The Red Fox Population of the Sacramento Valley: Artifact of Manifest Destiny or Endemic Anomaly? Part III

Written by Alessandra J. Moyer, fourth year, Integrative Biology

Part III: Patwin

In the 1920s and 30s, when Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale in the MVZ were puzzling over the Sacramento Valley red foxes, there was no way to adequately determine the true origin of the unusual population.  But the unanswered question was not forgotten…

Recently, with molecular techniques unimaginable in Grinnell’s time, Dr. Benjamin Sacks and coworkers at UC Davis reexamined the story of the red fox.  They looked at museum specimens, including the MVZ holotype, as well as modern specimens for each of the native West Coast groups (Southern Cascades, Northern Cascades, Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevada), as well as the Sacramento Valley group, the San Joaquin Valley group, and a selection of Eurasian red foxes.  The San Joaquin Valley group was known to be nonnative, derived from Alaskan and Canadian stock brought to California for fur farming.  The scientists looked at sequences of DNA isolated from the specimens to determine which groups were most related to each other and to estimate the effective size of the populations.  What they discovered was that the Sacramento Valley population was most closely related to the native Sierra Nevada population (Vulpes vulpes necator), even though it is most geographically close to the exotic San Joaquin population.  They found no evidence to support the hypothesis that the Sacramento Valley population was derived from European stock that was transferred to California from the Midwest in the 19th century (“North American Montane” 1536).

The authors of the study felt that the Sacramento Valley population, though genetically closely related to the Sierra Nevada population, shows such substantial differences from the montane population in terms of ecology that it should be considered its own subspecies.  They proposed that the red fox of the Sacramento Valley be called Vulpes vulpes patwin.  “Patwin” is the term used to refer to several Native American tribes that formerly inhabited the Sacramento Valley.

The findings of this study are significant for conservation because V. v. patwin is now considered a separate, native subspecies with a population size small enough and fragile enough to warrant a designation of “California State Species of Special Concern.”  Its rural grassland habitat is also in jeopardy, as it continues to be converted to irrigated agricultural land (“Native Sac. Val. red fox” 2).  The native foxes’ preference for arid grasslands shows an important difference between the patwin subspecies and non-native red foxes in California.  Exotic foxes, which frequently do make their dens in wetlands, can be a threat to endangered ground-nesting birds.

Skull of Vulpes vulpes patwin (MVZ Mammal #33550) collected by Sam Lamme on November 7, 1923, from Colusa County, California.

Skull of Vulpes vulpes patwin (MVZ Mammal #33550) collected by Sam Lamme on November 7, 1923, from Colusa County, California.

Now that the Sacramento Valley population has been designated its own subspecies, the the skin and skull of the young male fox at the MVZ is officially a holotype.  His arrival at the museum back in 1923 prompted an investigation into his kind that has only just been concluded.  And, in fact, questions still remain.  In their report to the California Department of Fish and Game, Sacks, Wittmer, and Statham bring up the uneasy relationship between coyotes and red foxes.  Generally, the presence of coyotes discourages the presence of red foxes.  In recent times, the Sacramento Valley red foxes seem to have found some protection from coyotes by living in the vicinity of human-built structures and domestic dogs (“Native Sac. Val. red fox” 17).  The authors open the question of how, historically, this red fox population dealt with coyotes.  They suggest that while dogs associated with Native American groups may have provided some protection, this ecological dynamic may be a reason why the Sacramento Valley subspecies is larger on average than the Sierra Nevada subspecies.  As always, more studies are needed.

References:

Sacks, Benjamin N., et al. “North American montane red foxes: expansion, fragmentation, and the origin of the Sacramento Valley red fox.” Conservation Genetics 11.4 (2010): 1523-1539. Springer Netherlands. Web. 6 July 2014.

Sacks, Benjamin N., Heiko U. Wittmer, Mark J. Statham. The Native Sacramento Valley red fox. Report to the California Department of Fish and Game. 2010. Web. 6 July 2014. <http://foxsurvey.ucdavis.edu/documents/30May2010_FinalReport_ForDistribution.pdf&gt;

“Sacramento Valley Fox Survey.” UC Davis. U of CA, 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 6 July 2014.

