Wilson A. Bentley literally spent a lifetime photographing snowflakes.
In 1885, at age 19, he attached a microscope to a bellows camera to make the first microphotograph of a snow crystal. Over the next 47 years, he shot more than 5,000 such pictures, in the process establishing the fact that no two snowflakes are alike.
The downside was that Bentley, whose pioneering photography attracted worldwide attention, had no one in his life to share it with -- or leave it to. After he died in 1931, his sole surviving relative, a niece, tried unsuccessfully to interest the Smithsonian Institution in taking his 10,723-piece collection, which also included pictures of frost, dew on spider webs and plants, clouds, snowflake composites and self-portraits.
Then she remembered that her uncle had delivered a well-received lecture at the Buffalo Museum of Science in 1924. She contacted museum President Chauncey Hamlin, who in 1947 gladly purchased the entire collection for $500.
Fifty-five years later, just in time for lake-effect season, the museum is bringing out Bentley's life work for the first time. Hundreds of his snowflake pictures will be the centerpiece of "Winter Wonders," opening Friday in the Humboldt Parkway building. The exhibition also will feature his camera and microscope and a replica of the woodshed in rural Jericho, Vt., where he spent thousands of hours studying weather phenomena. Both artifacts were loaned by the Jericho Historical Society.
The exhibit represents an attempt to start "a winter tradition" modeled on programs developed by museums in Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Cleveland, said David E. Chesebrough, Science Museum president and CEO.
It also reflects a decision to de-emphasize the expensive traveling shows that have ruled Hamlin Hall at least once a year since "Dinosaurs Alive!" invaded 15 years ago, Chesebrough said.
In their place the museum opted to add "something that had a Buffalo identity -- what better than snow?" he said. The Bentley collection will serve "as a platform to celebrate snow, the science and natural history around snow, the way humans and nature adapt to it and the cultural celebrations that occur during winter."
In a further departure from past practice, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will work with the museum to cross-market "Winter Wonders," just as the BPO has turned out compact discs to help "sell" recent exhibitions at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
During Holiday Pops concerts in Kleinhans Music Hall, several Bentley snowflake images will be projected on the main hall walls. "Winter Wonders" also will be promoted in program inserts, and related materials will be displayed at information tables in Kleinhans.
In turn, the Science Museum will distribute information about the Holiday Pops and "Hansel & Gretel" concerts.
Besides the Bentley material, "Winter Wonders" will include National Weather Service demonstrations, an explanation of lake effect storms, a display on the record-breaking snow and cold of 1976-77, insights on how animals adapt to freezing weather and classes on gingerbread-making, Origami, wreath-making and keeping a holiday scrapbook.
Another highlight will be adults-only breakfast and lunch conversations Dec. 7 with Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of "Snowflake Bentley" and other young childrens' books. The illustrations for her book about Bentley, who in addition to photographing snow crystals was the first American to measure a raindrop, and who pioneered atmospheric studies, won the American Library Association's 1999 Caldecott Award for illustrator Mary Azarian.
Additional museum activities in conjunction with the exhibition will include Kwanza demonstrations, ballet performances, carolers, Indian dance and folk singing.
Admission to "Winter Wonders," which will run through Feb. 23, will be $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and $5 for children. Children under three will be admitted free. Breakfast with Martin will be $25 and lunch will be $35 -- reservations required. For information, call 896-5200, Ext. 338.