Next Saturday, April 9, internationally acclaimed author Andrea Wulf will deliver an illustrated lecture about the visionary German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, his perception of nature as an interconnected global force, and his influence on such notables as Frederic Edwin Church, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin, John Muir, and others. The event is presented by The Olana Partnership.
Wulf is the author of the 2015 New York Times best-selling and award-winning biography The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World. Humboldt, who lived from 1769 to 1859, is described as "the forgotten father of environmentalism." The most famous scientist of his time, Humboldt was an intrepid explorer, climbing the world's highest volcanoes, paddling down the Orinoco, and racing through anthrax-infested Siberia. In his exploration of different regions of the world, he discovered similarities between climate zones and predicted human-induced climate change.
Humboldt's influence on Church is of particular interest. Church owned and read Humboldt's writings, documented in the five volume series Kosmos. Church's copies of the books are still at Olana. In the second volume of Kosmos, Humboldt admonished artists to "go out and paint nature." Church heeded Humboldt's urging. A biography of Humboldt, which Church read, allowed him to work out Humboldt's itinerary through Latin American and to follow in Humboldt's footsteps, traveling to the same locations in Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico and painting the natural world that so fascinated Humboldt. One of Church's most celebrated works, The Heart of the Andes was inspired by his travels. The painting is "Humboldt's philosophy writ large on canvas." When the painting was first exhibited in New York City, the New York Times called Church "the artistic Humboldt of the New World."
Last week, on WAMC's The Roundtable, Joe Donahue interviewed Andrea Wulf. That interview, which serves as a prelude and effective enticement to next Saturday's lecture, can be heard here.
The lecture is Wulf's first East Coast stop on her tour of the United States and the UK. The event takes place at 4 p.m., on Saturday, April 9, in the Hudson High School auditorium, 215 Harry Howard Avenue. Admission to the lecture and book signing is $10 for members of The Olana Partnership and $15 for nonmembers. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.
A related exhibition entitled Capturing the Cosmos, which explores the influence Humboldt had on Church, is scheduled to open at Olana on May 15.
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