A discussion about the emerald ash borer and the enormous stands of dead ash trees in southwestern Ontario led to a question on what can de done with ash wood. On any question of what wood is best used for what purpose, I reach for A Natural History of Trees by Donald Culross Peattie. I inherited my copy from my dad. Published in 1950, a little beat up around the edges, and adorned with some marginalia from my father, noting where in Ontario he saw some uncommon Carolinian species, it is a book I have loved all my life. Peattie’s prose style is so unlike the terse modern standard for field guides and so filled with passion for his subject, it delights me.
Delving into the volume for uses for ash (“floorboards of bowling alleys”), I was struck, as I have always been, by the vigorous beauty of the black and white illustrations, swirling into and filling their strictly alloted rectangular spaces. The illustrations are by Paul Landacre, and this time, with all the ease of the internet age, I looked up Landacre.
Paul Landacre was a self-taught wood engraver and print maker whose works have won many awards. He died in Los Angeles in 1963. He studied horticulture and his best loved works are of natural history subjects. He also illustrated Peattie’s book on western trees, and an edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species.
A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America was republished as a trade paperback in 1991. If you come across a copy of the 1950 edition in a used book store, it is a treasure.
Is there a classic nature or science illustrator who inspires you? Let me know and we can write up a little tidbit for this blog.