Living With Micromosaics


Artist: Henry Dalton
Image: Museum of Jurassic Technology

Microscopy became an affordable hobby in the 1800s. Enthusiasts studied minute organisms and intricate details of larger organisms. Preparation of slides is an art and hobbyists produced a demand for prepared microscope slides.

Henry Dalton was a 19th century microscopist, technically accomplished in slide preparation. He willing shared his techniques and taught others. Dalton had an artistic eye and produced and sold micromosaics, tiny composite images to be viewed through the microscope. Dalton worked with butterfly scales and diatoms to produce intricate pictures and designs. Dalton removed butterfly wings with a needle to create a pallet of shapes and colors. He transferred each scale to the slide with a boar bristle brush to the microscope slide. The scale was coaxed into position and orientation with breath puffed through a tiny tube. The scale could be fixed to the slide with natural oils released by crushing a tiny spot on a scale to the glass. A complex mosaic might contain several hundred to a thousand scales.

The art form is still practiced today by artists who sell slides, some producing custom images. The decline of microscopy as a hobby and the widespread availability of digital images has reduced the demand for micromosaic art. However, the art of microscope slide preparation is widely taught in biology classes and the widespread use of microscopes creates a significant demand for educational microscope slides.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Art, Biomaterials, by jjneal. Bookmark the permalink.

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