In modern city life, pigeons are often a nuisance to be stepped around or shooed away. But for ancient civilizations, the birds filled a necessary position, prompting communities to build masses of adobe dovecotes, or pigeon towers. Surrounded by an expansive desert with little vegetation, the historical dovecotes pictured above are located just south of Riyadh. Saudi Arabia-based photographer Rich Hawkins recently captured the fourteen towers, saying they’re the first he’s seen in the Middle Eastern country, most often spotting them in Iran, Egypt, and Qatar, where they have a lengthy history dating back to the 13th century.
Dotted with wooden pegs and hundreds of holes, the towers provided shelter and breeding areas for the birds to nest and raise their young in, which at times could amount to eight babies a year per bird, the Pigeon Control Resource Center says. While the structures throughout Europe often housed the birds as a food source, they were used instead throughout the Middle East to provide a place to harvest pigeon guano, or manure.
A lengthy piece from Aramco World detailing dovecote history throughout the region says the tower walls often were slanted to allow the droppings to amass on the central ground area, making it easier to collect. Pigeon guano is high in phosphorus and nitrogen, which is perfect for fertilizing vegetation. It also could be used to make gunpowder when combined with ash, lime, and soil or for leather tanning when mixed with water to create an ammonia substance.
As Hawkins’ photographs show, spray-painted markings and refuse mar the abandoned towers today, although the pigeons don’t seem to mind. “I was able to stay and watch the sun set as wild doves flew back and forth to their nests within the towers,” Hawkins writes on Instagram. For another look at ancient architecture that’s no longer in use, check out the stepwells of India.
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Denis Shiryaev has found a way to clarify the world’s earliest films and their signature grainy textures. He transformed the historic 1896 The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station into a 50-second film that suddenly reveals distinct faces of the passengers scrambling to get on the train, in addition to details on the locomotive that otherwise were undistinguishable in the original version. According to Peta Pixel, Shiryaev first used Topaz Lab’s Gigapixel AI to upgrade the film’s resolution to 4K, followed by Google’s DAIN, which he used to create and add frames to the original file, bringing it to 60 frames per second.
Made in France, the 35 mm film bears a legend stating that the first viewers of the silent production were so frightened by the moving train that they all ran out of the room. It was created with an all-in-one camera that served as a printer and projector. Watch the original black-and-white video shown below, and then Shiryaev’s remaking underneath.
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Ectlectrc Pencil: Lost Collection of Pencil Drawings Reveals Trials of Patient at Missouri State Hospital No. 3
Harris Diamant knew he discovered an important piece of outsider art when he came across a hand-bound book of drawings for sale on Ebay in 2006. Listed by a bookseller in Lawrence, Kansas, the collection was comprised of 238 crayon and colored pencil illustrations on ledger paper by a then-anonymous author and was sold to a collector minutes after being posted. Diamant reached out to the buyer to share his contact information in case the person decided to sell the work. Soon enough, he purchased the entirety of the cardboard, cloth, and leather-bound book that held a hefty five-figure price tag.
The series is titled Ectlectrc Pencil—a misspelled version of Electric Pencil—and features lightly-pigmented drawings from a patient at Missouri State Hospital No. 3, a moniker that often tops the pages. On the cover, a thin-lipped woman with coiffed hair holds up a bouquet of flowers. Other pages include a brown lion with a bird swooping overhead carrying a banner saying “Cat Rag,” while another depicts a rocky gorge with a train running above it. The portraits throughout the work are detailed similarly: most people have large eyes and are dressed in clothes indicative of the early 20th century. Each page is numbered in the top corner.
After multiple unsuccessful attempts to sell the entire collection, Diamant brought the drawings to the 2011 Outsider Art Fair in New York, where the project garnered attention from The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Art on Paper. Firmly planted within the tradition of outsider art, the Electric Pencil project somewhat resembles the work of Henry Darger, the American writer and artist who worked as a Chicago hospital custodian while creating hundreds of drawings and watercolor paintings that were discovered after his death. His pieces now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As talk about the unknown artist’s identity grew—Diamant even hired a private investigator to look into the project—so did interest in the collection. According to a 2012 report in Riverfront Times, a 52-year-old woman soon contacted Diamant about the artifact. She was the niece of James Edwards Deeds Jr., the collection’s creator.
Born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1908, Deeds frequently was abused and mistreated by his father. When he was four years old, the family moved to McCracken, Missouri, where they ran a successful farm. By age 25, Deeds’s parents sent him to the Marshall School for the Feeble Minded, an outmoded component of a system that sequestered people with a range of educational and social capabilities. Three years later, he was committed to the state hospital in Nevada for the rest of his life.
Housing more than 2,000 patients at its greatest capacity in 1950, the state hospital was situated on 500 acres and was an active farm that patients worked throughout their stays. In a conversation with Colossal, Diamant mentioned that four pages in the book, including the cover and title of the project, refer to ECT or electroconvulsive therapy, a procedure that sends small electric currents through the brain in order to cause a seizure, which alters the brain chemistry and can aid in mental illness. The frequent mention of the therapy points to the effect it had on Deeds as he underwent standard treatment from doctors at the time.
Reports printed in Riverfront Times from the state hospital described Deeds as “psychotic, disturbed, boisterous and delusional.” Doctors diagnosed him officially with schizophrenia.
