M. C. Escher - Research

Introduction


Aside from my interest in Escher as regarding the mathematical and especially the tessellating aspect is that of what I term as ‘other matters’ in his oeuvre. As such, these above have dedicated pages, in various capacities, of which the page here is of a less substantial nature, albeit within an individual entry matches the above in depth and substance. In the fullness of time, the material here may indeed reach the threshold of a more dedicated page being required. Meanwhile, I place here my ‘other matters’ on Escher researches under a broad title.

 

Research 1 - Flatworms

Upon (more or less) stumbling across a piece on Escher’s Flatworms print on the US ‘Indiana Illustrators and Hoosier Cartoonists’ blog (about the lives of Indiana's artists) some new detail has come to light. Incidentally, for those not in the know (as I was), Hoosier is the official demonym for a resident of the U.S. state of Indiana. This was a comment (at the end of the piece) ostensibly by Sherry Buchsbaum (although actually written by Monte S. Buchsbaum, her husband), curious in itself, and this opened up a whole new investigation. Specifically, this concerned a nuance on the print as to the flatworms themselves:

https://indianaillustrators.blogspot.com/2016/08/elizabeth-buchsbaum-newhall-1909-1942.html

For convenience, I repeat the text by Sherry Buchsbaum/Monte S. Buchsbaum below:

Escher was definitely influenced by Elizabeth Buchsbaum's drawing of planaria. This can be seen in the chapter heading drawing for Chapter 10 and 12 and following drawings in Animals Without Backbones. The Buchsbaum originals were published in 1939. My father, Ralph Buchsbaum, visited Escher in the Netherlands and Escher showed him his edition of Animals Without Backbones. The Escher Flatworms (Catalogue 431) is dated 1959.

In short, this asserts that Escher was influenced in the portrayal of the Flatworms by Ralph Buchsbaum’s book, Animals Without Backbones (which went through different editions), and more specifically of the drawings, in black and white. Previously I was unaware of this detail. Anyway, I then followed it up with the people involved, of which the family chain has expanded, initially with Sherry, and then Vicki, below. To clarify matters, Sherry is the husband of Monte, and Vicki (also an invertebrate biologist) is Ralph’s daughter. I must say that these folks are most friendly and helpful! A later email gives more detail than the initial account on the Indiana blog:

From Vicki Pearse, 12 June

As I reconstruct it, Ralph's visit to Escher very likely took place in fall 1971, shortly after my parents had moved from Pittsburgh to Pacific Grove, California. I recall my father returning to the house in Pacific Grove after seeing Escher and our excitement at his bringing the prints. Therefore, if that memory is accurate, the visit had to have been somewhere in that window of a few months before Escher's death in March 1972. It's unlikely that the two men visited when Escher was very close to death, and also that my father would have traveled there in winter. Hence my estimate of the timing.

I don't know the circumstances of how they connected and arranged to meet. My father's passport from that period would give us more exact information about the date. If I locate it or any related correspondence, I can share it with you.

As can be seen, the date was thus likely in 1971. With the family provenance, one can indeed confirm the account on the blog. Admittedly, there is nothing here of a groundbreaking nature, albeit even so, it is pleasing to find the background to his rendition in the print. Further, I have finally been able to establish at least one book in Escher’s library, a long-held ambition! Many pictures show his bookshelves, but do not detail his books. As such, no other books are (surprisingly) seemingly known! Does any reader know of others? Was an inventory made? And what happened to Escher’s library?

 

Further, I then decided to investigate the print in more detail, with published references to it. As to references, I include all the major books on Escher, and other ‘likely candidates’, whether the prints above are included. This is so that I can say conclusively that the material has been examined, and is either discussed or not, and so save re-examination of a later date when I will have forgotten what I have surveyed. For other more ‘minor’ works, although indeed on Escher, there are simply so many that I don’t have the time to examine all. This being so, I will look for Flatworms upon normal, occasional re-reading.  As a broad brush statement, none of these are particularly in-depth. As such, Flatworms can be described as a lesser discussed print (fairly or unfairly) in that it is not discussed extensively as with others that have greater exposure, or of more obvious popular appeal, such as Day and Night. I might just add that Planaria are fascinating creatures, of which the work of James McConnell, in particular, is well worth reading.