Related Links:

You can see UC Davis’s Sacramento Valley Fox Survey page here, including details about Phase II of the survey, which is currently in progress: http://foxsurvey.ucdavis.edu/

 

 

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The Red Fox Population of the Sacramento Valley: Artifact of Manifest Destiny or Endemic Anomaly? Part II

Written by Alessandra J. Moyer, fourth year, Integrative Biology

Part II: A Wild West hypothesis

In November 1923, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology received a red fox specimen from the Sacramento Valley. This specimen represented a population that was previously unknown to the MVZ scientists and was greeted with deep curiosity, particularly by Joseph Grinnell and Joseph Dixon, who endeavored to learn more about the unique group of Vulpes vulpes.  Their obvious fascination with the Colusa County red foxes was probably due to the fact that the previously recognized native populations of red foxes on the West Coast were all alpine species, living in the mountains of the Cascade Range, the Sierra Nevadas, and the Rockies.  And yet here was an isolated population living in the arid plains of the Sacramento Valley!

“Tail of red fox,” November 7, 1923, photographed by Joseph Dixon, MVZ Image No. 4045.

“Tail of red fox,” November 7, 1923, photographed by Joseph Dixon, MVZ Image No. 4045.

Grinnell, Dixon, and Jean Linsdale wrote Fur-Bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status and Relations to Man in 1937, and the mysterious red foxes of the plains were still on their minds.  They had an idea about where the anomalous population might have come from, a hypothesis that was elaborated upon by Aryan I. Roest in his 1977 paper “Taxonomic Status of the Red Fox in California.”  Starting in colonial times, and according to Roest, continuing through the Civil War era, English immigrants and their descendents actively imported red foxes (Vulpes vulpes regalis) from Europe to the American colonies on the East Coast in order to continue the British tradition of hunting foxes for sport.  The introduced fox stock was brought along as settlers spread westward beyond the Mississippi.  In 1869, the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed, facilitating the transport of settlers from the Midwest who were drawn by the lingering prospect of gold as well as cheap and plentiful land in the West.  Roest speculates that this new form of transportation also encouraged settlers to bring sport-hunting foxes with them to their new homes in California. (Now of course, the idea of jodhpur- and boot-clad would-be aristocrats hunting foxes in the state where it is illegal to own a ferret seems absurd, but in fact it’s still a thing! See http://www.losaltoshounds.org/, if you really want to.)  From there, of course, the thought was that some number of these introduced foxes made their home in the Sacramento Valley, happily hunting and mating until such a substantial population had been established that they could be regularly hunted for fur.

Red fox distribution map from Fur-bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status, and Relations to Man (1937), Volume II, page 382, by Joseph Grinnell, Joseph Dixon, and Jean Linsdale.

Red fox distribution map from Fur-bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status, and Relations to Man (1937), Volume II, page 382, by Joseph Grinnell, Joseph Dixon, and Jean Linsdale.

The alternative explanation was that the population was native, separated at some point in the past from the indigenous montane population of the Sierra Nevadas.  Grinnell and friends felt that this explanation was unlikely and ended their discussion of the Sacramento Valley population as follows: “To sum up, then, there is a well-established population of red foxes at an unexpectedly low altitude, less than 350 ft. above sea level, in the upper Sacramento Valley.  These foxes have been there at least forty years; but whether they are thoroughly native or were introduced by the white man is not known.  The latter is the more likely surmise” (Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale 386).

At the time that Fur-bearing Mammals was published, scientific techniques that could shed light on the history of the Sacramento Valley population did not exist, and the origin of the ancestors of the MVZ holotype remained enigmatic.  Recently, DNA analyses have been able to once again take a stab at deciphering the origin of this enigmatic red fox.  The conclusions reached by the most recent study, and the resulting implications, will be discussed in the next post.

References

Grinnell, Joseph, Joseph Scattergood Dixon, Jean Myron Linsdale.  Fur-bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status, and Relations to Man. Vol. 2. Berkeley: U of California P, 1937. Print.

Roest, Aryan I. “Taxonomic Status of the Red Fox in California”. California Department of Fish and Wildlife Data Portal. Oct. 1977. Web. 18 May 2014.

Los Altos Hounds’ Website. Los Altos Hounds. Web. 19 May 2014.

Related Links:

The Arctos specimen record

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The Red Fox Population of the Sacramento Valley: Artifact of Manifest Destiny or Endemic Anomaly? Part I

Written by Alessandra J. Moyer, fourth year, Integrative Biology

Part I: The holotype

Holotype:

The single specimen (except in the case of a hapantotype,q.v.) designated or otherwise fixed as the name-bearing type of a nominal species or subspecies when the nominal taxon is established (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, glossary).

Vulpes vulpes patwin holotype (skin), MVZ mammal #33550.

Vulpes vulpes patwin holotype (skin), MVZ mammal #33550.

The pale red fox skin is soft and supple, beautiful enough to grace the shoulders of any prominent society lady in 1920s California.  In fact, his sibling did become a fashion accessory, but this little fox had a more unique fate.  He is a holotype in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley.  His skin and skull are kept with the museum’s other mammal holotypes, or specimens that were specifically used in the formal definition of a new taxonomic group.

This little guy was collected in 1923, but his subspecies didn’t get a name until 2009.  Why the wait?  Well, nothing about this fox’s story is simple.  His tale is recorded in a letter from Sam Lamme, a trapper who regularly sent bird specimens to the MVZ, to Joseph Grinnell, the first director of the MVZ.  Lamme begins, “Now about the Red Fox I will give you the dope on him,” and proceeds to say that the fox was born in the spring of 1922, on the irrigated plains of Colusa County, California.  He and his siblings belonged to a population of red foxes inhabiting the Sacramento plains, making their homes in abandoned ground squirrel holes (Grinnell, Dixon, and Linsdale 383).  Sadly for the fox family, the litter of nine pups was “dug out” by a Mr. John Gray, who kept a few as pets.  This seems to have not worked out as nicely as Gray had hoped, as the foxes soon “got killing the poultry.”  Gray apparently abandoned the idea of pet foxes and they came into the custody of a man named Buck Thomas, who sold two “dogs” (male foxes) to Lamme for five dollars, which Lamme evidently considered something of a steal.  Setting one aside to skin and tan as a stole for his wife, Lamme sent the other along to Grinnell at the MVZ.

Sam Lamme’s first letter to Joseph Grinnell regarding the fox specimen, dated 5 November, 1923.

Sam Lamme’s first letter to Joseph Grinnell regarding the fox specimen, dated 5 November, 1923.

The carcass was received in Berkeley on November 7th, 1923 and subsequently prepared by Joseph Dixon, who recorded the event in his notes.  He says approvingly, “This animal was very fat and in excellent condition.” Dixon also notes that the stomach contained duck feathers, of unknown species.  The scientists of the MVZ were quite excited to discover the presence of the Sacramento Valley population of red foxes, which, although known to the local inhabitants, were evidently a surprise to Grinnell.  He wrote several letters to Lamme after that, begging for more specimens, preferably older, and dispatched in such a way as to not inflict the kind of damage seen on the skull of the first fox (the bullet hole is rather prominent).  Dixon and Grinnell were anxious to study more specimens in order to determine what the normally montane species was doing in the plains of Northern California. They soon formulated an explanation for deviant population, a hypothesis that will be explained in a subsequent blog post.

References

The Code Online. London: International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, 2012. Web. July 22, 2014.

Grinnell, Joseph, Joseph Scattergood Dixon, Jean Myron Linsdale.  Fur-bearing Mammals of California: Their Natural History, Systematic Status, and Relations to Man. Vol. 2. Berkeley: U of California P, 1937. Print.

Lamme, Sam (1916-1929), Museum of Vertebrate Zoology historical correspondence, MVZA.MSS.0117, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives, University of California, Berkeley.

Volume 597, Section 2, page 32, Joseph S. Dixon Papers, MVZA.MSS.0079, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives, University of California, Berkeley.

Related Links:

The Arctos specimen record

 

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Photographic Equipment, History and the MVZ

Written by John Hickman, Archival Volunteer

Recently I was tasked with cataloging a collection of old photographic equipment that found its way to the archival storage shelves of the MVZ. Being from the ‘pre-digital’ age, what I found was an amazing collection of photographic tools that had undoubtedly been used over the years to capture a wide variety of images supporting MVZ research, description and daily life (See MVZ Archival Image Search). In addition to the ties to the work of the MVZ, these tools also provide a view of the advances in photography through the 20th century.

Working through this collection was also personally interesting because many of the various pieces of equipment were items that were familiar to me due to my own photographic interests. But there were others that I could only guess at how they would be used, which led me to some interesting discoveries. These days, with digital cameras everywhere, we forget the challenges faced by photographers, even up into the 1990s, when you had to have film available, take your photo with crossed fingers, and wait for the film to be developed before you knew if you’d been successful in capturing your subject.

