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From the archives: When Wisconsin farmers went to war…against late blight

In 1942, when the world’s attention was focused intently on fighting in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific, Wisconsin potato farmers were fighting their own battle against an infestation of late blight — the same disease that hammered the state’s potato and tomato crops this year. An artifact of that battle turned up recently — this slide set created in 1943 by Russ Larson, a UW plant pathologist at the time, and Byron Jorns, an illustrator in the department formerly known as agricultural journalism.

[Remember that this is a historical artifact, NOT the recommended treatment today. Current guidelines for dealing with late blight and other vegetable diseases in Wisconsin are available at www.plantpath.wisc.edu/wivegdis]

Byron Jorns was a jack-of-all-trades artist. In addition to slide sets, he illustrated the college’s extension and research publications and produced exhibits for fairs, field days and other events. He was also a painter. A number of his watercolors are displayed around campus, and some of his work in the collection of the Chicago Art Institute.

The slide set obviously mirrors the times; it has a bit of the flavor of a World War II newsreel, with a cartoon disease “army” parachuting into fields and attacking plants with bayonets.

While a copy of the slide set had been found several years ago during a clean out of files of the CALS communication program several years ago, the hand-colored originals had been stowed away for a half century in the plant pathology department — for the last 30 years in the bottom drawer of the desk of Walt Stevenson, emeritus professor of plant pathology. Stevenson says the files were among those left by his predecessor, Earl Wade, who retired in 1978. He suspects that Wade inherited them either from Larson or from R.A. Vaughn, who preceded Wade as extension plant pathologist.

The materials, including hand-colored illustrations, negatives used to make them, and a script for the presentation, are now in the hands of UW-Madison archivist Bernie Schermetzler, who is steward of CALS archival materials and already has a sizable collection of items related to Byron Jorns.

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