Written by Annette Townsend (Interdisciplinary Natural History Artist) & Sally Whyman (Curator: Botany Curator, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales).
Plants growing on the wall of a London art gallery!! On closer inspection you discover they are alien plants, introduced to the UK. Looking even closer you realise they are delicate sculptures, handmade from beeswax, paraffin wax, tinned copper wire, tissue paper, cotton thread, artists’ pigments, acrylic paint and acrylic varnish.
Mounted on stainless steel plates with stainless steel strips, and epoxy printed collector labels, in a juxtaposition of historic and modern materials and techniques, each sculpture mimics a real herbarium sheet, found in the Welsh National Herbarium, Amgueddfa Cymru.
The brainchild of Annette Marie Townsend and Sally Whyman who wanted to combine the skill, vision and dexterity of the artist with the depth of collection knowledge of the curator, allowing the plants to come to life and escape the confining folders and cabinets of the herbarium. This Aliens series allows the plants tell their stories of biodiversity change and invasive species to new audiences, further afield than museum visitors and botanical researchers.
Bio: Henry McGhie has a background as an ecologist, museum curator and manager. He set up Curating Tomorrow in 2019 to help empower museums and their partners to contribute to sustainable development agendas, including the Sustainable Developmet Goals (SDGs), climate action, biodiversity conservation, Disaster Risk Reduction and human rights. He is a member of the ICOM Sustainability Working Group, and a Churchill Fellow working on these topics.
This blog post takes in some of the developments over the last couple of years, and sets out some current opportunities for museums with natural history collections to strengthen their contributions to environmental sustainability.
Let’s cast our minds back to 1992, over thirty years ago now, when representatives of all countries agreed to take action in three areas. This was the Rio Earth Summit, which adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (the grandparent of the Paris Agreement) and the Convention to Combat Desertification. It’s entirely possible you may not even have heard of all of these, but don’t worry you’re far from alone. While governments signed onto these agreements, they were broad, framework agreements. It is true that governments were supposed to take the lead in these, and other agreements, but surely sectors – including museums – don’t need to wait to be asked? However, the agreements have just not been turned into action, and that is a fault of governments, but also of the sectors, that could have gained a lot by saying ‘we have something to contribute here’. What I’m proposing isn’t just that museums take up these agreements to look good, sound good, show off, or compete with one another or with other sectors, but to use them as practical tools.
Why? Because connecting with the big picture and international agreements helps museums to:
Shape their programmes and activities, to provide people interested in these topics with educational and participatory activities.
Put their unique resources to good use in pursuit of positive social and environmental outcomes.
Play a significant and distinctive part in an ambitious programme for a better world.
Build partnerships and collaborations, with one another and with other sectors, working to shared goals.
Create and demonstrate impact, showing that museums and collections are not a nice-to-have, but essential players in securing a future in harmony with nature.
Written by Olivia Beavers, Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at World Museum, National Museums Liverpool.
In December I was selected, along with 17 others, to attend the 4thMOBILISE Action Training School held in Brussels, 6–7th February. This training school gave an opportunity for students and professionals of Natural History Institutions from Europe and Israel to learn more about the publishing of our collections’ data sets. A crucial aim of the training school was to learn how to map data to the Darwin Core Standard, and as a result, create a Darwin Core Archive file to be uploaded to GBIF.
The Training School consisted of two parts: the first was an introduction to the group. This was conducted online and addressed theoretical issues associated with our datasets. Part 2 was the two-day, face to face trip to Brussels to check the cleaning and validation of our data for it to be ready for publishing on GBIF (for Biological Data) or GeoCASe (for Geological, Palaeontological and/or Mineralogical data).
Plants, lichens and fungi have captured the interests of collectors, scientists and artists for centuries, and I have discovered something about them for myself. As time passes from them being found in the field, they don’t get any less complicated, any less fascinating or any less beautiful. I am about 6 months into a two-year project working on the Guermonprez Herbarium called “Flora Explorer”, which is funded by the Headley Trust.
I have been cataloguing and studying the plant, fungi and lichen collections at Portsmouth Museums, and am learning a huge amount about past collecting practices, as well as taxonomy and the collectors themselves. There were so many! Sixty-two different names have cropped up whilst cataloguing the herbarium, with nearly 1000 plant specimens recorded on the database so far. There are around 10,000 plants in the Guermonprez Herbarium in total. How many more names will appear?
Henry Leopold Foster Guermonprez (1858-1924) was a taxidermist, ornithologist and “a botanist who should have been better known”.1The herbarium is made up of plants collected by Guermonprez and members of his family, plants that were sent to him, and others that were purchased. The large collection was transferred from Bognor Regis Museum to Portsmouth Museum in the 1970’s. Many specimens were collected from West Sussex, where I have lived for most of my life.
“Flora Explorer” builds on work carried out during the “Wild about Portsmouth” project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The herbarium is organised into taxonomic order, stored in sealed herbarium cabinets, and the specimens are being catalogued using the relational database used by over 650 museums in the UK, Modes Complete. Digitising the collection has many benefits as it increases access for researchers, and for people who may need the data but can only obtain it remotely. Through the process I have also been updating the taxonomy where necessary, which adds further value to the collection.
A very Happy New Year to all of our readers and contributors! Being the blog editor is a great job as I get to read all of your fantastic posts first and hear about all of the great work going on out there with natural history collections. To reflect on this, here is a round up of the most read blogs that came out in 2022 in case you missed any of them. A huge thank you to everyone who contributed an article, the blog continues to go from strength to strength and this is purely as a result of your work and writing. The 2023 calendar is half full already – so if you are considering submitting something for later in the year, do drop me a line and get it scheduled in.