On pot­tery and physics Frank Har­low’s fi­nal book


Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - The New Mex­i­can Paul Wei­de­man

Alist of the suc­cesses in the life of Fran­cis H. Har­low is full of su­perla­tives — not just about en­ter­prise, but also be­cause of the di­ver­sity of his in­ter­ests and ex­ploits. The man who died on July 1 was a pi­o­neer­ing physi­cist at Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory for 50 years, but he was also an ex­pert on North­ern New Mex­ico’s fos­sil bra­chiopods, an au­thor­ity on Pue­blo pot­tery, a pas­sion­ate mo­tor­cy­clist, and an ac­com­plished painter.

In just one year, 1973, he saw two books pub­lished — Penn­syl­va­nian Bra­chiopods and Bios­tratig­ra­phy in South­ern San­gre de Cristo Moun­tains, New Mex­ico (with Pa­trick K. Suther­land for the New Mex­ico Bu­reau of Mines and Min­eral Re­sources) and New Mex­ico Matte-Paint Pot­tery of the Tewa, Keres, and Zuni Pue­b­los (Mu­seum of New Mex­ico) — and had his first ma­jor one-man show of paint­ings at the Jami­son Gal­leries in Santa Fe.

The new­est book by Frank Har­low is Ad­ven­tures in Physics and Pue­blo Pot­tery: Mem­oirs of a Los Alamos Sci­en­tist, co-au­thored by Dwight Lan­mon and re­leased by the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press ear­lier this year. In its pages, we find that Har­low was born in 1928, grew up in Seat­tle and Bre­mer­ton, Wash­ing­ton, and took spe­cial plea­sure go­ing with his fa­ther to the an­nual en­gi­neer­ing open house at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton.

In high school, Har­low worked for a drug store, de­liv­er­ing pre­scrip­tions by bi­cy­cle; he then learned how to make den­tures in a job work­ing for a den­tist. He writes that he was a so­cial mis­fit and en­joyed vis­it­ing the old wooden docks at a nearby ferry ter­mi­nal and ob­serv­ing sea perch and other marine life. Dur­ing his 1945-47 ser­vice in the U.S. Army, he worked as an oral hy­gien­ist in San An­to­nio and, on the side, sang bass in the cho­rus of the San An­to­nio Opera Com­pany’s pro­duc­tions of Aida and Faust.

Much of the book is writ­ten in con­ver­sa­tional style; Har­low’s de­scrip­tions of first see­ing the Mis­sis­sippi River and Times Square, for ex­am­ple, are full of boy­ish won­der. This per­sonal tone con­trasts with the professional prose brought to bear on his other team book pro­jects with Lan­mon: The Pot­tery of Zuni Pue­blo (2008) and The Pot­tery of Acoma Pue­blo (2013), both tomes of more than 600 pages; and the some­what smaller The Pot­tery of Zia Pue­blo (2003) and The Pot­tery of Santa Ana Pue­blo (2005) with Lan­mon and Duane An­der­son.

“I first knew Frank in 1990,” Lan­mon said in an early Au­gust in­ter­view. “My wife and I were pot­tery col­lec­tors liv­ing in Corn­ing, New York, and he was go­ing to be lec­tur­ing. I knew Frank from his books, but I had never met him, and in rides this guy on his Har­ley-Davidson, six feet six, skinny as a bean,

wear­ing black leather from head to foot and a gold ear­ring. I thought, ‘My God, is this re­ally Frank Har­low, the Frank Har­low?’ He and Jonathan Batkin were sup­posed to do a co-lec­ture, but Jonathan was called away, so Frank gave the lec­ture as if both were stand­ing up there. He would make a point and then change his voice and say, ‘Now, Frank, you know you re­ally can’t say that,’ and he went back and forth like that. It was so great, and you learned so much from him.

“The other thing I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber about him is that he was so un­e­go­tis­ti­cal for a man who had so many tri­umphs and so much recog­ni­tion in his life. He was so hum­ble. This was a re­mark­able fea­ture of this guy and one of the rea­sons I had such fun work­ing with him. We started work­ing to­gether in 1999 on the four pot­tery books. It was such a de­light be­cause we could go back and forth and say, ‘Well, why do you re­ally think that? What’s the ev­i­dence for that?’ It was such a schol­arly give-and-take that was so rich. And he was will­ing to be edited. That was also re­mark­able for some­one who wrote so well, to ac­cept ed­i­to­rial sug­ges­tions.”