 

References

 

Print

Bell, Marc. Marc Bell Presents the Magical World of M. C. Escher. Boca Raton Museum of Art January 20–April 11, 2010

P. 154 shows the print also repeats the text from Escher in Graphic Work. There is no insight by Bell (or others).

 

Buchsbaum, Ralph. Animals Without Backbones. University of Chicago Press. Eleventh Impression 1947. First published 1938. (May 2019). Available on the Internet Archive:

https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.475221/page/n185

Of peripheral Escher interest. Said (and confirmed by Sherry Buchsbaum, the daughter of the author in a reply to a blog posting, below, to be the book that Escher used for his Flatworm drawing references. Although obviously non Escher per se, it is included here in relation to him.

See Chapter 10 p. 109  and Chapter 12 p. 124. The book itself has acquired a degree of fame in the Planaria world. From Amazon: Animals Without Backbones has been considered a classic among biology textbooks since it was first published to great acclaim in 1938. It was the first biology textbook ever reviewed by Time and was also featured with illustrations in Life. Harvard, Stanford, the University of Chicago, and more than eighty other colleges and universities adopted it for use in courses. Since then, its clear explanations and ample illustrations have continued to introduce hundreds of thousands of students and general readers around the world to jellyfishes, corals, flatworms, squids, starfishes, spiders, grasshoppers, and the other invertebrates that make up ninety-seven percent of the animal kingdom.

 

Ernst, Bruno. The Magic Mirror of M. C. Escher. Tarquin Publications 1985 (first published 1972).

Shows the print, p. 96 and relatively detailed discussion, p. 97. However, this is almost wholly of the structural aspect, with flatworms mentioned only in passing, albeit to make a specific point. Escher also added his own commentary to Ernst’s view, albeit, again, this was of structural matters, and not on the flatworms.

 

Escher, M. C. The Graphic Work of M. C. Escher. Oldbourne, London 1970.

In accordance with the book, of works and commentary, Escher added p. 20. … however, when this building [of tetrahedra and octahedra] is filled with water, flatworms can swim in it

 

Hart, George W. ‘Bringing M.C. Escher’s Planaria to Life’. Bridges, 2012, 57-64.

In short, an article inspired by Escher’s print ‘Flatworms’, with the print having common connections to Hart’s interest in sculpture, and in particular here that of octahedra and tetrahedra. Begins with a brief discussion on the print, with references to the above polyhedra, and also of the flatworm, and then more extensively Hart’s own work in the field, concentrating on the polyhedral aspect per se. Hart, in general, is more concerned with his special interest, rather than flatworms. However, he does indeed make one interesting unconnected point in the introduction, commenting on none of Escher's’ trademarks’ being here, but is rather a portrayal of a plausible, albeit unfamiliar, scene. Simply stated nothing per se new on the print.

 

Locher, J. L. The World of M. C. Escher. Abradale Press Harry N. Abrams Publishers Inc. New York 1988. First Published 1971.

P. 239 shows the print and basic information, without discussion. No other detail.

 

Locher, J. L. (general editor). Escher The Complete Graphic Work. Thames and Hudson 1992. First published 1982. Translated from the Dutch Leven en Werk von M.C. Escher. Meulenhoff 1981.

Entry 431. Basic information concerning the print. No other detail.

 

Locher, J. L. The Infinite World of M. C. Escher. Abradale Press/Harry N. Abrams Inc. New York. First published 1984.

P. 138 shows the print and basic information, without discussion. No other detail.

 

McConnell, James V. ‘Confessions of a scientific humorist’. impact of science on society, Vol. XIX, No. 3 July-September 1969, 241-252.

Of James McConnell interest, re Escher-flatworms, albeit there is nothing here on Escher, but rather of his (admirable) humour. McConnell’s piece was part of a seemingly special edition on humour and science, from Unesco.

 

McConnell, James V. Article Title Unknown. Worm Runner’s Digest Vol. XVI No. 2, December 1974, pages unknown. WANTED

Of Escher reference, at least of the cover, of which after this  there are many uncertainties here. I do not have the journal in my possession, and quite where I got this reference from is unclear; I may have found it independently, although I doubt it. Be all as it may, an article in The Unesco Courier of April 1976, shows the cover of the WRD, illustrated with Escher’s Flatworm print (a topic of recent (May 2019) interest). Quite what, if indeed there is an Escher related article here  is unclear.

 

McConnell, James V. ‘Worm-Breeding With Tongue in Cheek or the confessions of a scientist hoisted by his own petard’. The Unesco Courier, April 1976, pp. 12-15, 32

As such, the Escher aspect here is only of illustrations; there is not any reference in the text. More exactly, this shows shows the cover of the WRD of 1974, illustrated with Escher’s Flatworm print (a topic of recent (May 2019) interest). The Courier piece is an interesting read in many ways. There is no Escher discussion as such in it, although the Flatworms print is shown on p. 13, with the premise on flatworms (a most interesting creature, I might add. I had no idea of the fascinating science on it). As an aside, I very much enjoy McConnell’s humour.

