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.

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NatSCA Digital Digest – September

Lost Treasures- A Statement from the Chair

Dear all,

As most of you will no doubt be aware, the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, suffered a catastrophic fire that started in the evening of 2nd September 2018. Fortunately no people were killed in the blaze, but the majority of the collections housed in the building are thought to be lost. While the cause of the fire is still as yet uncertain, a significant proportion of the blame for the devastation caused has fallen on the Brazilian government, due to ongoing under-investment in the Museum’s infrastructure. This serves as a stark warning of the dangers faced by museums with inadequate support.

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Nature’s Empire

Opportunities for international research are rare when working in a regional museum. So when one arose I grabbed it with both hands.

Thanks to two external specialists, Martyn Rix and Henry Noltie (of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Edinburgh respectively), we already knew that a group of 86 beautiful Indian paintings of plants and animals in RAMM’s collection were important. The works were painted by Indian artists under the instruction of European scientists while India was under British rule.  They also recognised that the plants depicted were economically useful for medicines, dyes and timbers. So in 2016 RAMM displayed half of the works in an exhibition called Flower Power – Botanical Drawings from India. The artworks were all conserved through funding from Arts Council England’s PRISM fund, as outlined in this article Preparing for Flower Power.

Sheah Gosh. Watercolour and gouache, c.1770-80 by an unknown artist. Cresswell collection. © 2018 Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council. This depiction of a lynx is by an unknown artist. In Urdu it is known as ‘siyah gosh’ meaning ‘black-eared’. The animal was probably kept in a menagerie.

The collection caught the attention of two University of Exeter lecturers, Dr Nandini Chatterjee and Dr Andrew Rudd, as well as Dr Jayanta Sengupta; a visiting curator from India. I explained that although we had learnt a lot about the collection already, there was still much we did not know. Such as:

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Why Cultivated Plants Matter in an Urban Environment

A subject close to our hearts at the Horticultural Taxonomy department of the Royal Horticultural Society is the vastness of the UK cultivated flora – in fact, the latest RHS Plant Finder 2018 lists over 76,000 plants grown in the UK. Stroll through any village, town or city and it is clear that the botanical life of our urban places is dominated by cultivated plants. However, cultivated plants appear only rarely in Floras, the scientific work that catalogues the plant life of a given area. Recording introduced plants is essential if the ecosystems of our towns and cities are to be fully understood.

London street trees providing welcome shade for pedestrians on a sunny day. © Yvette Harvey.

Why Does this Matter?

There is increasing evidence that plants grown for ornament serve more than just an aesthetic function. The flexibility of fauna in adapting to available vegetation has been documented in a 30-year study of a suburban domestic garden (Owen, 2010). The four-year RHS experiment known as Plants for Bugs found that to encourage pollinating insects in gardens the best strategy is to plant a mixture of native and exotic flowering plants (Salisbury et al., 2015). There is also a greater understanding that the human environment can be managed by an informed use of cultivated plants. Examples include the value of street trees and green walls in mitigating heat island effect and the role of green spaces in reducing water runoff.

Pollinators visiting an ornamental flower bed. © Yvette Harvey.

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NatSCA Conservation Photo Competition

#NatSCAConservation #photocomp

In the run up to the NatSCA Caring for Natural Science Collections one-day conservation conference (Oxford University Museum of Natural History, 17th October 2018) we are running a social media photo competition.

We are looking for your original photographic entries featuring the conservation and collections care of natural history collections particularly those that focus on innovative techniques, modern advances, shared skills and preventative conservation.

We encourage entries from conservators (specialists, generalists and students alike), curators, volunteers, and anyone working with collections. Natural history collections may include bone, taxidermy, fluid preserved collections, geology, palaeontology, shell, botany, entomology, and more.

Removing oxidised oils from the surface of a Minke whale skull. ©Lucie Mascord.

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A Year of Coraling and Coralling

International Year of the Reef

The Aquarium at the Horniman Museum and Gardens dates back, in one form or another, to the early 1900s. In more recent times the Aquarium has been home to Project Coral; where pioneering research is being undertaken in coral spawning. The project team, led by Aquarium Curator Jamie Craggs, is successfully developing in-vitro fertilisation techniques for captive corals and they have instigated the first successful spawning of captive coral in the world. Their research will further scientific understanding of the impact of climate change on coral reproduction and has potential to serve as a method of restoring damaged coral reefs.

Coral spawning taking place at the Horniman Museum Aquarium, as part of ongoing research by Project Coral under lead scientist Jamie Craggs. © Horniman Museum and Gardens and Jamie Craggs

Being the home of such an important coral conservation project made it an obvious thing to do to get involved with International Year of the Reef. 2018 marks the third IYOR (International Year of the Reef), and to celebrate it, the Horniman Museum is hosting a year of special events, exhibitions, online content and family activities to highlight both Project Coral, and the ongoing plight of coral reefs around the world. As Project Coordinator of the IYOR programme at the Horniman, my role was to help set up and run six projects devised by a team of collaborators. The project was extremely multidisciplinary; utilising the natural history collections, the live aquarium exhibits, art installations, dance performances, and collaborating with external researchers from around the world.

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#NatSCA2018: Two Days That Made Me Feel Like a Part of Something

The NatSCA Annual Conference 2018 in Leeds – thoughts of a bursary awardee

My name is Meg Cathcart-James, and I am Project Officer for the Cole Museum of Zoology at the University of Reading. I graduated from the university with a BSc in Ecology and Wildlife Conservation, and was lucky enough to be employed in this role as I continue on to a PhD, also on the subject of ecology.

I mention this little introduction to my background for a reason; with no real zoological knowledge, museum training or experience, when I first started working for the Cole I felt a bit like an impostor, an outsider. Throughout my undergraduate degree and entering into postgraduate research, I have seen and experienced this before; I think it is quite a common feeling in the academic world and as I began to work closely with the museum’s curator, Professor Amanda Callaghan, and engage with other staff in the wider university museum team, I felt this more acutely. That is, until I went to the NatSCA Conference in Leeds earlier this year.

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