Af­ter high school, Har­low earned a bach­e­lor of sci­ence de­gree and a Ph.D. in physics at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton. He re­calls that he spent a year as a re­search as­sis­tant on the univer­sity’s 60-inch cy­clotron and that he en­joyed cour­ses in an­a­lyt­i­cal dy­nam­ics, elec­tro­stat­ics and elec­tro­dy­nam­ics, and quan­tum me­chan­ics.

He mar­ried Pa­tri­cia Jean Nystuen in June 1952 and be­gan his em­ploy­ment with Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory the fol­low­ing Septem­ber. He was amazed by “the new ma­chine called a com­puter,” specif­i­cally the room-size IBM Model 701. “With luck, we could solve a ra­di­a­tion-hy­dro­dy­nam­ics be­hav­ior study with a fi­nite-dif­fer­ence mesh of twenty-five cells in a pe­riod of about an hour,” he writes, and then adds that the lit­tle lap­top com­puter on his desk as he’s writ­ing this book could per­form that action in less than a mil­lisec­ond.

Not long af­ter World War II, the lab had a pol­icy that new­com­ers should wit­ness a nu­clear ex­plo­sion and ob­serve “all the ex­per­i­men­tal equip­ment re­quired for mon­i­tor­ing the phys­i­cal pro­cesses that took place.” So in early 1954, Har­low was trans­ported to the Mar­shall Is­lands, where he was given heavy dark gog­gles to watch, from 27 miles away, a nu­clear test that was about 500 times more pow­er­ful than the bombs dropped on Ja­pan in 1945. (This was one of nearly 150 nu­clear-weapons tests car­ried out by the United States dur­ing the 1950s; dur­ing this decade, the Soviet Union tested 54 de­vices, and Bri­tain tested 21.) Har­low wrote that the ex­plo­sion

I knew Frank from his books, but I had never met him, and in rides this guy on his Har­ley-Davidson, six feet six, skinny as a bean, wear­ing black leather from head to foot and a gold ear­ring. I thought, “My God, is this re­ally Frank Har­low, the Frank Har­low?” — co-au­thor Dwight Lan­mon

“trans­formed a peace­ful is­land to a rag­ing col­umn of in­fi­nite com­plex­ity, and it demon­strated the in­cred­i­ble in­tri­cacy of ma­te­rial be­hav­iors that com­bine so many as­pects of the physics in­volved in tur­bu­lent ma­te­rial phase tran­si­tions.”

Back home, the book tells us, when he was not at work in the lab’s the­o­ret­i­cal divi­sion, he pur­sued a study of seashell fos­sils he had seen at Je­mez State Mon­u­ment. Six years later, he knew quite a bit about the bra­chiopods found at Je­mez, Nambé Falls, and Apache Canyon. The book’s next chap­ter is sim­ply ti­tled “Mo­tor­cy­cles.” His third bike, his beloved 1940 Har­leyDavid­son, is now in the collection of the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico.

As an in­ter­est in Pue­blo In­dian pot­tery grew, he be­came ac­quainted with many artists, in­clud­ing Maria Martinez (San Ilde­fonso Pue­blo), Vi­cen­tita Pino (Zia Pue­blo), and Santana Melcher (Santo Domingo Pue­blo). He and his fam­ily also loved at­tend­ing Pue­blo dances, and he devel­oped a Tewa lan­guage note­book based on tu­tor­ing ses­sions with the fam­ily’s maid and friend, Mary R. Cata from San Juan Pue­blo. Much of his free time was spent ex­am­in­ing the pot­tery col­lec­tions, and mak­ing notes and tak­ing pho­to­graphs, at the Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy.

