One of Kew's PhD students investigates the beautiful posters that once hung in Kew's museums.
I’m trying to understand how Kew's Museum of Economic Botany tackled the issue of learning: what messages was it communicating, to what kinds of visitor, and what resources were used? Knowing details such as the visual aids used, would help to build up a more complete picture of the museums’ mission of ‘instruction’.
If you look at old photographs of the former Museum No. 2 (now the School of Horticulture), you’ll see a series of large, framed, botanical diagrams suspended from the balcony (below, about 1900).
Historical photograph of Museum No. 2 (1900s)
They were still in place in the 1960s when the museum was closed to the public (below).
Botanical diagrams suspended from the balcony in Museum No. 2 (1960s)
By the 1980s, however, when the building was being used as a collections store, they had disappeared from view (below, about 1985).
Museum No. 2 (1980s)
For my PhD research into the history of the Kew museums, I’ve been trying to track these pictures down. They are no longer in Kew's Economic Botany Collection (the sucessor to the Museums), or collections of illustrations, but it’s possible they were transferred elsewhere during the move of the museum collection to the Banks Building in the late 1980s.
So, my question is: does anyone recognise the author or illustrator of these quite distinctive diagrams? In fact I’d be keen to hear from anyone who knows anything at all about them, or the use of such posters more generally in botanical education. Please do get in touch (via my university web page) if you can shed any light on the likely solutions to these botanical mysteries.
London Open House
One reason Museum No. 2 is on my mind is that I'm working with the Curator of the Economic Botany Collection, Mark Nesbitt, to re-open the building for Open House London. In 2011 this is on the weekend of 17-18 September, when hundreds of buildings that are usually private are opened to the public, free-of-charge.
Visit Open House at Kew Gardens 2011
We think Museum No. 2 will be quite special. It's the first time it has been open to the public since 1960. Its current use as Kew's School of Horticulture has not disturbed the display cases and interior designed by Decimus Burton in 1846-47. We'll be using enlarged photos (including this one, below, from a recently discovered cache in Leiden) and posters to take visitors back into the 19th century. We'll also be reinstalling lots of artefacts from the Economic Botany Collection, including a special display to mark the centenary of the death of one of Kew's great directors, Sir Joseph Hooker.
Historical photograph of Museum No. 2 (1900s)
Do come and visit, if you can. Details are on Kew's web site, and at Open House London. Admission is free (but only via the Jodrell Gate PDF) , first come, first served, but but we (and all the Kew volunteers who are helping on the day) will do our best to keep queues as short as possible.
To see the posters in more detail, please examine the higher resolution images available at Kew on Flickr.
- Caroline -
- Open House London at Kew
- Economic Botany Collection
- More about Caroline's research
- Historical geography at Royal Holloway
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.
- around the world
- ground breaking
- the UK
- at risk
- needs help
- english heritage
- Kew overseas
- verge of extinction
- wet tropics
- gifts that help
- of use
- hot spot
- South East Asia
- english garden
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