We often hear of obsession as it relates to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD but every so often the obsessions of others who came before us produce remarkable bodies of work we still benefit from and enjoy today. Take Wilson Alwyn Bentley for example. Born in 1865 in Jericho Vermont, Wilson intended to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue the noble occupation of farming, however something changed his path. In his formative teen years he acquired a fascination with snowflakes. Now, Jericho was an ideal location for this particular fascination since the area gets an average of 150 inches of snow fall per year! Wilson’s mother, a school teacher, gave her 15-year-old son a microscope and when he saw his first snowflake magnified, he was captivated. The fascination turned into obsession. By the time Wilson was 17 he had already created several hundred sketches of snowflakes he had observed through his microscope. The next development in Wilson’s snowflake documentation journey came when his father gave him a camera, a technology that was very new on the scene in the 1880’s. Taking the camera and ingeniously combining it with the microscope, Wilson was able to capture images of these tiny structures on film for the first-time, preserving them for all of us to enjoy.
His method involved capturing each snowflake on black velvet and manipulating it onto a microscope slide with a feather, working quickly to position the crystal and photograph it before it disappeared. The task had to be done outside both for the cold and for the daylight since the family farmhouse did not have electric light.
Wilson captured over 5000 snowflakes on film between the years of 1885 and 1931. In the fall of 1931, 45 years after Wilson took that first remarkable photograph, his first book of snowflake images was published. Less than 2 months later he passed away. Thankfully, he left behind a treasure in his archive of snowflake images and we get to be the beneficiaries of his obsession.
The yearly snowflakes we produce here at Forestique are all based off Bentley snowflake photography. Grab this year’s ornament here before they are gone!