Sunday, November 29, 2009

Translation of Henri's Letters

Henri's letters home have at long last been translated into English, a critical step that leads me closer to publication. The next step will be the translation of Henri's journal that chronicles his day-to-day voyage across Peru.

His letters were written to his family from Boston, New York, St. Louis, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Havana, Mexico City, Panama, Lima & Moyobamba. I want to thank my partner in this effort Mr. Hervé Boblet, a very gifted translator, and like me, someone who has enjoyed rediscovering a voyage taken over 150 years ago.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pencil Sketches

In an amazing stoke of luck, I found five additional sketches from Henri's trip today mixed in with the artwork of my great aunt. I hope their discovery bodes well for the retrieval of the lost album of 135 sepia drawings I am still actively looking for.

Four of the drawings are from Mexico and one I believe is from Peru:

Church near Jalapa, Mexico, 1853

Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1853. Cortes' castle can be seen in the distance.

Cuernavaca sketch detail of mother talking to her child.

Miacatlán, Mexico, 1853

Miacatlán sketch detail.

Xochicalco, Mexico, 1853

Peru, 1853

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Lost Album

One of Henri's sepia drawings – Tacubaya, Mexico, 1853

Throughout Henri de Büren's correspondence and journal from his 1852-53 Voyage Across the Americas, he speaks frequently about his artwork. To date I have found only five drawings. Yesterday I found proof that there were many, many more.

Around 1920 or so two of his daughters who were living in St. Blaise near Neuchâtel put up for a sale an album of 135! original drawings that Henri made on his trip. The 135 drawings were named by subject and place. His drawings included:

– Louis Agassiz's home in Cambridge, MA
– Numerous drawings of Cuba and the American South
– Cacahuampila Grotto
– Popocatepetl Crater
– Cholula Pyramid
– Port of Acapulco
– Numerous drawings of Lima
– Indian settlements in Peru

The album's artistic and historical worth was also verified at the time in a letter to the sisters by Maurice Jeanneret, President of the Neuchâtel Historical and Archaeological Society and Adjunct Conservator of the Neuchâtel Fine Art Museum. I was told by a family member that the album was sold in the 1920s to man in New York, but I have no way to verify this.

Carbon Copy of Typed Pages which Describe Each Drawing

I am going to do my best Indiana Jones impression and start my search for the Lost Album. It is not only of great importance to my project, but to me personally. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 13, 2009

1860s Lithographs

In some old family books I came across a children's world book and atlas from 1866. At first it seemed fairly ordinary for the time until I came to the breathtaking lithographs at the back. I have made reproductions for the plates that concern Latin America.

I can see very Henri with the help of these illustrations regaling his young children with fanciful stories of his exploits through the Americas on the 1850s.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bern Botanical Institute

On my recent trip to Switzerland I visited the Bern Botanical Institute. I knew that Henri helped his father Albert de Büren give his entire collection of dried plants to the city of Bern in 1872. After doing some research I was told that they would be located at the BBI.

I was taken down through the vast botanical gardens to a damp storage room near the river. Once the door was opened I found rows and rows of dusty papers and herbaria from floor to ceiling from various ages all wrapped in plastic. I was told that Albert's samples might be in there, but they had no idea of knowing for sure, but I was welcome to take a look.

I proceeded to get up on a desk in the room and look for any clues that could lead me to Albert's samples. I looked for a good hour or so, with no luck. I decided to at least look at some samples to make my trip worthwhile. The photos below are taken from those samples.

I was still keen to find something, so I kept looking deeper along one of the shelves. I found another old folder and upon opening it, I knew my search had ended, not because I found what I was looking for but felt that I should stop looking. I had stumbled upon a folder entire devoted to old mushrooms. I thought that 100 year old fungal dust might not agree with my pulmonary system, so I decided to pack up.

Back within the Institute itself I did find these examples of jarred plant samples that were too beautiful not to photograph and speak of research from long ago.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Mundurucú Feathered Ensemble

While in Neuchâtel last week I met with the Ethnological Museum. I knew that Henri had donated the Mundurucú headdress to the museum (cited in a previous post) that he aquired in Brazil, but I was unaware that it was part of a full ensemble, with anklets, bracelets and long body strands. A representative of the museum was nice enough to take me into the storage unit and show me the entire ensemble. It was amazing. After 150 years, the feathers were still vibrant, and these highly delicate pieces were still in good condition.

Full ensemble on display. © Musée d'ethnographie de Neuchâtel

Body strands in detail.

Headdress in detail.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tufted Capuchin

While at the Neuchâtel Natural History Museum this past week discussing my project, the Director found in their records that Henri had made a donation of an Amazon monkey. After searching through their amazing collection of specimens we found a Cebus Apella or a Tufted Capuchin that Henri brought back in 1853.

Original tag for the specimen with Henri's name clearly visible.

Henri's Tufted Capuchin from 1853.

Photo reference
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