On the ward, he is hilarious, sings and runs around on the hall…Worked for the state of Arkansas for a man he did not know. States he only committed one crime and that was murder, and did not think that amounted to very much. Said they told him at home he was crazy, but he does not think so, but his mind is not quite right since he got hit on the head with a stick. He is in no way depressed, is much pleased at being here, says he is worth twenty or thirty million dollars. He states that he is most popular with the girls, that they are all running after him. When asked how (illegible notation) he states that he was just born that way.
While committed to the institution, Deeds crafted scenes of circuses replete with animals and performers, in addition to what seem to be depictions of the expansive hospital. Page 33 even features a yellow-eyed man sporting a top hat called “Why Doctor,” perhaps an indication of how Deeds’ understood those who oversaw his care.
Diamant also noted that the cover and many of the inside pages show signs of wear, signaling that Deeds carried his prized project with him often. As his most valued possession, Deeds gifted his illustrated works to his mother to protect them from getting ruined or thrown away, but of course, that plan didn’t work out as he intended. Lost for years, a 14-year-old boy found the collection in the trash in 1970 at the Springfield town dump, and it was then passed through various hands until Diamant purchased it.
He’s been digging deeper into the story since, trying to uncover and share information about Deeds’s life and the creativity the artist fostered while confined to a life inside Missouri State Hospital No. 3. For deeper insight into the Deeds’s life and his illustrated project, grab a copy of The Drawings of the Electric Pencil.
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150,000 Botanical and Animal Illustrations Available for Free Download from Biodiversity Heritage Library
Billed as the world’s largest open access digital archive dedicated to life on Earth, the Biodiversity Heritage Library is comprised of animal sketches, historical diagrams, botanical studies, and various scientific research collected from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries around the globe. In an effort to share information and promote collaboration to combat the ongoing climate crisis, the site boasts a collection of more than 55 million pages of literature, some of which dates back to the 15th century. At least 150,000 illustrations are available for free download in high-resolution files.
Among the collections is a digital copy of Joseph Wolf’s The Zoological Sketches, two volumes containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals housed in London’s Regent’s Park. Wolf originally sketched and painted the vignettes in the mid-19th century. Other diverse works range from a watercolor project detailing flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands, to a guide for do-it-yourself taxidermy replete with illustrated instructions published in 1833.
The library also offers a variety of tools, including search features to find species by taxonomy and another option to monitor online conversations related to books and articles in the archive. Consistently adding collections to the public domain, the organization currently is working on a project to promote awareness of the field notes available from the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the Smithsonian Libraries, and the National Museum of Natural History.
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This week the Paris Musées added 100,000 digital copies of its artworks to the public domain, making them free and unrestricted for the public to download and use. From Claude Monet’s “Setting Sun on the Seine at Lavacourt” to Paul Cézanne’s “Portrait of Ambroise Vollard,” the collection contains work from artists, such as Gustave Courbet, Victor Hugo, and Rembrandt, that are housed at 14 museums in Paris like the Musée d’Art Moderne, Petit Palais, and even the catacombs.
Each file contains the high-resolution image, a description about the piece, and the location of the original work, in addition to an exhibition history and citation tips. Most of the images available right now capture 2D works, although there are lower resolution files available of pieces that are not yet in the public domain, providing visitors to the site a chance to view more of the museums’ collections. The site also offers virtual exhibitions, with a project centered on the collections at Maison de Victor Hugo currently on view. (via Hyperallergic)
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This recent discovery in the Collingwood Archive of the Cardiff University Special Collections purrfectly catalogs a young girl’s childhood quirks. A handmade book by Janet Gnosspelius contains every one of her cats’ whiskers found in her home from 1940 to 1942. Gnosspelius wove the whiskers into the pages, dated, and noted how each was discovered, whether “while playing darts,” “under edge of lino in pantry,” on the “dining room hearthrug,” or “under back door draught protector.”
Gnosspelius was the daughter of artist and sculptor Barbara Collingwood and the granddaughter of W.G. Collingwood, John Ruskin’s secretary, and was one of the first women to attend the Liverpool School of Architecture. Archivists say the meticulous nature Gnosspelius exhibited in creating her book remained throughout her life as she worked in “local history and building conservation, regularly posting samples of masonry to Liverpool City Planning Office, neatly labelled with their provenance and date, demanding their restoration.”
At age 40, Gnosspelius channeled her creative energy once again into creating a special diary documenting the lives of her feline friends. “The diary is no ordinary one,” a note to Colossal from archivists reads. “It is written from the perspective of her beloved ginger cat Butterball, recording the dates of his fights, illnesses, and stays with friends: ‘9 March 1965: wrapped my mouse in the mat outside kitchen door.'” More information about Gnosspelius’s family history is available in this online exhibition.
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Iran-based artist Fatemeh Hosein Aghaei takes mesmerizing photographs that showcase the intricate patterns inside the country’s ancient buildings. The artist mostly features mosques in the Iranian city of Isfahan, which is located about 250 miles south of Tehran and is known for its Perso–Islamic designed structures, boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, tile-filled mosques, and minarets. In her photographs, Hosein Aghaei often looks upward to frame the building’s domes and arches complete with complex colorful designs, sometimes even adding glimpses of the city’s blue skies. The artist tells Colossal that she wants her work to capture and share the beauty of Iran’s historic architecture. Keep up with Hosein Aghaei’s captivating images on Instagram.
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Editor's Picks: History
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.