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Friday, February 14, 2014

I do love me a good conspiracy theory

January, from the fresco cycle Cycle of the Months by the Bohemian master Venceslao, c. 1400, in Trento.
A Facebook friend posted a photo of a snowball he’d attempted to melt with a lighter. Turns out he was responding to a conspiracy theory that the stuff that fell over Atlanta wasn’t real snow. (It’s pretty exhaustively debunked here.)

Trying to burn snow must be a southern thing. I’ve lived in snow country all my life, and it’s never occurred to me to take a lighter to the stuff. Here in the north, we know snow mainly goes away by sublimation or compression.

Winter, from the fresco cycle Allegories of good and bad government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1338 – 1340, in Sienna, Italy.
Some Atlantans said the snow didn’t look “normal.” Up here in Rochester, we see too many kinds of solid precipitation to expect any consistency in snow texture: hoarfrost, graupel, needles, rime, powder, sleet, slush, and more.

Still, it isn’t typical for storm after storm to batter the mid-Atlantic region while holding the northern interior in deep freeze. A schoolteacher in Wilmington, DE tells me her students have had ten snow days so far this year.

The Frozen Thames, 1677, Abraham Hondius

The Little Ice Age was a period of cooling from about 1350 to 1850 (or, depending on whom you’re asking, from the fifteenth to the 19th century). The population of Iceland fell by half. The Norse colonies in Greenland starved and vanished.

The Thames froze so solidly that frost fairs were regularly held on its ice from 1607 to 1814. The Golden Horn and southern Bosporus froze. In the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, and “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death” (1816) caused summertime frosts all over the northern hemisphere and resulted in widespread famine and death.

This century’s normal might just be last century’s freak snowstorm. But normal shouldn’t include arresting people for throwing snowballs. Art history tells us we’ve been doing that for as long as there’s been snow.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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