Nature and Man: The Intersection

I am a humanist, not a scientist. It’s the human side of snow that fascinates me.

Dr. James Edward Church

Butterfield, 1950, p. 91

Drawing of Dr. Church in Greenland by Arla Knudsen, October 11, 1927.

A physical legacy

Ultimately, Dr. Church would have two edifices named after him: one of man, and one of nature. His ashes and those of his wife, Florence Humphrey Church (1869-1922), rest in the cornerstone of the Church Fine Arts Building, a fitting tribute to a man who spent much of his life devoted to teaching the fine arts. Also bearing his name is Church Peak on Mount Rose, the site of his Mount Rose Observatory, established in 1905. In addition, his Nevada Art Gallery lives on as the Nevada Museum of Art, maintaining its focus on how Nevadans interact with their natural environment.

This view shows the entrance to the Church Fine Arts Building as seen from Virginia Street. ID: UNRA-P3601-00142

Church Fine Arts Building, 2005

Meteorological equipment at Mount Rose Observatory, 1907

Meteorograph shelters and precipitation tank, 1907

"A quiet, studious man"

And what of the man himself? Did he reach his personal ideals? Once hearing the description of Mr. March from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women read aloud, he found it so compelling that he wrote, “I must engrave the whole passage and place it on my desk. I would live into its likeness.” And live into its likeness he did: “a quiet, studious man, rich in wisdom that is better than learning, the charity that calls all mankind ‘brother’” (Greenland expedition diaries, vol. 3, p. 18-19). These attributes drove his work and formed his legacy. Later, in Europe, he wrote in frustration upon being told that when he died, his efforts would die with him: “What is to come? A collapsed shell and a proud but futile memory? Is that life? I want to build principles and institutions. Things so vital that they must live” (European diary 4, p. 91). Dr. Church was that rarest of men: he had a vision for the betterment of the world, he realized his vision in life, and the principles and institutions that he built carry on.

Works cited

Borghi, L. (1943, October 9). Arts and artists. Reno Evening Gazette, p. 9.

Butterfield, R. (1950, January 28). Nevada’s fantastic snow man. Saturday Evening Post, 222:31, p. 25-93.

Church family sitting outside Tree House, James Edward Church Papers, NC96_22_71_3.

Church Fine Arts Building, 2005, University Archives, UNRA-P3601-00142, photo by Crista Hecht.

European diary 4: Moscow to Reno via Edinburgh, James Edward Church Papers, NC96_13_87.

Greenland expedition diaries: volume 3, James Edward Church Papers, NC96_13_4_1.

Meteorograph shelters and precipitation tank on Mount Rose, copy 1, James Edward Church Papers, NC96_22_1_21_16.

Print of hand-drawn portrait of Dr. Church in Greenland by Arla Knudsen, James Edward Church Papers, NC96_22_72_30.