Skip to content

Allison C. Meier

Allison C. Meier is a Brooklyn-based writer focused on history, architecture, and visual culture. Previously, she was a staff writer at Hyperallergic and senior editor at Atlas Obscura. She moonlights as a cemetery tour guide. Contact her on Twitter @allisoncmeier.

Design 513, Damask, 1956 and Design 104, Printed Silk and Fortisan Casement [curtain fabric], 1955, by Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fraught Attempt at Mass Production

The famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright famously loathed commercialism, and yet he (reluctantly) designed commercial homewares to be mass-produced.
Sir Charles Knowles, an officer of the Royal Navy

Colonialism Created Navy Blue

The indigo dye that created the Royal Navy's signature uniform color was only possible because of imperialism and slavery.
Photograph: Witch Bottles used for curse protection

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Witch_Bottles_Curse_Protection.jpg

Is There a Witch Bottle in Your House?

In the 16th-18th centuries, vessels filled with nails, thorns, hair, and other materials, were used as a form of ritual protection against witches.
Untitled by Ann McCoy and Untitled by Larry Bell

The Rise and Fall of Hologram Art

Major artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Louise Bourgeois have experimented with holography, but it has yet to be taken seriously as an art form.
Grave site of American botanist Asa Gray (1810-1888), in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts

When Cemeteries Became Natural Sanctuaries

In the 19th century, bucolic, park-like cemeteries started cropping up on the outskirts of American cities.
An Octagon House

A Phrenologist’s Dream of an Octagon House

Orson S. Fowler thought houses without right angles would offer a better life, but his own architectural experiments did not end well.
Berthe Morisot, “Woman at Her Toilette”

How Impressionist Berthe Morisot Painted Women’s Lives

Berthe Morisot never became as famous as her counterparts Claude Monet and Édouard Manet, but her work has an important place in art history.
Witch Marks on the wall of a cave at Creswell Crags.

Witches’ Marks Protected Spaces from Evil

Throughout history, people tried to protect spaces from evil with apotropaic marks, ritual concealments, and other charms.
Desert View Watchtower, Grand Canyon, Arizona

How Mary Colter Made the Grand Canyon an Experience

Architect Mary Colter created buildings that incorporated local materials and indigenous motifs, blending with the environment rather than dominating it.
A headstone featuring clasped hands

The Cemetery Symbol of Eternal Love

Why did Victorian-era gravestones include so many images of clasped hands?
Portrait of Demasduit over a map of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia

Who Were the Beothuk, the Lost People of Newfoundland?

The remains of two of the very last of the Beothuk are finally being repatriated to Canada. Why has it taken almost 200 years?
An aerial view of Roden Crater

A Decades-in-the-Making Artwork in a Dormant Volcano

James Turrell is building an observatory that uses the human eye instead of optical instruments. It may soon be open to the public for the first time.
In a Glasgow Cotton Mill: Minding a Pair of Fine Frames and In a Glasgow Cotton Spinning Mill: Changing the Bobbin, 1907 by Sylvia Pankhurst

This British Suffragist Used Her Art for Activism

Sylvia Pankhurst gave up painting to focus on suffrage and anti-colonialism activism, but she continued to use her design sense throughout her career.
A Pedoscope made by the Pedoscope Company

When Shoes Were Fit with X-Rays

Fluoroscopes were used in shoe stores from the mid-1920s to 1950s in North America and Europe -- even though the radiation risks of x-rays were well-known.
A plate from Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, by Maria Sibylla Merian

The Metamorphosis of a 17th-Century Insect Artist

Maria Sibylla Merian's work in the natural sciences was overlooked for centuries. Now a rare butterfly has been named in her honor.
Cyclorama in South End Boston, 1964.

Cycloramas: The Virtual Reality of the 19th Century

Immersive displays brought 19th century spectators to far-off places and distant battles. The way they portrayed history, however, was often inaccurate.
ENOCH in Space

An Ancient Egyptian Funerary Vessel Heads to Outer Space

Tavares Strachan's “Enoch” was launched into space on December 3rd, 2018. It's the latest in a long line of artworks inspired by Egyptian canopic jars.
Silhouette de château illuminé par un orage, by Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo: Surrealist Artist

Victor Hugo created visual art that was intuitive, experimental, and inspired by Spiritualism. In other words, nothing like his novel Les Misérables.
Plaster face casts by Anna Coleman Ladd

How Masks of Mutilated WWI Soldiers Haunted Postwar Culture

In the age before plastic surgery, masks were the best option for veterans with faces scarred by war. The end results, however, were somewhat uncanny.
Land of the Lotus Eaters, a painting by Robert S. Duncanson

Marking the Grave of the First African American Landscape Artist

Robert S. Duncanson was among the first African American artists to gain international fame. And yet his grave has stayed unmarked for 146 years.
Close up of an eye

Finding a Murderer in a Victim’s Eye

In late 19th-century forensics, optography was all the rage. This pseudoscience held that what someone saw just before death would be imprinted on their eye.
Relics from the Franklin Search Expedition

When Clairvoyants Searched for a Lost Expedition

When Captain Sir John Franklin's Arctic expedition went awry, clairvoyants claimed to be able to contact the crew members. Why did people believe them?
mummy brown painting

When Artists Painted with Real Mummies

The popular paint pigment called “mummy brown” used to be made from—yep—ground-up Egyptian mummies.
pioneer plaque

Art in Space

Artists may soon be heading to the moon for the first time, but art and space travel have been linked together since the beginning.
St Cuthbert Gospel

Why Europe’s Oldest Intact Book Was Found in a Saint’s Coffin

The St. Cuthbert Gospel is the earliest surviving intact European book. Some time around 698, it was slipped into the coffin of a saint.