If you’re feeling some snow withdrawal during this especially snow-less winter in Haines, the Sheldon Museum has an exhibit for you. “Snowflakes: Nature’s Dazzling Design” opens Friday evening and will be on display until mid-March. The exhibit literally zooms in on snowflakes.
“In a nutshell, it’s a snow and ice celebration,” said Andrea Nelson, the curator.
The main features of the exhibit are pictures of snow crystals taken with a photo-microscope. They’re part of a traveling exhibit from the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Some of the photos were taken by Wilson Bentley, who pioneered the art of photographing snowflakes in the late 1800’s, starting when he was 16.
“He was homeschooled and his mother gave him a microscope,” said museum director Helen Alten. “And he was fascinated with snow, he lived in Vermont. So he started trying to figure out how to photograph [snowflakes.] Because he could bring his mother flowers, he could bring her pretty rocks but he couldn’t bring her the snowflakes.”
Bentley’s photographs are black and white. There are also colorful, purple and blue pictures of snowflakes, each one with a complex structure and unique way of reflecting the light. Those pictures are taken by Kenneth Libbrecht, a physics professor in California. His science background has prompted him to study the ice crystal formation of snowflakes.
“So there’s a whole lot of physics and physical properties about snow that are interesting,” Alten said. “I’m hoping this exhibit will appeal to people who don’t usually come to a museum. People who are interested in mathematics or who are interested in other sciences. So that’s part of it too, to show that art and science are not separate things, they’re actually interrelated and a part of our world.”
Alten says Libbrecht’s photography is what originally gave her the idea for this exhibit. Then they decided to expand it to encompass not just snowflakes, but the entire winter season.
“There’s a lot of pieces of history that obviously had to deal with the season of winter,” Nelson said. “So it’s a big part of history and our culture here.”
Displayed along with the snowflake photos are winter-related artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection. There’s a squirrel-skin parka, old wooden skiis and a dog mushing harness used by Steve Sheldon. Winter-themed artwork and photography from local artists is interspersed throughout the exhibit.
Nelson says they’ll also show archival film footage of winter in Haines in the 1930’s.
“Images of the little girl playing with black bear cubs in chains in the snow, soldiers cutting ice off the reservoir, dogs pulling sleds down Main Street in snowstorms, soldiers on snow shoes and skiis,” said Nelson.
Alten and Nelson hope the exhibit will inspire people to look at snow in a different way.
“I mean, we get these huge snowfalls and we get a lot of snow in the winter so snow is something that I think everyone here accepts and works with and is very comfortable around,” Alten said. “But they never have looked at it in this way.”
They recognize the irony of this exhibit in such a snowless winter.
“If people are missing snow, it’s at the museum,” Alten said.
The museum will hold talks on winter-related topics like avalanches while the exhibit is showing. The opening reception is Friday from 4-6 p.m. Regular hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.