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Library, Art and Archives blog

Welcome to Kew's Library Art and Archives blog. Here you will find information about Kew's collections, services and fascinating work which is taking place within the section and also meet the Library, Art and Archive staff who will provide regular updates with news from projects they are involved in, treasures they have discovered and exciting new developments planned for the future. Donate now - Help Kew look after its art and heritage

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An Introduction to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art

By: The Gallery Team - 12 Jul 2010
Read about the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew, the world's first continuously open gallery dedicated to botanical art.
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Welcome to the first blog entry from the exhibitions team who are based in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and the Marianne North Gallery, two very different galleries which are joined together and provide a centre for botanical art at Kew.


The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and the Marianne North Gallery at Kew

The Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art opened in April 2008 and since then it has been a very busy two years of work for everyone involved. We have displayed eight inspiring exhibitions containing paintings from a wide range of collections from all over the world. The gallery, which was funded with the generous support of Dr Shirley Sherwood and the Sherwood family, was designed by the award-winning architects Walters and Cohen. The building was specifically designed to display unique artworks and artefacts in a controlled environment and is a valuable addition to Kew, enabling us to showcase collections which until now have been in storage. 

A rare opportunity to see the treasures of the Mutis Collection 

clematis mutisii

'Clematis mutisii', © Real Jardín Botánico, CSIC, Madrid

 We are really thrilled about our current exhibition Old and New South American Botanical Art, especially as it contains many previously unseen works from the Mutis Collection which we are fortunate to have on loan from the  Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid. This is an incredibly rare opportunity to see these 18th century illustrations, which will only be on show until 8 August 2010.

To compliment these historic paintings, we also have on display the beautiful contemporary illustrations from the Sherwood Collection. These include six paintings (and some sketch book pages from the Kew Collections) by the explorer and conservationist Margaret Mee, who spent 30 years painting and drawing plants from the Brazilian rainforest, many of which are now extinct due to habitat destruction.


Margaret Mee's paint box is on display in the gallery

Events in the Gallery

We often hold a range of events inspired by our exhibitions, including demonstrations, talks and tours. A list of these events can be found in the exhibitions listing and Kew Magazine.

We hope that you enjoyed our introduction to the galleries at Kew. We hope to be back soon to introduce you to the team. However, if you have any enquires, please contact the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art by email: or telephone: 020 8332 3622. 

Old and New South American Botanical Art’ runs from Saturday 08 May - Sunday 08 August 2010 and is open daily from 0930 - 1730.

- Sian, Joanne & Jessica -


Further information

1 comment on 'An Introduction to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art'

Coming home - Plant collecting in South Africa in the 1800s

By: Michele Losse - 30 Jun 2010
In the first installment of a two part blog, find out more about Kew's history of plant collecting in South Africa.
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The FIFA World Cup 2010 being hosted in South Africa means that this region is very much in the limelight at present. However, Kew’s Archives show how this fascination with South Africa started much earlier in the botanical world.

We hold a huge amount of material relating to South Africa at Kew. In this post, I'm going to highlight an example from the early 19th century when Joseph Banks was sending plant collectors to far flung shores using royal money. In my second post later on this month, I shall focus on the Zambesi Expedition led by David Livingstone, at the height of the Victorian era.

Cape of Good Hope: James Bowie’s Expedition 1814-1823

LAA Bowie Journal KCL/4/2

Entries for April 1822 in Bowie's journal (KCL/4/2)

The early plant collectors had as much of a thirst for discovery as a desire to find new plants. Their journals record not only flora, but also their journeys, the landscapes and indigenous people encountered. James Bowie (ca 1789-1869), was a gardener at Kew and was instructed by Joseph Banks in 1814 to sail to the Cape of Good Hope to collect plants for Kew's collections. Bowie writes:

The arrival of the peace treaty with France and the certainty that … ships will sail as they were used to do without being subjected to any uncertain delays makes me anxious to see the establishment of foreign collectors resumed … no places are so productive as the Cape of Good Hope … the plants of this country are beautiful in the extreme and suit the conservatory.”

We have 2 diaries for Bowie’s expedition to South Africa: the first one covers the period 1814-1821 and the second, entitled ‘A Journal kept at the Cape of Good Hope by James Bowie H.M.B.C.’ covers the years 1821-1823. Both are primarily collecting journals, concerned with the flora encountered but also include occasional comments about people and places.

LAA Haemanthus albiflos illustration by S Edwards

Haemanthus albiflos by Sydenham Edwards, 1810. Painted for Curtis' Botanical Magazine. Bowie collected specimens of this plant.

Bowie's journals always start with a brief description of the day’s weather, sometimes the temperature and wind direction, followed by a detailed description of plant collecting activities and any other events. Plant collecting in the Cape region was hard physical work and not always very fruitful (a bit like the football!). Bowie describes his plant collecting:

In hopes of procuring novelties, I this morning ascended one of the highest parts of the mountain to the North East, but after a most toilsome walk, and encountering many difficult precipices, I only procured two orchidea [orchids] and a species of Hamenthus [Haementhus or Paint Brush] … during the time I was employed on the mountain the wind was very boisterous and I was in some danger of being blown from the more exposed parts by its violence”.

