On Winter Solstice 2021, NYC Microseasons was launched, an ongoing project I started with my friend Erin Chapman. Each week we are sending a newsletter marking the small shifts in the seasons across the five boroughs, reflecting on how both natural and unnatural forces are at work in New York City. The first season—The Solstice Arrives and Shadows Lengthen into the Darkest Days—is online now, along with ways to commemorate its passing. You can subscribe here for future seasons or follow along on Twitter.
For the Winter 2022 issue of Fine Books magazine, I explored the legacy of photographer Gianfranco Gorgoni who captured many of the most significant Land Art works in the United States. The story is timed with a retrospective of his work at the Nevada Museum of Art:
50 years after Smithson completed the Spiral Jetty, Gorgoni’s photographs have helped define a work that is too remote for most to have seen, especially when it was underwater for 30 years. They also chronicled its creation, reminding viewers that although the curve of the Spiral Jetty appears like an ancient glyph, it was the result of trial and error by one of the New York artists in the 1960s and ‘70s who were bold enough to reshape the earth into their visions. Despite the importance of Gorgoni’s photography to Land Art—which perhaps more than any other visual art relies on photography to convey it to viewers—his legacy has not gotten much attention in histories of the movement.
For Art & Object, I wrote about the sculptor William Edmondson who used discarded limestone in 1930s Nashville to create tombstones for the final resting places of neighbors, family members, and friends. His practice evolved into a major sculpture career including a solo show at MoMA. The story is timed with his first major museum show in over two decades:
It is significant to consider Edmondson’s legacy in this context of creating outdoor sculpture at a time when Nashville and many other cities are reevaluating who is being monumentalized in statuary. In the limestone that no one else wanted, Edmondson allowed his community to be seen.
For the Hudson Valley – Times Union, I explored the legend of Hulda, a witch said to live near Sleepy Hollow who is referenced in Washington Irving’s famous 1819 tale. I interviewed people who are keeping Hulda’s memory alive, including the recent marking of what’s believed to be her final resting place:
“I see Hulda as a fearless woman who had many talents and skills, who did her best to help others,” said Carla L. Hall, a practicing witch based in Ossining who researches folk magic. “So many historical narratives of marginalized people are never acknowledged, and Hulda’s is one of them.”
For the Autumn 2021 issue of Fine Books magazine, I contributed a feature on Mark Catesby who visualized the vibrancy of North American nature a century before John James Audubon. I talked to historians, authors, and curators who have investigated his work and its impact:
With the assistance of Indigenous guides, he journeyed through environments ranging from dense maritime oak forests and valleys where herds of bison roamed, to the reefs of the West Indies, producing the first major illustrated survey of southeastern North American nature: the two-volume Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands published in 11 parts between 1729 and 1747. It would ultimately include 220 illustrations that pair birds and other animals with their ecologically significant plants, something few naturalists had done before. His lively watercolors and the subsequent bookplates portrayed in vivid color and animated detail how species interact with the natural world, such as a crested heron bending its long neck to catch a lizard or a brown thrasher perched on a chokecherry tree, delicately taking a ripe berry in its beak.
I regularly work as a story pitcher and researcher for A&E, specifically its short video content for Biography channel. One of the latest series is “You Need to Know” which highlights significant yet often overlooked figures from history. The animated shorts now online include a feature on Osage dancer Maria Tallchief, America’s first prima ballerina.
The cover of the summer 2021 issue of Fine Books Magazine features my story on Lewis Hine and his photographs of American labor, particularly child labor in the early 1900s. The story is available in print:
Hine spent 16 years traveling throughout the country, to the sardine canneries in Maine where children cut fish with sharp knives, the coal mines in West Virginia where they crawled into tight spaces to light explosives, and the cotton mills in South Carolina where they worked on colossal cotton-spinning machinery. He portrayed the children there with empathy but also objectivity as he wanted to be “double-sure that my photo data was 100% pure—no retouching or fakery of any kind.” That way no one could deny what they were seeing.
I joined Turnstile Tours for a conversation about some of the greatest trees in New York City in celebration of my new map with Blue Crow Media. It was wonderful to talk with fellow Prospect Park fans and have special on-the-ground coverage of its historic trees like the Camperdown elm and Osage orange. You can watch the event online.
I contributed an essay to Andrew Garden’s new book Wildflowers of New York City. It explores over 2,000 wildflowers that flourish around the five boroughs. These wildflowers are often overlooked and I love the way that Garn has captured their beauty with his photographs. The book is available from Cornell University Press and the New York Times feature on it highlighted my writing: “Others came as stowaways, as the writer Allison C. Meier notes in the book’s introduction. In the 19th century, the botanist Addison Brown scoured the heaps of discarded ballast — earth and stones that weighed down ships — by city docks for unfamiliar blossoms, as he noted in an 1880 issue of the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club.”
Here’s the beginning of my essay on “Nature as a Living Map of New York City”:
New York City’s nature is a living map of its history. While pockets of old growth forest endure in places like Inwood Hill Park in Manhattan with its towering tulip trees and red oaks and the 50-acre Thain Family Forest with its 17th-century woodlands protected in the New York Botanic Garden in the Bronx, much of the landscape in the five boroughs has been disrupted and changed over the past centuries. Greenspace was fractured into islands of land like parks, community gardens, and cemeteries. Concrete, glass, and steel now dominate the city.
I’m thrilled to share that the Great Trees of New York Map that I authored and edited for Blue Crow Media is now available. It includes 50 of the oldest, rarest, strangest, and most historic trees across New York City’s five boroughs, from beloved street trees to over 300-year-old giants. I’ve been researching New York trees since 2015 when I started The Greatest Trees of NYC project to visit some of the city’s most magnificent examples. (You can read about my journey in my 2017 “One Writer’s Quest to Find NYC’s Greatest Trees” for CityLab.) As a fan of maps, New York history, and trees, it’s a dream to bring those three passions together.
This is my third map to collaborate on with Blue Crow Media, following the Concrete New York Map and Art Deco New York Map (you can now collect them all as a set). I hope they encourage exploration of local nature and design no matter where you are in the world.
While I’ve spent a lot of time writing about cemeteries and interviewing other people about them, I don’t get interviewed too much myself so it was fun to share my pet cemetery expertise with the New York Times for “The Most Popular Pet Name of the Century (Maybe).” I find the places where people memorialize their pets to be fascinating. (I shared some favorite epitaph sightings at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in 2014 on Atlas Obscura.) It’s a choice to bury your pet in a pet cemetery and each grave is designed with such emotion and care:
According to Allison C. Meier, a writer and licensed New York City sightseeing guide who gives tours of the city’s cemeteries, including Hartsdale, pet cemeteries provide a historical record of wider cultural shifts around our relationship to pets.
“The way that people refer to their pets changes,” Ms. Meier said in an interview. “On a lot of old dog graves, they call them a gentleman — like, ‘He’s a great gentleman. He lived like a gentleman.’”