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Tom Haines
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Icy Images

Email|Print| Text size + By Tom Haines
Globe Staff / October 11, 2006

The bends and bows of Smuggler’s Notch were thick with tourists last weekend, as leaves lingered gold and red. The air was warm, but cooling fast by afternoon’s end, sign again that snow will soon fall across New England’s peaks and valleys.

So it was worth a stop into the back of the old mill building in nearby Jericho, now home to the local historical society and a permanent exhibit on the life work of Wilson A. ‘‘Snowflake’’ Bentley. Bentley, who lived from 1865 to 1931, took thousands of ice crystal photomicrographs: detailed views of snowflakes.

He fashioned his own photography system from a Bellows camera and a $100 microscope he purchased in 1884. His images, black and white and about the size of a postcard, appeared in McClure’s, National Geographic, and other publications.

But his legacy was revived for a wider audience in 1999, when illustrator Mary Azarian set his world in colorful wood cuts in the Caldecott-winning children’s book, ‘‘Snowflake Bentley.’’

The panels of pictographs at the Jericho exhibit show the six-sided wonder of the crystals, some flighty and frivolous, others stoic, serious. But the maxim holds true: No two are alike. Bentley showed the enthusiasm of his myopic motivation in a letter written to a customer, Miss Charlotte Bean, of Brooklyn, N.Y., in January, 1923:

‘‘I wish your order had come a little later, for today I secured 24 brand new ones, some of great beauty. As usual, when good snowflakes are falling, I did not stop for dinner, or anything else, tho I had callers, and became ravenously hungry. What thrills you would have had, could you have been with me while at work, and seen the new beauties in the original, under the microscope.’’

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