Sunday, October 3, 2010

Upcoming Morbid Anatomy Presents Events at Observatory This October

October is going to be a very exciting month for Morbid Anatomy Presents at Observatory, with topics spanning the art and lives of the amazing Blaschka glass modelers (see their lovely glass radiolarian above!), the "inter-cultural biography of the Totem Pole," spider seduction, and one man's artifact-inspired journey into the history of the legend of the human-skin lampshade. Also, stay tuned for an announcement of the Observatory annual Day of the Dead Party, to take place on the afternoon of Sunday, October 31.

See following for the full list of events; hope to see you at one or more of these events!

The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story from Buchenwald to New Orleans
An illustrated lecture and book signing with Mark Jacobson, author
Date: Friday, October 22

Time: 8:00

Admission: $5

Books will be available for sale and signing

Few growing up in the aftermath of World War II will ever forget the horrifying reports that Nazi concentration camp doctors had removed the skin of prisoners to makes common, everyday lampshades. In The Lampshade, bestselling journalist Mark Jacobson tells the story of how he came into possession of one of these awful objects, and of his search to establish the origin, and larger meaning, of what can only be described as an icon of terror.

Jacobson’s mind-bending historical, moral, and philosophical journey into the recent past and his own soul begins in Hurricane Katrina–ravaged New Orleans. It is only months after the storm, with America’s most romantic city still in tatters, when Skip Henderson, an old friend of Jacobson’s, purchases an item at a rummage sale: a very strange looking and oddly textured lampshade. When he asks what it’s made of, the seller, a man covered with jailhouse tattoos, replies, “That’s made from the skin of Jews.” The price: $35. A few days later, Henderson sends the lampshade to Jacobson, saying, “You’re the journalist, you find out what it is.” The lampshade couldn’t possibly be real, could it? But it is. DNA analysis proves it.

This revelation sends Jacobson halfway around the world, to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, where the lampshades were supposedly made on the order of the infamous “Bitch of Buchenwald,” Ilse Koch. From the time he grew up in Queens, New York, in the 1950s, Jacobson has heard stories about the human skin lampshade and knew it to be the ultimate symbol of Nazi cruelty. Now he has one of these things in his house with a DNA report to prove it, and almost everything he finds out about it is contradictory, mysterious, shot through with legend and specious information.

Through interviews with forensic experts, famous Holocaust scholars (and deniers), Buchenwald survivors and liberators, and New Orleans thieves and cops, Jacobson gradually comes to see the lampshade as a ghostly illuminator of his own existential status as a Jew, and to understand exactly what that means in the context of human responsibility.

Mark Jacobson has been a staff writer and contributing editor at the Village Voice, Esquire, Natural History, Rolling Stone. He is currently contributing editor at New York Magazine. He is the author of many books including the novels Gojiro and currently, The Lampshade: A Holocaust Detective Story From Buchenwald to New Orleans, as recently featured in a recent issue of New York Magazine. To find out more, click here.

Tall Tales of the Totem Pole: The Intercultural Biography of an Icon
An illustrated talk by anthropologist Aaron Glass
Date: Sunday, October 24

Time: 8:00 PM

Admission: $5
Books will be available for sale and signing

To mark the release of The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History, co-author Aaron Glass will discuss how carved heraldic monuments from the Northwest Coast have become central symbols for the Native American at large. Dispelling many common myths, he reconstructs the intercultural history of the art form from the late 1700s—when Europeans first arrived on the coast—to the present, and describes how two centuries of colonial encounter transformed these indigenous carvings into a category of popular imagination and souvenir kitsch. Glass presents theories on the origin of the totem pole; its spread from the Northwest Coast to World’s Fairs and global theme parks; the history of tourism and its appropriation as a signifier of place; the role of governments, museums, and anthropologists in collecting and restoring poles; and the part that these carvings have continuously played in Native struggles for sovereignty over their cultures and lands. From the (many) world’s tallest totem pole(s) to the smallest, from depictions of whites on poles to the use of poles in advertising, this talk will explore the multifarious histories of these iconic forms.

Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Aaron Glass is an anthropologist and artist who works with indigenous people in British Columbia and Alaska. His past research, along with a companion film “In Search of the Hamat’sa” examined the ethnographic representation and performance history of the Kwakwaka’wakw “Cannibal Dance.” He has published widely on various aspects of First Nations art, media, and performance on the Northwest Coast, and was recently involved in the restoration of Edward Curtis’s 1914 silent film, “In the Land of the Headhunters.” Glass is currently an Assistant Professor at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City, where he is curating the exhibit “Objects of Exchange,” opening in January 2011.

Behind the Glass Curtain – The Lives and Work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka

An illustrated lecture by artist and doctor Mark Kessell

Date: Thursday, October 28th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5

Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf (1857-1939) Blaschka, a father and son team based in Dresden, Germany, spent decades creating thousands of extremely realistic and exquisitely beautiful glass flowers for Harvard University. The Blaschkas also created thousands of equally unforgettable models of marine invertebrates and other botanicals to fill the cabinets of burgeoning natural history museums the world over. The models they created–such as the one pictured above–are now appreciated as much as art objects, treasured for their fragile beauty and immaculate craftsmanship, as for their anatomical accuracy and didactic potential.

Like many modelers of their time, The Blaschkas were famously reclusive men who avoided publicity and took the secrets of their art to the grave. Step behind the “glass curtain” as Mark Kessell brings the Blaschkas to life with a look at their work and an intimate tour of their personal world.

Mark Kessell is an Australian medical doctor and professional artist working in New York City. Most of his work has a biological or scientific focus. He is represented by Kim Foster Gallery in Chelsea where his next exhibition, “Specimen Box” will open in March 2011. You can find out more about his work at

Spider Seduction
An illustrated lecture exploring methods of spider seduction by artist and researcher Eleanor Morgan

Date: Friday, October 29

Time: 8:00 PM

Admission: $5

Artist and researcher Eleanor Morgan will discuss the history of our use of spiders’ silk, the courtship and mating of spiders, and spiders’ attraction to human music and song. The event will also include a recorded duet between the artist and a spider plucking its web.

Eleanor Morgan is an artist and researcher based in London, UK. Her work explores the relationship between nature and culture, and she attempts to create art that hovers between the two. This has included embracing a giant green sea anemone, encouraging ants to draw self-portraits and weaving with spiders’ silk. She is currently working towards a PhD on spiders at the Slade school of fine art, University College London. You can find out more about her at
To find out more, click here, here, here and here, respectively. You can get directions to Observatory--which is next door to the Morbid Anatomy Library (more on that here)--by clicking here. You can find out more about Observatory here, join our mailing list by clicking here, and join us on Facebook by clicking here.

Image: 'Highly magnified model of a single cell radiolarian (Actinophrys sol). Diameter: 200mm (including spines). From the online exhibit "Sea creatures of the deep - the Blaschka Glass Models;" See the entire exhibit by clicking here; click on image to see larger, more detailed image.

1 comment:

Sophia Walker said...

I did a little research years ago on those skin lampshades and based on reading quite a bit of stuff from all across the political spectrum, I tend to believe they never existed.

I am a flaming liberal and certainly offer no sympathy to the Nazis, I just had the sense from reading what I took to be a fairly considerable amount of literature on the holocaust that the skin lampshades are a hoax.

But I welcome proof they were real, not because I'd wish that fate upon a persons remains, but because it would convince me all the more of the Nazi's capacity for unspeakable cruelty.