The beauty of a smile

Written by Jan Freedman, Curator of Natural History, Plymouth Museum Galleries Archives.

Someone once said to me “to smile is to live”. What a beautiful statement. And so very true. To smile at the wonders of the world around us makes us happier people. How can a blue tit singing on a branch, or a beetle scurrying in the grass, not bring a smile to our lips?

Smiling really is good for your well-being too. A smile releases chemicals called endorphins, which make your brain happier. These chemicals automatically make you feel more relaxed, and boost your mood. The more we smile the better we feel, making us smile more. Like a circle of happiness, a smile makes you smile more.

A smile is also good for other people too. How wonderful it makes you feel when you see the joy of families exploring our museum galleries. I want visitors to smile when they are wandering around an exhibition, and share that joy with their family. The same endorphins are at work when we see a smile; it makes us smile, and gives you a little boost.

There’s another wonderful side to a smile too. A side that shows people you are listening, you are interested, and you want to hear more.

The beautiful bloody-nosed beetle. Those beautiful feet, and gorgeous antenna brings a smile to my face every time I see one! (© Jan Freedman).

Many of us will have been to talks or presentations, be it might an evening do, or a multi-day conference listening to a number of speakers. All of us are familiar with those long talks that never seem to end. Or it might be the last talk of the day. We drift. We doodle. We tap our phones. The slides click along, and the voice of the speaker seems to drift away.

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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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