Read what happened when the Economic Botany Collection joined forces with Haslemere Museum
Kew's Economic Botany Collection (EBC) contains 85,000 examples of plant use around the world, from ancient Egyptian wreaths to Traditional Chinese Medicines gathered last year. It's the successor to the Kew Museum, set up by Sir William Hooker in 1847, and covers just about every possible use of plants, in most parts of the world.
To reach a wider audience, we regularly lend to exhibitions, at big museums - the Science Museum and the Musee de Quai Branly - and small, such as Orleans House nearby in Twickenham. Since the summer, we've been talking to another small museum about a different and rather larger kind of loan.
The Haslemere Educational Museum has been running a year of activities based on the International Year of Natural Fibres, a major initiative sponsored by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. In fact, I met Jane Downham from the Museum at our ethnobotany day at Kew in March, which also celebrated natural fibres.
We've agreed to a joint exhibition called Fabulous Fibres with Haslemere Museum, featuring about 40 historic objects from the EBC - textiles, baskets, cordage, netting and more, together with modern sustainable fibres such as nettle and hemp, sourced by Haslemere. It was difficult to narrow down the choice of objects from Kew's collection, but we decided to go for small ones, so as to fit as much diversity as possible into Haslemere's display cases. We've managed to get 25 plant species represented and the objects, though small, repay close attention.
The exhibition aims both to be fun - there are beautiful objects, and two handling tables of natural fibres - and educational, assisted by ten panels of information on plant fibres and labels colour-coded by plant part (bark, leaf, stem, seed & fruit). Another major theme is the role of textile conservation, drawing on our many years work with students from the much-missed Textile Conservation Centre, and a new relationship with the University of the Arts at Camberwell.
Have we got it right? Come and see for yourself! We think there is enough in the exhibition to justify a trip from London or elsewhere in the southeast, and Haslemere Museum itself is an unusually rich museum for a small town, complete with a mummy, stuffed bear, dinosaur lair etc.
- Admission: Free
- Museum opening times: Tuesday-Friday 10am-5pm (please check for holiday closures/openings)
- Exhibition talk: On Saturday 5 December I'm giving a gallery talk at 2.30pm, with Jane Downham (Haslemere Museum) and Emily Brennan, who conserved the fabulous lacebark bonnet that's on display.
About Mark Nesbitt
Mark Nesbitt is curator of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew. After studying agricultural botany at Reading University, Mark moved onto the archaeology of plants via a doctorate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. After 15 years of research in the Near East, he joined Kew in 1999 as a specialist in useful plants both past and present.
At the core of Mark's work is caring for the Collection: adding new specimens (about 800 a year), monitoring environmental conditions, lending to exhibitions, upgrading the Collection database and rehousing specimens. Mark hosts around 500 visitors each year, from many different disciplines, organises conservation, teaching and research projects with collaborators, and carries out research into the history of plant fibres, medicine and colonial botany. A team of 5-6 volunteers, placement students and interns play a vital role in keeping everything going.
Mark's aims are both to ensure the Collection is cared for to modern museum standards, and to help the fascinating stories told by its 85,000 artefacts reach the widest possible audience.
- newly discovered
- around the world
- of use
- ground breaking
- english garden
- garden plants
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew