The Smooth Feel of a Sea Shell

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Sir D’arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948) was an exceptionally erudite biologist, as comfortable with a mathematical equation as he was with the smooth feel of a chambered nautilus in his hands. Organic form was Thompson’s obsession. A few of the chapter headings from his classic work On Growth and Form will give you a feel for Thompson’s wide ranging mind: The Structure of the Cell, On Leaf Arrangement, Spiral Shells of the Foraminifera, The Shape of Eggs and Other Hollow Structures, The Shape of Horns with a note on Torsion.

The 150th Anniversary of D’arcy Thompson’s birth is being celebrated this year. For more on that, and the life and work of this singular scientist, be sure to visit the D’arcy at 150 website.

The French poet Paul Valery was equally captured by nature’s patterns. Valery’s Sea Shells (pictured below) meditates on questions of shape and form: the poetry and geometry of helices and spirals, the unexpected wonder of a mollusc and “the rhythmic distillation of his marvelous covering“.

Along with Paul Valery’s Sea Shells, the Land Library has a special nook for books such as these:

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Sea Shells by Paul Valery (with an introduction by Mary Oliver), The Self-Made Tapestry: Pattern Formation in Nature by Philip Ball, Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus, Cats’ Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People by Steven Vogel

along with this stunning volume from an scientist/artist who always found beauty in nature’s forms:

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Art Forms from the Ocean: The Radiolarian Atlas of 1862 by Ernst Haeckel

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