Crochetdermy® at the Horniman

Written by Dr Emma Nicholls, Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

We all have our hobbies, though some are definitely more gloat-worthy than others. Personally, I do have some respectable things on my list like visiting other natural history collections and reading history books, but then I also have less conventional interests like attending Destination Star Trek, and building model WWII airplanes. Whatever makes you happy, I say! Last Christmas I got a new hobby- I was given a Star Wars crochet set and, having wiled away the cold winter nights using it to learn how to knot wool into shapes*, I used my new found ‘skills’ to make this awesome, if far from perfect, crochet Yoda for my sister’s birthday. I was pretty chuffed with myself to be frank**, but if you happen to know my sister, don’t look at Yoda’s cloak too closely next time you pop round to see her.

My first crochet project; A little Yoda for my sister. © Emma Nicholls.

It is through the eyes of someone with this specific level of skill (loose term in my case) that I introduce you with awe to the new installation in the Inspired by Nature temporary exhibition space at the Horniman Museum and Gardens. When I first saw the lioness peering out over the Natural History Gallery, I let out an audible and involuntary ‘wow’. The exhibition, by artist Shauna Richardson, is called EVOLUTION of The Artist and the Exhibited Works. The exhibition comprises seven 3-dimensional sculptures, and one ‘skin’; a baboon that hasn’t been stuffed in order to show, in part, the process of how her sculptures have been created. Shauna devised the term ‘Crochetdermy®’ as an obvious yet genius amalgamation of the words ‘crochet’ and ‘taxidermy’ to describe her sculptures, which it does really rather well I’d say. The skill required to produce these life-size pieces, speaking from the bottom rung of the crochet skill set ladder, is phenomenal (and I think people on much higher steps than I would have to agree). You can see the muscles in the lioness’s neck, the facial features are as realistic as you like, and the size and impact of the pieces on the visitors is obvious, whenever I walk past.

The centrepiece of our new exhibition is this incredible Crochetdermy® lioness, by Shauna Richardson. © Emma Nicholls.

The exhibition draws directly from various exhibits on permanent display within the Natural History Gallery. In a nod to our panel on genetics, Shauna explores how she became the artist she is today by looking at how artistic ability has been passed down, or not, through her recent family. The product is a cladogram of sorts, mirroring our mouse display, in which she uses characters such as; Inherited Traits, Skills Learned, and Adaptation to Environment (as opposed to rodent hybridisation) to produce her artistic familial phylogenetic associations. It seems Shauna shares the ability to be successful at crochet with her maternal and paternal grandmothers, but with neither of her parents nor grandfathers. I don’t know if she corrected for the potential of dormant skills in said relatives, but either way, it is an interesting anthropogenic case study and a wonderful way to tie the exhibition in with the Horniman’s collections.

Going back to the impact on our visitors, I think the reach of this exhibition may be more diverse than we potentially realise. Thanks to many different people and projects, mental health is being talked about more and more. Museums, gardens, and crafts, are all widely quoted as having a proven positive impact on our mental well-being… and well what do you know- at present the Horniman Museum has all three of those! But, that’s not where I was going… Personally speaking, when I go to an historic airshow for example, I come away pumped up to start work on another model airplane kit. Similarly, seeing Shauna’s Crochetdermy® sculptures fired my brain up to go home and dig out that Star Wars crochet book again and start work on a stormtrooper. I am definitely able to recognise the positive impact craft has on my life; I think it’s primarily due to the feeling of accomplishment it gives me. Perhaps this exhibition will inspire other people to pick up an old hobby, or maybe even learn a new skill… that Star Wars crochet book now has a sequel, FYI. Whatever you take away from your visit, I think you’ll definitely be impressed by Shauna’s Crochetdermy®.

Going up a skill level- I think you’ll agree this unicorn is so good it’s akin to the real thing, yes? © Emma Nicholls.

EVOLUTION of The Artist and The Exhibited Works is on at the Horniman Museum and Gardens until March 2019.

* I’m told it’s actually called yarn

** Any well-educated Star Wars fans will love that reference

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s