Coming soon: I’ll be blogging again shortly to tell you about the Zambesi Expedition.

- Michele-


Further information

Want a break from the football? Interested in South Africa? If you would like to see our documents relating to botanical collection in South Africa, or to find out more about the Archives, please get in touch with

We don’t yet have an online catalogue, but details of many of our catalogued collections are available through the National Archives Catalogue.

2 comments on 'Coming home - Plant collecting in South Africa in the 1800s'

Crossing continents - The next phase of digitisation

By: Helen Hartley - 18 Jun 2010
Read about the recent changes within the Directors' Correspondence digitisation team and the start of our new project - digitising the Directors' Correspondence collection from Asia.
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Directors' Correspondence digitisation team

Directors' Correspondence digitisation team

Latin American achievement

There has been a lot going on in the Directors' Correspondence digitisation team of late. We recently celebrated the end of the digitisation of the Latin American Directors' Correspondence collection, which our team completed within the two year time frame set out for the project. We are, therefore, pleased to announce that the complete collection of Kew's Directors' Correspondence from Latin America is now available to view online via the JSTOR website. A significant achievement!

The team have worked hard over the last two years, not only to digitise the collection, but to raise the profile of the project: writing articles for the staff magazine and, more recently, for the Library, Art & Archives blog. I would like to thank them for their hard work - it has been a privilege to be part of such an enthusiastic team.

Moving on

The end of the digitisation of the Latin American correspondence coincided with a change in the team's environment:  we moved out of two small basement offices, into a larger, lighter and airier room on the ground floor! On a sad note, the end of the project also coincided with us losing a member of our team. Lindsay Rosener decided it was time for her to return to the US.   We were very sorry to lose Lindsay – she is a great person, with an exuberant personality, who contributed greatly to our success and to the lively atmosphere in the office. We wish Lindsay the best of luck with whatever she decides to take on next. 

Embarking on Asia

Our new digitisation officer, Charlotte Rowley, joined us at the end of May and is settling in well.  It's a good time for Charlotte to start, as we have now embarked on the next phase of our project: to digitise the Directors' Correspondence collection from Asia. In the first two volumes of correspondence, we have come across letters written to Kew from India, Indonesia, Mauritius, China, Turkey and the Ukraine! Within these volumes I was intrigued to find letters from correspondents whose names would not seem out of place in a William Boyd novel:  Philip Furley Fyson and William Popplewell Bloxam.

Philip Furley Fyson (1877 – 1947), was a botanist who worked in India and was author of several illustrated volumes on the flora of the South Indian hills. In 1914 he wrote to Kew asking for help in the identification of specimens to be included in his work:  'The Flora of the Nilgiri and Pulney Hill-Tops'.   In his letters, Fyson also refers to Sir Alfred Gibbs Bourne, director of the Indian Institute of Science, and Lady Bourne, the botanical artist whose illustrations were used in the aforementioned Flora. Lady Bourne's letters to Kew are found in the same volume of correspondence.

 LAA Philip Furley Fyson

(Photograph: Philip Furley Fyson (1877 - 1947), Wiki Commons

William Popplewell Bloxam (1860 – 1913) was a chemist who, on behalf of the Government of India, worked on methods of improving the manufacture of natural indigo.   Bloxam wrote to Kew in 1907, from the Clothworkers' Research Laboratory at the University of Leeds, to elicit help in separating  a mixture of dried indigo leaf from Madras (now Chennai) into its constituent parts.   He had managed to obtain an extraordinarily high yield of indigotin  from the sample and was anxious to know which species of Indigofera might be responsible for the result. In fact, it was Bloxam's extraction process that had accounted for the increased yield of indigo and his results showed that the manufacture of indigo in India was running at only 25% efficiency.   Unfortunately, Bloxam's results were not received well in India and the report he published in 1908 on the process of indigo manufacture was largely ignored (see 'Plantation Science: improving natural indigo in colonial India, 1860-1913', by Prakash Kumar in The British Journal for the History of Science, 2007, 40: 537-565).

 Illus Indigofera tinctoria 2

Illustration: 'Indigofera tinctoria (indigo)' by George Bond (c.1806-1892). Photograph by Paul Little. Copyright ©RBGKew 

We look forward to finding many more such characters within the Asian correspondence and promise to share these with you over the coming months. 

- Helen -


More information

1 comment on 'Crossing continents - The next phase of digitisation'

Making order out of chaos - Cataloguing the Rose-Innes papers

By: Hannah Jenkinson - 04 Jun 2010
Read about the process of cataloguing a recent accession.
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Imagine a jumbled collection of books, pamphlets, photographs, letters and notebooks. What would you do with the collection? How would you know what treasures of information were contained in it? How would you organise it and allow others to explore it? These issues are taken on and solved by archivists as they catalogue collections within their archive, and I am here to tell you about my experiences of cataloguing one of the newest collections in the Archives at Kew.

