Researchers close in on solving American chestnut blight


The American chestnut once dominated Eastern North America, with the total number of trees estimated at 4 billion a little more than a century ago.

They were the prevailing species in many areas, particularly in the Appalachia region, where 25 percent of trees were chestnuts.

“Entire communities in Appalachia depended on the chestnut for everything,” said Marshal Case, former president of the Asheville, NC-based American Chestnut Foundation. The nonprofit has been leading the effort to re-establish the trees.

Chestnut trees were integral to everyday life in Appalachia and were known as “cradle to grave trees,” Case told National Geographic.

“Craftsmen made baby cradles and coffins from the rot-resistant hardwood. The trees were also used to build houses, telephone poles, and railroad ties,” he said. “Wildlife thrived on the trees, which each year produced bumper crops of nuts.”

The American chestnut was dealt a near-death blow with the introduction of Chinese chestnuts into the New York Botanical Gardens, now known as the Bronx Zoo. The Chinese chestnut brought with it a blight that, while it didn’t affect its carrier, was devastating to the American chestnut.

First identified in 1904, the blight, a fungus, infected and killed about 99.9 percent of the American chestnuts from Georgia to Maine and west to the Ohio Valley within 50 years.

New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. However, the stump sprouts rarely reach more than 20 feet in height before blight returns.

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Museum under scrutiny regarding noted work


Delaware museum officials desperate for cash have removed one of their prized paintings from their walls but remain tight-lipped about the work’s future.

Winslow Homer’s “Milking Time,” among the Delaware Art Museum’s most treasured works, disappeared from its wall and collections database earlier this month, shortly after the museum announced that it would sell as many as four artworks to repay its construction debt and replenish its endowment.

Museum officials have declined to confirm whether the 1875 oil painting of rural Americana is among works to be sold over the next few months, according to the News-Journal of Wilmington, Del.

However, museum and art experts say the change is suspicious and likely indicates the painting will be sold, the publication added.

“Milking Time” is considered a landmark painting by Homer, regarded as one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century.

Homer, the renown landscape painter, created “Milking Time” in 1875 while living on a farm in upstate New York.

“Milking Time” is a “landmark painting for him,” according to Kathleen Foster, who curated an exhibition of Homer’s seascapes for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in late 2012. The Philadelphia museum owns four Homer works, including one of his most famous, “The Life Line.”

“Milking Time” was painted during a formative time in Homer’s career, a period in which he was searching for an identity as an artist, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Presbyterian Church retains old-time glory

March 2014 006

Lancaster’s Old Presbyterian Church retains the simple architectural beauty inherent in many 19th century brick structures.

Constructed in 1862, the Early Gothic Revival-style edifice is believed to have been the first brick church built in South Carolina’s Lancaster County, and its graveyard holds the remains of many of the area’s early prominent residents, in addition to several men who were killed or died during the War Between the States.

The Old Presbyterian Church was constructed on the site of the town’s first Presbyterian church, begun in 1835. The extant church’s walls feature handmade brick, stuccoed and scored to resemble stone.

The church features a Basilican plan, with a gallery along the sides and back of the sanctuary and an arched pulpit apse. Its interior includes hood moldings over the arches, cornice brackets with pendants under the gallery and round wooden columns supporting the gallery.

At the very end of the Civil War, troops under Union Gen. William T. Sherman occupied a large house just up the street and horses were stabled inside the church.

The structure was the house of worship for Lancaster-area Presbyterians until 1926, when the growing congregation moved to a new church on nearby Main Street.

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Pissarro works making news outside art world

Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning

A streetscape by Camille Pissarro brought more than $32 million earlier this month, more than four times the previous record for a work by the Danish-French impressionist.

Pissarro’s “Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning,” a view of Paris painted in 1897, was sold by Sotheby’s in London.

The oil on canvas was part of industrialist Max Silberberg’s collection. Silberberg was forced by the Nazis to sell his artworks in the 1930s and later died in the Holocaust.

Silberberg’s collection also featured works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and van Gogh and was regarded as one of the best pre-war collections of 19th and 20th Century art in Germany, according to the BBC.

“Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning” was returned to Silberberg’s family in 2000. It had never before been sold at auction.

The previous record for a Pissarro painting was set in 2009, when “Le Pont Boieldieu Et La Gare D’Orleans Rouen, Soleil” sold for about $7 million. A quartet of the artist’s works entitled “Les Quatre Saisons” brought more than $14 million in 2007.

The new owner of “Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning” requested anonymity.

Another Pissarro painting has also been in the news recently.

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Nothing beats being dragooned into decency


Call me Scrooge, Grinch, Mr. Heat Miser or whatever other holiday-related term of derision you like, but I long ago had my fill of such amorphous concepts as “paying it forward,” “giving back” and the always-inane “random acts of kindness.”

The above actions celebrate that which was once recognized as simple decency.

But in today’s world, where the navel-gazer is king, it’s not enough to be good to one another: Lack of recognition would almost appear to invalidate civility in the eyes of many.

First, the terms “pay it forward” and “give back,” logically speaking, make little sense.

You can’t pay something forward.  You can do something nice for someone without them knowing it – but, of course, if you crow about it, you’re really just serving your own purposes.

And “giving back” implies that you took something in the first place. Athletes, entertainers and corporate bigwigs like to throw around the term “giving back,” particularly when visiting their old stomping grounds.

Unless they had their athletic, entertainment or business talents conferred upon them, like royalty bequeathing a title on a noble, they probably had to work very hard over many years to reach their level of accomplishment.

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Fossil hunter donates major collection to school


A South Carolina businessman recently donated one of the most impressive private fossil collections in the world – totaling more than 1,500 specimens – to the College of Charleston.

Mace Brown of Mt. Pleasant, SC, began collecting fossils when he was in his early teens; today his collection, valued at more than $1.6 million, includes complete skeletons of such creatures as a giant armadillo, a cave bear and a saber-toothed cat, along with Tyrannosaurus rex teeth and Triceratops horns.

The collection focuses on North American land and sea creatures. More than 90 percent of the fossilized creatures in the collection inhabited South Carolina over a 400-million-year span, according to a College of Charleston press release.

“I wanted the collection to be in Charleston, in a location where fossils were the focus and a place where the public could see the specimens up close, not stored in cabinets out of the sight of the public,” said Brown, renown as an international fossil collector.

Brown’s passion for collecting and recording fossils was sparked by a rock collection when he was 13. By age 45, he had amassed more than 87 species of shark teeth.

Over the next decade and a half, Brown expanded his collection with fossils from around the world.

The collection, which will be housed in the Mace Brown Natural History Museum at the College of Charleston, also features saltwater mosasaurs with snakelike detaching jaws; skeletons of a warthog-looking, buffalo-sized pig; and a dog-sized horse and camel.

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Media complicit in ‘green’ narcissism

Green buildings scam

For more than a decade companies have been highlighting the “environmentally friendly” nature of their new buildings, and for more than a decade the press has been lapping it up, generously doling out coverage that is all but impossible for businesses to secure through the execution of their actual work.

Ponder that for moment: An accounting firm, for example, in a major city that employs 250 people – many in high-paying positions – and has grown slowly but steadily over the past 20 years, will find it difficult to get media coverage until the times comes when it announces it is a constructing a new office, one that is environmentally friendly.

Never mind that stories of these sorts have been in the news for, yes, a decade or more, making them not very “newsy” at all; the media never tires of writing about anything “eco-friendly.”

This is tiresome on several levels:

  • One, space and coverage, particularly of business news, have shrunk dramatically in recent years. To devote limited resources to writing about environmentally friendly construction while ignoring the actual accomplishments of the businesses in question, be they accounting firms, banks, advertising agencies, etc., is bad journalism.
  • Second, it’s no longer newsworthy when someone builds a structure that meets the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council. That entity was formed in 1993, and more than 7,000 green building projects have been built in the US alone since then.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it appears that the concept behind building environmentally friendly structures may be flawed – very flawed, in fact.

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