“Early on, I think Frank was in­ter­ested in Pue­blo pot­tery right across the board,” Lan­mon said, “but I think he re­al­ized that the area that re­ally needed re­search was the his­toric pe­riod, from the 1500s to the time of the rail­road, the 1880s, be­cause no­body had fig­ured it out. No­body was able to iden­tify when things were made or where they were made and how to date them, how to at­tribute them, and how to un­der­stand the re­la­tion­ships among the tribes.

“Frank had a lot of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal frag­ments at home. Here was a man who could en­joy a pot both mi­cro­scop­i­cally, look­ing at the de­tails of the paste and fig­ur­ing out what was in it and what made it dif­fer­ent from another piece of pot­tery, and macro­scop­i­cally, look­ing at a pot and say­ing [about the pot­ter], ‘Wow. Wasn’t she great!’”

A pithy ex­am­ple of Har­low’s in­ter­est in, and pa­tience with, the de­tails of the Pue­blo pot­tery field is re­lated in the book. In the 1960s, one of the Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy staffers (those as­sist­ing him over the years in­cluded Bertha Dut­ton, David Snow, and Ken­neth Chap­man) showed him 34 car­tons of pot­tery frag­ments and said, “There’s noth­ing like putting to­gether bro­ken pots to learn about them.” More than 80 pots dat­ing to the 1800s had been bro­ken up by mind­less van­dals in an ex­hibit at the Fred Har­vey Mu­seum in Al­bu­querque. Af­ter a UNM grad­u­ate stu­dent took the ini­tial steps to re­assem­ble the mess and fi­nally said his Ph.D. wasn’t worth that much work, Har­low took the piles of frag­ments home and over months, in his spare time, glued them all back to­gether for the Lab­o­ra­tory of An­thro­pol­ogy.

Har­low’s fa­cil­ity with twodi­men­sional art be­gan in the 1960s, when he be­gan draw­ing de­signs from Pue­blo ceram­ics. He sub­se­quently be­gan work­ing in color and in other sub­jects — Har­low’s depic­tions of Pue­blo In­dian pots num­ber about 800 — but he never sashayed into the realm of ab­strac­tion. The sub­jects of the paint­ings he showed at Jami­son, the Mon­dosa Gallery in Taos, and Cliff Dwellers Gallery in Los Alamos in­cluded pot­tery and pot­ters, but also pic­to­rial scenes with In­di­ans, a base­ball pitcher, cow­boys, and var­i­ous ur­ban scenes he de­vised that could in­clude one of his mo­tor­cy­cles.

Lan­mon brought up the piece Har­low ti­tled Con­stel­la­tion of

Gloves. “That one, which he gave to me, is just the cra­zi­est paint­ing.” Har­low’s pref­er­ence and tal­ent usu­ally was firmly fo­cused on “re­al­is­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of things that in­ter­est me,” he writes in the book, and in fact, the more than two dozen gloves in this odd jum­ble are per­fectly ren­dered. “And when you look at it closely,” Lan­mon said, “you can ac­tu­ally see which kind of leather was used on each glove. It’s amaz­ing work.”

Lan­mon worked closely with Har­low on the new book. “One of the days I was at the house, and his wife had gone out — and he was in fail­ing health, we knew that — he turned to me, and he sort of grabbed my hand and said, ‘Dwight, prom­ise me if I’m not here you’ll fin­ish the book.’ I thought, ‘Oh, God almighty,’ but we got it out about a month be­fore he died.”

“Ad­ven­tures in Physics and Pue­blo Pot­tery: Mem­oirs of a Los Alamos Sci­en­tist,” by Fran­cis H. Har­low with Dwight P. Lan­mon, is avail­able from Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press.


Pot­ter Maria Martinez with Har­low in 1973, photo Adam Martinez; op­po­site page, top, Har­low: Bik­ers at La Fonda Ho­tel, Santa Fe, 1997, acrylic on Ma­sonite; bot­tom, Har­low on his first mo­tor­cy­cle, a 1952 Har­ley-Davidson 45 side-valve flat­head, photo Pa­tri­cia Har­low; all im­ages cour­tesy Mu­seum of New Mex­ico Press

Har­low: Con­stel­la­tion of Gloves, 1994; top, Har­low in the pot­tery room at his Los Alamos res­i­dence, May 1983

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