Thursday, November 06, 2014

DTDB Special – Vol. Nine No. 4 – Centennials Keep On Coming

Remember those mesmerizing nature films for family audiences? Walt Disney was making them in the 1950s and '60s. Baby boomers grew up on them two generations after Arthur C. Pillsbury launched the revolution.

The one other person who claims to have done the first work using lapse-time with flowers bases the claim on work done on these films. That is Dr. John Nash Ott, who was born in 1909, the year Pillsbury showed the first nature film. The first lapse-time movie showing flowers lifting their faces to the sun was shown before Ott was three years old.

By the time young Ott was in school Pillsbury's movies of plants had been shown at most major universities and to the National Geographic Society in Washington D. C. And not to rain on Ott's parade, but Pillsbury's first special effect was to insert himself, inside a cell dividing, as he lectured. That was 1927.  

Centennial Moment, along with the first Microscopic Motion Picture Camera. Pillsbury strongly believed technologies which extended human understanding should not be patented.  Leading by example he did not patent his own such inventions and published instructions on how to build them yourself.  Pillsbury called this Knowledge Commons.  Today we say Open Source.    

 Dr. Ott has gone unchallenged on his claims for a long time even though Pillsbury films were shown in movie theaters, by others who purchased them for their own presentations over the years, and on every major university campus, and to garden clubs and town hall forums. His films were also widely purchased by schools and in some places were still in use in the 1960s.

How could this happen? Now we approach the reason the Dog Did Not Bark.

Pillsbury's youngest son discovered something odd was happening during one of his trips to Yosemite with his children in the Valley in the 1970s. He said in a letter written to Steve Harrison, a National Park Services employee, written to Harrison on February 9, 1978, “On one of those trips I was told by an employee of Best's Studio that he believed there was a strong effort to play down Uncle's role in the development of Yosemite.” In the letter Dr. Pillsbury goes on to note, “this is certainly true in books like, “Yosemite and It's Innkeepers.”

Pillsbury's daughter, Melinda Pillsbury-Foster had several experiences of the same kind while in Yosemite. During a viewing of items in the Yosemite Archive with the Yosemite Curator she was looking through an album of photos showing the building of the Glacier Point Hotel from 1916 – 1917. She commented these photos looked like Pillsbury. The Curator pointed to one of these and said there was no printing. Flipping the album over in her hand she pointed to the label on the back of the whole album which read, “Produced by the Pillsbury Picture Company.” The album had been there for several generations by then.

Later, she was told this was policy. Pillsbury was not to be mentioned.

Arthur C. Pillsbury had been a one man promotion team through his films, shown widely in multiple venues across the country, as noted previously. His motive for this was not whole-hearted support for the Park concept but with the idea since this was going to happen the Parks should at least be centers for increasing public understanding of nature.  

This was a different kind of activism, one which used making a profit to achieve the goal.  Pillsbury said in his book, Picturing Miracles of Plant and Animal life,"To see a flower blossoming, its life so like our own, awakens in us a love for the flower, its life so like our own, and the wish to preserve it."  

To this purpose he applied his innovative powers and edge technologies, developed with this in mind.  

Snow Plant, for Identification and suitable for framing.
The Pillsbury Studio sold flower identification cards, books, and provides lectures on the world of nature which were entirely factual but presented in ways which arrested attention and emotionally engaged the tourist.

No one filled auditoriums with the kind of lectures provided today by the National Park Service. Pillsbury could, and did. His intention was to expand this to include the world of the microscopic for every kind of life and the dynamics of the systems which support and sustain our world. He was determined this happen.

In 1926 Steven Mather, the first Director of the National Park System, refused to let Pillsbury publicize his films and lectures in the Valley. People came anyway, despite the fact Mather had heavily advertised professors he had brought in from Berkeley to lecture. Those events were largely unattended. Pillsbury's studio was always packed, doing six times the total business of all other photographic concessionaires together.

The Dog just opened his eyes. More coming.

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