 

Price, Jeffrey. M. C. Escher Amazing Images. Catalog of Rare Original Prints and Drawing. (Privately published book/catalogue).

Unpaginated, but ‘self paginated’ p. 55. With his own commentary and insight. Of note is an accompanying sketch (which I had forgotten about!), of a tessellating flatworm, derived from an arrow tessellation. This is plainly indicative of a flatworm, but oddly, given the relatively good quality, Escher did not proceed with this.

 

 

Not Mentioned:

 

Coxeter, H. S. M; M. Emmer, R. Penrose, and M. L. Teuber, Eds. M.C. Escher: Art and Science. Amsterdam: North-Holland 1986.

Without going through all 402 pages (as it lacks an index), the print does not appear to be discussed.

 

Fellows, Miranda. The Life and Works of Escher. Parragon Book Service Limited, 1995.

 

Forty, S. M C Escher. Taj Books 2003.

 

Anon. M. C. Escher 29 Master Prints. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers New York 1983. Edited by Darlene Geis.

 

Ford, Karin (translator) and Janet Wilson, editor. English Language version. Escher on Escher. Exploring the Infinite. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1989. With a contribution by J. W. Vermeulen. Compiled by W. J. van Hoorn and F. Wierda. Originally published under the title Het oneindige

Without going through all 158 pages (as it lacks an index), the print does not appear to be discussed. Pp. 155-158 gives a list of Escher illustrations, of which there is no mention.

 

Schattschneider, Doris. Visions of Symmetry. Notebooks, Periodic Drawings, and Related Work of M. C. Escher. New York. W. H. Freeman and Company 1990. Revised edition 2004.

 

Schattschneider, D. and M. Emmer (editors). M. C. Escher’s Legacy. A Centennial Celebration. Springer. First edition 2003, paperback 2005.

Without going through all 457 pages (as it lacks an index), the print does not appear to be discussed. Pp. 456-458 give a list of Escher illustrations, of which there is no mention.

 

Thé, Erik (Designer). The Magic of M. C. Escher. Joost Elffers Books Harry N. Abrams 2000. Foreword by W. F. Veldhuysen. Introduction by J. L. Locher.

Not mentioned.

 

Web

 

‘Sysopje’. Seemingly by ‘sysopje’ from his email address. Described as:

Waterworld. A website about nature in the Netherlands. There are 1600 web pages about animals, vegetables, herbs, trees, wild plants.

 http://www.waterwereld.nu/platwormeng.php

Shows Escher’s print, with brief commentary:

M.C. Escher and the flatworm. Escher was fascinated by the behaviour of the flatworm.

A flatworm is completely flat, and has no idea of up and down. It knows only light and dark and seems to be propelled by magic. This all puzzled Escher and he thought about the strange universe were flatworms would rule there world.

 

'Everything2'

https://everything2.com/title/The+ability+of+planarian+worms+to+run+a+maze+more+successfully+after+being+fed+the+remains+of+a+successful+worm

From Wikipedia:

Everything2 (styled Everything2), or E2 for short, is a collaborative Web-based community consisting of a database of interlinked user-submitted written material. E2 is moderated for quality, but has no formal policy on subject matter. Writing on E2 covers a wide range of topics and genres, including encyclopedic articles, diary entries (known as "daylogs"), poetry, humor, and fiction.

Dutch artist M.C. Escher produced a lithograph in 1959 named Flat worms (Platwormen) (viewable online at http://www.tabletoptelephone.com/~hopspage/Flatworm.jpg), depicting a structure formed from alternating tetrahedronal and octahedronal bricks with cute l'il flatworms slithering all over them. He noted that such a structure would be impractical for humans as the resulting surfaces produce neither vertical walls nor horizontal floors, but if it filled with water it would work dandy as a home for flatworms. Kibo (of Usenet infamy) points out the unutilised possibility here - Escher using worms in his works prior to the scientific establishment of both their regenerative and maze-running abilities - and hypothesizes that if only he'd known, Escher would have depicted planarian worms regenerating in the forms of moebius strips while running geometrically impossible labyrinths. Anyone with a passing familiarity with Escher's work can agree that this wouldn't be atypical for the Dutch mindbender.


As ever, I am interested in hearing of thoughts and comments on this page.


Created 24 June 2019.

24 June 2019 Research 1 - Flatworms.


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