Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Fossil Illustrator John W. Van Cleve

Reading through Indiana Geological Annual Reports from the 1800s reveal the hard work of individuals who studied fossils and documented them. In a way, as people today document geological and paleontological discoveries and information on the Internet, past researchers toiled away in a simpler yet more challenging media environment to leave their mark on these branches of science.

While reading the Indiana Department of Geology and Natural History Eleventh Annual Report John Collett State Geologist 1881 in the Paleontology section entitled Fossils of the Indiana Rocks (No. 2) by C. A. White, M.D. Washington, D.C. is a letter from Dr. Julius S. Taylor to Indiana State Geologist John Collett describing the work of his deceased friend John W. Van Cleve, Esq. of Dayton, Ohio. The fossil illustrations were to be part of a fossil coral publication in 1847 but the work was delayed and was never completed when Mr. Van Cleve died in 1858. Below is the letter found in the annual report (page 401):

Kankakee, Ill., June 8, 1881
Prof. John Collett, State Geologist of Indiana:
DEAR SIR: -The engraved plates of geological specimens which I have loaned to you for publication in the Indiana State reports were the production of my friend, the late John W. Van Cleve, Esq., who drew and engraved them to accompany a work on fossil corals which he had prepared for publication, but died before accomplishing it.
Mr. Van Cleve was born in Dayton,Ohio, June 27, 1801, and lived in that city continuously until his death, which occurred September 6, 1858. He was a man of sterling integrity and marked ability, and was greatly honored and respected by his fellow-citizens for the excellencies of his character and his liberal public spirit.
I had the good fortune to become acquainted with him in 1838, and to enjoy his intimate friendship until his death. He was an ardent student of geology, and much of our intimacy consisted in out joint study of this absorbing science. His acquirements were such in that study, that if he had been ambitious of distinction, he might have stood in the foremost rank of the geologist of that day; but he was naturally of a retiring disposition  and above all, he disliked mere notoriety. In everything he did he was careful and thorough, and in addition to his ability as a geologist, he possessed such skill as an artist and engraver, that he was able to delineate the objects he studied with great truthfulness.
After the death of Mr. Van Cleve, his nephew, Mr. Thomas Dover, presented me with these plates, because of my long friendship with his uncle; and I am especially glad that an opportunity has at last occurred to do honor to the friend I loved so well, by having at least a portion of the work published upon which he bestowed such long and patient labor.
Your friend,
Dr. White makes some comments in the report about this work:
"It is unfortunate that Mr. Van Cleve did not publish his work at the time prepared it, as it would for that time have been a very complete one, and also almost the only work on the fossil corals of North America; for it was prepared before the great and standard works of Edwards & Haime, Hall, Billings, Nicholson, and others had appeared, and when that of Dana had only just been published... we can only regret that the author of that work did not live to reap the fruit of his labors, and give our testimony to the zeal and ability which the unpublished work of the dead naturalist shows that he possessed."

Below are two sample illustration of Halysites catenulata found on Plate 46 Figures 4 and 6.

Last is an image of chain coral fossil found in Louisville, Kentucky that is similar to the ones in the illustration.