St. Valentine and Darwin: A Tale of Two Carls

Carl Buell, Carl Zimmer. Do you know the names? Buell is the renowned natural history illustrator, Zimmer is the well-known science writer.

Buell’s name just popped up all over the world in relation to Darwin Day, Zimmer’s makes a splash this week on the cover of Time Magazine.

I hope Darwin enthusiast Colin Purrington will forgive me for quoting pretty much an entire page on his website, but he explains the Buell-Darwin connection so well I just couldn’t do it better: 

In my futile quest to increase public acceptance of evolution in the world, I thought it would be fantastic to have a life sized cutout of Charles Darwin.  If he was physically present at geeky parties, science museums, and university biology departments, the lure of cheesy photo ops would be irresistible to anyone with a camera built into their phone.  People would then use the images as their online profiles, or they’d send the photographs to their friends and family, and thus gradually expose the world to Darwin in a fun, non-threatening way.  Eventually, even public school teachers would start wanting their own portable Darwin, to help inspire everyone in biology classes.  And then (I’m dreaming here, but I’m allowed since it’s my darn blog), even (gasp) elementary schools would want a big Darwin to stick next to the science sections in libraries.  And so on.  Ideally, the Darwin image would eventually be used whenever one needed an icon for science … replacing that image of Einstein sticking his tongue out.

Carl Buell, illustrator extraordinaire, helped me realize at least the start of this dream by painting the chap for me in 2009 (for a Darwin Day party I organized). He kindly lets me share the digital image (a massive Photoshop file) to nonprofits and individuals who put him (Darwin, that is) to good use. I’d estimate that there are now 25 life-sized Darwins on the planet, some of them in daily photo op situations, and some in public schools. Contact me if you’d like to synthesize him.  All I ask is that you (1) post, online, at least one high-quality photograph that is in some way funny, dramatic, or alluring (2) link to this page, and (3) credit Carl Buell as the artist!

The cutouts have proven to be endless fun wherever they make their appearances.

Meanwhile, the name of science writer Carl Zimmer appears on the Pepto-Bismol-pink cover of Time Magazine this week, for a Valentine’s Day story, The Surprising Science of Animal Friendships.

Zimmer I met back in 2001, when he was giving a talk on his book Parasite Rex. Buell I get to see every day, as his studio is just down the hall from my office.

  • http://colinpurrington.com/ Colin Purrington

    Forgiven! Yea, Carls! Say hi to the Buell one for me if you see him today. It would be a great day (Valentine’s Day) for him to work on the “Emma with Darwin” painting he’s always promised to do for me. He’ll say he didn’t agree to that, which is true, but maybe if enough of us claim he did, he’ll just get started.


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