other famous paperweight collectors include Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Empress Eugénie, Jeanne Lanvin and Eva Perón.

(Image from Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: On the Kitsch Experience, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002, p. 61.)

Let’s get botanising!

Anybody interested in exploring the relationships between botany and sculpture? Please check out the call for papers for a conference I’m co-organising with Dr Edward Juler at the Henry Moore Institute next autumn:

Branching Out: Botany and the Sculptural Object

Deadline for submissions is the 2nd of April.

Also, a belated Happy New Year to all readers, visitors, and friends of the marvellous!


Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this new book by Mark Dion – ‘part exhibition catalogue, part scientific log book, and an archaeology of our fascination with the sea':

Mark Dion, Oceanomania: Souvenirs of Mysterious Seas from the Expedition to the Aquarium (Mack, 2011).

See here, here and here for more info on the exhibition the book accompanied (still heart-broken I missed it).

Oh, and I also can’t wait for Christmas break to begin. Bring it on.


Harold N. Fisk, Map of ancient courses of the Mississippi river (Mississippi River Meander Belt), 1944.

The different courses of the river, as they have changed over time, are blended into one single image, forming this fantastic swirl of meandering loops and lines. I first came across this map here (short German-language exploration of the image as process).


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