Here are some examples of interesting equipment now catalogued in the MVZ archive:

  • A Nikon F Series camera. Introduced in March 1959, the F immediately became Nikon’s best seller due to its rugged body, extensive lineup of interchangeable lenses and wide variety of accessories.
Nikon F Series, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

Nikon F Series, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

  • A Camera Lucida. A clever device that assists a sketch artist by displaying a traceable image onto the surface on which the artist is drawing. The artist sees both subject and drawing surface simultaneously, allowing the artist to duplicate key points of the subject on the drawing surface. A tremendous tool for creating realistic drawings of the natural world.
Camera Lucida in case, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

Camera Lucida in case, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

  • A Cine-Kodak Special movie camera in its original case, with manual. The Cine-Kodak Special was introduced in 1933 for advanced amateur and semi-professional work, and quickly became popular with professionals for its vast range of capabilities. A decal on the case exterior noted with Robert Stebbins as passenger to Plymouth, England sailing July 2nd, 1958.
Cine-Kodak Special Movie Camera in case, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

Cine-Kodak Special Movie Camera in case, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

  • An Eastman-Kodak Kodascope K-50 Movie projector, a classic old style reel projector first manufactured in 1933. The original case contains the reels and even an oil can for keeping the projector well lubed.
Eastman-Kodak Movie Projector, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

Eastman-Kodak Movie Projector, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

  • A Gossen Lunasix exposure meter in its original moulded leather case. Built in Germany, these devices were indispensable to film photographers who had to get the exposure just right, and didn’t have the luxury of immediately viewing their pictures as we do now with digital cameras.
Gossen Lunasix Exposure Meter, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

Gossen Lunasix Exposure Meter, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

  • A Konica FS-1 camera. Introduced in 1979, it was the first 35mm SLR  equipped with a built-in motor drive for film transport, which allowed a sequence of images to be captured.
Konica FS-1 Camera, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

Konica FS-1 Camera, MVZ, July 9, 2014, by John Hickman.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how useful these tools were to field researchers and scientists of the MVZ. Its exciting to consider that without doubt images that we’ve seen on display in the MVZ and in various texts were captured using these tools. What a history!

Related Links:

http://calphotos.berkeley.edu/mvz.html

http://mvz.berkeley.edu/archives_index.php

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A Hidden Treasure: MVZ’s Public Service Collection

Written by Christina Kohler, second year double major in Environmental Economics & Policy and Molecular Environmental Biology.

I first experienced the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology on Cal Day before I had decided to come to UC Berkeley. The day was a blur. However, I do clearly remember visiting the Museum and seeing all of the exhibits and animals that were on display. I also remember thinking that this would be the best place for me to develop my passion for research and the environment. The atmosphere at the Museum that day really inspired me to come to Cal. Fortunately, I was able to be a part of that environment again this past semester, working to organize and catalogue the Public Service Collection in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology Archives.  Dr. Robert C. Stebbins, Museum Curator and Professor of Zoology at UC Berkeley, brought the collection together over the span of several years. The series consists of a variety of conservation issues that the Museum has been involved with, including Off-road Vehicles in the California Desert, Long-toed Salamander Protection, The Bodie Protection Act, and many more.

Christina Kohler hiking in XXX

Christina Kohler hiking in Muir Woods.

I had the honor of reading through all of the material in each series so that I could organize and catalogue the entire collection. I not only learned about the specifics on processing a collection of documents, newspapers, and photographs, but also about the details behind several prominent conservation issues. Working with this collection solidified my decision to work in the field of conservation biology. It also helped me to realize that educating people about the issue is the most important step in making a difference. With many of the issues, individuals initiated the protection of their communities by taking action – creating committees, publicizing the issue, and writing letters to government officials. This collection has inspired me even more to dedicate my future educating people regarding the present situation in order to help restore an overall healthier environment. Working in the MVZ to reveal this collection has been very exhilarating. I plan to continue next semester with the same collection, digitizing the material so that researchers everywhere will know that the Museum has these materials. Many thanks to URAP, Christina Fidler, and everyone at the Museum who made my experience what it was!  

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Preserving the Lantern Slide Collection of the MVZ

Written by Alessandra J. Moyer, third year Integrative Biology major.

This semester, I’ve been working on a project to preserve a unique photographic resource that most people don’t even know exists: the lantern slide collection in the MVZ archives. Long before PowerPoint lulled its first audiences to sleep, early image projectors called “magic lanterns” allowed entertainers and educators to incorporate illustrations and, later, photographs into their presentations.  Developed in the 17th century or earlier, the magic lantern used a mirror to shine light through a glass slide (called a lantern slide) onto which an image had been painted.  A lens at the front of the lantern focused the image on a screen or wall. The lantern slides owned by the MVZ are from a much later period, when photographic emulsions had replaced hand-painted slides and electric lights were used instead of candles, oil lamps, and limelight.  The subjects all fall under the broader category of vertebrate zoology, and include game birds, mammal bones, and reptiles.

