In 1898, a professor at the University of Vermont heard about Bentley’s work and helped him publish an article in Popular Scientific Monthly. Bentley wrote that, based on his observations, no two snowflakes are alike—a shockingly new idea at the time, which prompted vehement responses in other major journals. Later on, science would prove that his hypothesis was, indeed, correct. “By means of these wonderfully delicate and exquisite figures much may be learned of the history of each crystal and the changes through which it has passed in its journey through cloudland,” Bentley wrote.
While working a 20-cow dairy farm with his brother, Bentley continued making microphotographs and keeping detailed meteorological records, with obsessive intensity. He never married and was known to keep to himself. He kept studying—recording data on raindrops, dew, frost, and clouds—and writing, contributing articles to magazines such as National Geographic and scientific studies to Monthly Weather Review. His ideas anticipated key concepts in meteorology, though he received very little recognition during his lifetime.
Bentley sold slides of his photographs to colleges and universities, and the images became popular with engravers, textile designers and jewelers, who used them as a model for cutting gems. In 1931, the same year Bentley died of pneumonia (which may have been caused by a walk through a snowstorm), roughly half of his 5,000 snowflake photographs were published in the book Snow Crystals, which was reissued by Dover in 1962 and is available to this day.
The man who earned the title “Snowflake Man” is now something of a folk hero, or perhaps an outsider artist. Seligman muses, “By allowing us to visualize the delicate balance between pattern and variation, the photographs are a singular example of our human desire to capture, investigate, and understand pattern.”