At the intersection of science and art

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James Eights.pngA couple of weeks ago, I wrote about all the other Albanies that were named for our Albany. One of the most distant places on the planet was named, not for Albany, but for a prominent Albany native: The Eights Coast of Antarctica was named for prominent scientist and artist James Eights.

His exact year and place of birth are in question, but it's fair to say he was born around 1798. The son of a physician (and possibly a physician himself; he was often referred to as "Doctor"), Eights was early associated with Amos Eaton's exploration and collection of the geology of the Erie Canal, and was on the board of the Albany Lyceum of Natural History, formed in 1823. He showed great skill as a draftsman, contributing detailed drawings of Lyceum specimens. He also helped in the development of the Albany Institute of History and Art.

He moved on to New York City, where he was involved with the Sketch Club, an artists' gathering, and the New York Lyceum. With the support of Stephen Van Rensselaer (Amos Eaton's partner in the creation of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Eights was appointed as naturalist on an expedition to explore the South Seas that set out in October, 1829. While this was a time when the continent of Antarctica was still hypothetical, his investigations in the South Shetland Islands turned up the first fossils from that region. In honor of that early exploration, the Eights Coast of Antarctica was named in his honor more than a century later.

His South Seas exploits hardly registered here in Albany, but he is remembered for the paintings he made of Old Albany. Later in his life, around 1850, he made a series of paintings from memory of how Albany looked when he was a boy. These beautiful watercolors are in many instances the only references we have for the long-lost old Dutch city.

A very detailed life of James Eights by Daniel McKinley is available here.
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