A large proportion of the lifetime’s work of the grassland ecologist Reginald Rose-Innes arrived in 7 large boxes in late 2009. Delving into the boxes I was struck by the variety and richness of the material, and realised I had set myself quite a challenge for my first cataloguing project!

Before I could organise or catalogue the collection I needed to know what was there; initially I put together a list of all the items in the boxes and discovered they contained around 170 items! I was then able to establish an arrangement for the collection. I divided the material into four main series; those being personal papers and correspondence, research notebooks, printed material including reports and off-prints, and photographs - and I organised each series and further sub-series chronologically. I then wrote the catalogue entries which meant identifying dates, titles and a concise description of each item. This was the most time consuming part of the project but also the most enjoyable. Looking at each letter, notebook or photograph in turn allowed me a huge insight into the career and personal life of Rose-Innes.

Rose-Innes Photo

Photograph of Reginald Rose-Innes (Reg is on the left)

Once I had catalogued the collection I was able to complete its physical arrangement. I numbered each item to allow for easy identification in the future, and carefully removed metal fastenings. I then repackaged papers into archival quality folders, and photographs into melinex sleeves, and finally placed the collection in acid free boxes. These measures will prolong the life of the collection and allow others to discover it for many years to come.

LAA Rose-Innes Collection

A selection of the papers from the collection.

Cataloguing a collection in this way allows researchers a brief glimpse into the vast quantity of information contained within it and provides clues as to which items may be of most interest to them. The material in this collection will not only hold interest for those carrying out grassland research but also others with interests in history, geography and anthropology.

I hugely enjoyed cataloguing the Rose-Innes collection; I discovered a down-to-earth individual who was passionate about his field of work, and held great admiration for those who inspired him and his colleagues. Throughout the project Reginald’s sense of humour brought his papers to life, and I end with a snippet from one of his letters -

We partook of hot coffee, which was good and boiled beans seasoned with garlic – which were frightful. “Them beans is good food” said Gilbert – “stick to your ribs”. I swallowed mightily and said I’d never tasted better.’


- Hannah -


Further information

The Rose-Innes catalogue exists in Calm, which we hope will be available on the web by 2011. In the meantime paper copies of the catalogue list, which includes a brief biography, are available by request. Visitors are welcome to book an appointment to view the items from the collection in our Reading Room.

For further information about the Archives see our webpages or contact the Archives Team at

5 comments on 'Making order out of chaos - Cataloguing the Rose-Innes papers'

Welcome to the Marianne North Conservation Studio

By: Helen Cowdy - 06 May 2010
Read about the Marianne North Gallery Conservation project taking place in the newly built Preservation Studio in the Herbarium at Kew.
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There’s more to a Marianne North painting than a pretty plant!

I am part of the team working to conserve the Marianne North paintings and through a series of posts we hope to share some of the incredible things we are finding during this project. Our team is working hard to meet the target to restore all 832 paintings in just two years. As you can imagine this is extremely sensitive work which involves a steady hand and lots of concentration. We are all paper conservators and our varied interests and backgrounds have really helped the team work well together - from photographers, art historians and artists to a mathematician!

The Marianne North project is an incredible opportunity for any conservator as it is unusual to be able to work on one artist’s collection continually, so this is a real treat for us and chance to learn so much about one person, the collection and how it was created.

mng painting 1    mng painting 2   mng painting 3

Paintings by Marianne North - North American Carnivorous Plants; Foliage, Flowers and Fruit of Sacred Lotus in Java; Foliage and Flowers of a Tropical American Shrub and Honeysuckers

All the paintings are examined, photographed and recorded – possibly the most important part of preservation. Our treatment records will provide future data for conservators and curators with information about the methods and chemical treatments we have used and why we have used them. This information can be used to help maintain the historical and cultural value of the collection.

Beginning the conservation

The paintings that are being conserved are oil paint on a pre-prepared paper, the majority of which were adhered to a poor quality mount board which aimed to prevent the paper from sagging in the frames. The boards and the adhesive used have degraded in time and become acidic, which ultimately puts the paintings at risk. The majority of our time is spent removing these boards which we pare down with scalpels – a very labour intensive task working layer by layer, from the back of the board to the back of the paper and can take between one and four hours per painting. 

conservation tools      conservator at work 

A selecion of conservation tools                 Removal of old backing board

Each of us see the treatment of a painting through to completion and are often working on five or six different paintings at any one time. This means that we can vary our work load. Paring down more than one large painting a day is really hard work on our wrists and hands, so it is really important that we can break up repetitive movements with other treatments like surface cleaning, pH testing or documentation. We use an alkali solution to raise the pH of the paper to neutral, attach new archival quality boards and clean them. All paintings will go back into their original frames which have been cleaned and restored.

The Marianne North Conservation team give free informal talks on the project, Marianne North and their hidden finds once a month in the Marianne North Gallery. You can find out more about these events on Kew's what's on pages.

- Helen -


Further Information

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