Thus far, I have focused on the “Common Birds” collection.  My task consists of cutting and folding thick archival paper into envelopes that will house each slide individually. Before this project was started, all the slides were packed tightly together in dusty old boxes. Although most of the slides are still in good condition, they are vulnerable to deterioration. The goal of the rehousing project is to ensure that they remain intact.  As I label the envelopes and enclose the slides in their new acid-free, archival-grade armor, I have a chance to look at each one.  Some of them show dead, prepared specimens—ventral this, dorsal that—these I glance at only briefly.  But others I pause to hold up to the light.  Some of these photographs capture something more than bare bones biology. In fact, one must suppose that each of these images held a great deal of significance to whoever was responsible for immortalizing them on glass.  These were not two-a-penny Instagrams; thought and care must have gone into the selection of certain special negatives to become lantern slides.  These would have been the images that lecturers were most excited to share with their students, the ones that could not be replaced with a thousand words.  I believe that to look at these images is to have a little window into biology education at Berkeley half a century or more ago.  When I make a new paper home for each slide, I feel like I’m not just saving a useful image; I also feel like I’m preserving a brittle, fragile message-in-a-bottle sent many years ago from an undergraduate zoology class somewhere in the Valley Life Sciences Building.

Extraordinary nesting sites of Allen Hummingbird, Undated, by Joseph Mailliard, glass lantern slide, Lantern Slide #60.

Extraordinary nesting sites of Allen Hummingbird, Undated, by Joseph Mailliard. Glass lantern slide, Lantern Slide #60.

A couple of my favorite bird slides are shown here.  The caption on the first (right) reads, “Extraordinary nesting sites of Allen Hummingbird.”  The photograph was taken by Joseph Mailliard at his family’s ranch in Marin County.  It was printed in The Condor in 1913, and in the accompanying article Mailliard comments that, “The pulley on the left of the picture was used to haul up the successful results of the numerous deer hunts that took place on our ranch, the nest having been built upon it before the opening of the deer hunting season in that year (1911).”  He hastens to add that the baby birds were long fledged before the pulley was again used for its intended purpose.  The article can be found here:“Some Curious Nesting Places of the Allen Hummingbird.”

Cactus Wren’s nest, Undated, by W.M. Pierce. Glass lantern slide, Lantern Slide #50.

Cactus Wren’s nest, Undated, by W.M. Pierce. Glass lantern slide, Lantern Slide #50.

The second slide (left) is a photograph taken by W.M. Pierce, a photographer who frequently contributed to The Condor, and whose correspondence with the MVZ spans the years 1913-1930.  The subject is “Cactus Wren’s nest.”  If you’re curious about this nest and the bird who made it, I recommend Edmund Carroll Jaeger’s 1922 book Denizens of the Desert; a book of southwestern mammals, birds, and reptiles, where you will also find several more lovely photos by Pierce.  (It’s available for free online at the Hathi Trust Digital Library.) Skip over to page 69, where Jaeger, who certainly has a taste for the dramatic, begins his account of the Cactus Wren.  These birds find some protection against predators by building their nests among the spines of cacti, but apparently are not themselves troubled by the prickly needles.  Jaeger wonders about this, saying, “How it happens that they can dodge the spears and daggers in which all their foes are likely to be caught, I cannot say, for never were skins or bodies more tender than theirs. Does each have a guiding spirit or have they all been dipped in the river Styx?”*  I can only hope that the professor who used this slide as a lecture aid made sure to mention these hypotheses.

*It seems a bit much coming from a man who, in his preface (page viii), complains, “Writers on natural-history subjects have, in their desire to create interest and to bring their story to a fitting climax, frequently conveyed impressions concerning the behavior of animals which were false or misleading.”

Works Cited:

Mailliard, Joseph. “Some Curious Nesting Places of the Allen Hummingbird on the Rancho San Geronimo.” The Condor 15.6 (1913) : 205-207. SORA. Web.  28 Apr. 2014.

Jaeger, Edmund C. Denizens of the desert; A book of southwestern mammals, birds, and reptiles. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1922. Hathi Trust. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.

Related Links:

A short history of lantern slides from the Library of Congress’ online archive “American Memory”: Lantern Sides: History and Manufacture

Facts about lantern slides and, more importantly, a fun coloring activity, from the UBC Botanical Garden’s online exhibit “Botany John: The Legacy of a Canadian Botanist”: Lantern Slides Factsheet and Tint some of John Davidson’s lantern slides

A couple neat blog posts from the Preservation Department at Iowa State University Library: Lost & Found: Ada Hayden Lantern Slides and Landscape Architecture Lantern Slides Digital Collection

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An Illustrious Life: The Collections of Wildlife Artist Allan C. Brooks (1869-1946)

Written by Joi Misenti, third year Integrative Biology major.

The study of science demands diligence and discipline. This truth stands resolute even in the realm of creative expression. Wildlife artists, though artists at heart, pledge themselves to an oath of accuracy, scientific veracity, and representationalism. Through my research work on the collections of Allan Brooks, I gleaned the devotion with which the core values of proper scientific work were upheld. I found those rigorous qualities incorporated into his paintings in striking, resplendent, and beautifully textured ways. He captured the wispy movements of foxes, the delicate plumage layers in bird feathers, the curiosity that gleams in otter eyes, and importantly, the backdrop against which all this faunal secrecy took place. It was this true portrayal of landscape alongside accurate subject matter that exemplified Brooks’ principled approach and set him apart from colleagues of his time.

Allan Brooks, Okanagan Landing, British Columbia, October 7, 1921, by H.S. Swarth. MVZ Image 3742.

Allan Brooks, Okanagan Landing, British Columbia, October 7, 1921, by H.S. Swarth. MVZ Image 3742.

Allan Brooks not only experienced an illustrious career, but he led an incredibly colorful life. English by heritage, Brooks was born in northern India in 1869 before being sent to England for schooling at the age of 4. However, he only remained in England for 8 years before the family uprooted to Canada, where Brooks discovered the country he would call his home. By this time, Brooks was well underway to nurturing his passion for ornithology, specimen collection, skin preparation, and sketching. He had already begun to make ripples as a wildlife illustrator when World War I splashed to the forefront. Brooks promptly enlisted in 1914 and distinguished himself as an exemplary sniper, earning a medal for his service. Upon returning to Canada unhurt, save for a new disenchantment with hunting, Brooks resumed his work and engrossed himself in his projects. It was during this time, the 1920s, that Brooks rose to prominence as a premier wildlife artist in demand. He came into association and friendship with the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology’s very own Joseph Grinnell, the museum’s first director, as well as Harry Swarth, the museum’s curator of birds.

Perusing through the letters that Brooks exchanged with Grinnell, Swarth, and other contemporaries, I was illuminated by the manner of correspondence characteristic of the time period. Extensive, painstakingly written letters exchanged with detailed accounts, transactions, and lists, in addition to pleasantries. Moreover, these letters were sent dutifully and often. I realized these documents stood as a testament to scientific collaboration, experts in various fields consulting one another, providing resources and information, down to debating scientific names. I was endlessly amused by how the idiosyncrasies of the correspondent inevitably surfaced through the page. Grinnell would implore Brooks to pen a biography, an offer which Brooks would–true to his modest nature–turn down, citing that he couldn’t be trusted to complete such a promise. Occasionally, Brooks and Grinnell poked jabs at a mutual nemesis, chortling amongst themselves in a manner not unlike those of snickering schoolchildren.

Joi's Allan Brooks display, prominently placed in the MVZ's front office.

Joi’s Allan Brooks display, prominently situated in the MVZ’s front office.

Indeed, I was entranced by these historical treasures. Immersed in the letters, I shared in on these inside jokes, sensed the urgency underneath some of the requests, and felt the wonderment expressed at the sight of some elusive animals. Through the paintings, I became awed by the meticulousness and skill Brooks wielded over his craft–the countless hours of observation, the preliminary sketches, the transcription of even the slightest detail. This wonderful experience has been incredibly multifaceted and far-reaching, even culminating in an Allan Brooks display on Cal Day that justifiably gives a talented artist deserved recognition. Ultimately, I hope others will stumble across the art of Allan Brooks and find themselves equally suspended with disbelief at his masterful encapsulation.

Joi Misenti published the Finding Aid to the Allan Brooks papers on the Online Archive of California as part of her project with the MVZ Archives.

Related Links:                                                                   http://www.abnc.ca/index.php/gallery  http://www.vernonmuseum.ca/cr_allan_brooks.html

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