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Perret at Sakurajima 1914

Washington, D.C., 3 August 2011- An album of fifty hand-colored photographs documenting Japan’s most powerful volcanic eruption of the 20th Century was donated to the Geophysical Laboratory’s archives recently by Susan W. Kieffer. The images depict Mount Sakurajima’s 1914 activity and its aftermath and were compiled by Frank A. Perret (1867-1943), a volcanologist associated with the Carnegie Institution for much of his career.

Perret’s camera captured dramatic scenes of the eruption: houses and shrines buried in ash, roiling clouds of steam, volcanic bombs, smoldering lava fields, and the damage wrought by earthquakes that preceded and accompanied the eruption.  Adding to the artistic effect of the photos is Perret’s distinctive tinting process.

Kieffer, a professor of geology and physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of the blog Geology in Motion (http://www.geologyinmotion.com/), acquired the album from Nicoline Zedeler Grinager Ambrose, granddaughter of Nicoline (Zedeler) and Emil Mix of New York City, who were good friends of Perret's. Its significance was immediately apparent to her. “I thought it would be appropriate for Carnegie to have it because of Perret’s career,” she commented on her decision to donate it.

Perret’s connection with the Institution was long and fruitful, beginning around 1911 when the Geophysical Laboratory launched its own volcanology program with field studies at Kilauea. Perret was assisted by honoraria from the Laboratory and later, through formal appointment as a Research Associate of the Institution – a position he held until his death.  His masterful study, The Vesuvius Eruption of 1906, published by Carnegie in 1924, remains a model of careful observation, analysis, and photographic art.  The story of Perret’s work on the famed Italian volcano is told in an award-winning website, The Hero of Vesuvius (http://www.vesuvius.tomgidwitz.com/) by science writer Tom Gidwitz.

The Geophysical Laboratory’s archives hold a substantial body of Perret’s correspondence with Arthur L. Day, Leason H. Adams, and other Carnegie scientists.  For further information about Frank A. Perret, please see https://library.gl.ciw.edu/GLHistory/perret.html