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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Conservation at Kew does not stop at plant species and the environment. Kew’s team of paper conservation staff are currently working on the final stages of a two-year project to preserve the paintings lining the walls inside the recently restored Marianne North Gallery. I am part of this team working on the 832 oil paintings on paper to ensure they last long into the future. One of my colleagues, Helen, has also blogged about our work.
Alongside our practical work we hold monthly gallery talks in the Marianne North Gallery about how we conserve the paintings. This month we plan to demonstrate the most common practical treatment to help explain how we have been improving the condition of the paintings. I will now go on to describe the treatment and why it is carried out.
Close up of flaking paint
When they first went on display between 1881 and 1882, the paintings were originally stuck onto low-quality boards to keep them rigid in the frames. Today these boards have become brittle and discoloured from acids transferred from inside the wooden frames. This acidity will have moved through the board and onto the back of the painting which would eventually cause the paper to weaken and the paint to become unstable. The main task in treating a painting is to remove this backing board with care so as not to damage the painted surface on the front.
It is important to consider the nature of the paint and whether it is stable enough to withstand backing removal. This treatment has to be carried out with the painting placed face down so any loose or flaking paint needs to be made secure first using a type of adhesive. During backing removal the painting rests against a cushioned support of felt covered with a smooth polyester film similar to tissue paper to prevent abrasion. Light weights hold the painting in place.
We use surgical scalpels to gradually remove the board taking it down layer by layer. These are precision tools which ensure care and accuracy in direct contact with the painting. The surgical blades range in shape and size depending on the stage within the treatment and the area being removed. Where there is an inscription or drawing on the board we retain it to keep with the painting.
Backing removal using a surgical scalpel
The final layer of board stuck against the back of the painting is known as the facing paper. Deionised water is applied in small amounts using cotton wool to soften the glue and paper layer and allow it to be removed using a small spatula.
Removing the final layer of backing board
Find out more...
If this has intrigued or baffled you and you want to know more, come along to a free drop-in practical demonstration taking place in the Marianne North Gallery from 2.30 - 4pm on Friday 27th August.
We look forward to seeing you there.
- Rebecca -
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Kew's Library, Art & Archives (LAA) have now opened a fantastic new Reading Room where both staff and visitors can fully explore the collections within LAA and conduct associated research. The new facility has transformed the services the department is able to offer users and significantly enhanced access to the collections overall. It has already provided the Archives team with their busiest month to date as more and more visitors request to consult items from their collections!
The new Reading Room for staff and visitors
The new circular Reading Room can accommodate up to 40 people at a time for quiet study, with each desk space being fully equipped with a personal light and power for laptop use. A new Enquiry Desk greets users as they enter the area with staff on-hand to help throughout the day. Also within the space are displays of the latest botanical journals, new library acquisitions and a useful reference collection.
As part of this new facility, special stores are also included for the rare treasures which form a significant part of the LAA collections at Kew. This ensures that these items are kept in the most appropriate conditions (restricting temperature, humidity and light) to help conserve these important resources for future generations.
The Reading Room also includes a changing exhibition of some of these rare treasures from the collections. The current display refers to the career of William Bertram Turrill, whose long career at Kew culminated in heading the Herbarium for eleven years until his retirement in 1957. Further information about Turrill and the display will be included in a future post.
The Reading Room can accommodate up to 40 people at a time for quiet study
Visiting the Reading Room
The Library, Art & Archives collections at Kew are available for reference to everyone for research. If you wish to visit the Library to consult items from one of the collections, we recommend you make an appointment in advance to ensure that we can accommodate you.
Upon arrival visitors will be offered a locker for their belongings and provided with a clear plastic bag which can be used for essential equipment (such as a laptop) that you wish to take into the Reading Room and use during the visit. Two forms of identification (including one proof of address) are also required when visiting the Library. These basic rules help the department to ensure the security of the collections at all times.
To search the Library Collections, visit the Library's online catalogue. Unfortunately we don’t yet have an online catalogue of our Archives, but details of many of our catalogued collections are available through the National Archives Catalogue and the National Register of Archives. For a description of the Illustrations collections please see: Ward, M. & Flanagan, J. (2003) : Portraying plants - illustrations collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (pdf format 102KB) (Art Libraries Journal v.28, n.3, 22-28).
If you wish to visit the Reading Room please email: email@example.com, telephone: +44 (0)20 8332 5414 or write to Library, Art & Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, TW9 3AE.
We look forward to welcoming you to our new Reading Room!
- David -
- Find out more about Kew's Library, Art & Archives
- Check out the full Library contact details and visitor information
- Search the Kew Library Catalogue online
- Read about the Library's Information Services Team and find out how they can help with your questions and curiosities about the world's plant life, plant artefacts and other plant uses such as medicine.
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As promised in my last blog posting, I’m going to tell you about our archives relating to the Zambesi Expedition. This post is to give you a taste of what we hold – we hold many more collections relating to Africa.
The Zambesi Expedition (1858-1864) was headed by David Livingstone (1813-1873) with John Kirk (1832-1922), the expedition’s naturalist, and Thomas Baines (1820-1875), the store keeper and artist. The main purpose of the expedition was to extend the knowledge gained on previous expeditions into mineral and agricultural resources of Eastern and Central Africa and also to improve knowledge of the local inhabitants and establish trade links with them. The expedition concentrated on the Zambesi itself as well as its mouths and tributaries, the Shire and the interior.
A page from Kirk's 20 page letter, AEX/2/1 f.7
Kirk was a prolific letter writer and over the expedition wrote regularly to both William Hooker and Joseph Hooker, Kew’s Directors, with some letters being 20 pages long! The botanical collections that Kirk gathered during the expedition were sent to Kew and the British Museum.
The letters contain invaluable information on the expedition such as logistical problems, encounters with Portuguese slave traders, the geology of the Zambesi valley and surrounding mountains, as well as descriptions of tribes encountered. This was a perilous venture, the Shire was not an easy river to navigate, and Kirk lost some of his specimens when his boat overturned! The local tribes were not always friendly:
“We were robbed at night and lost thus both our supply of beads and wearing apparel being reduced to the clothes we happened to be sleeping in. The thieves took all my specimens and undid them but finding that they were nothing of value threw them away but they were almost destroyed by being trodden with the sand.” (AEX/2/1 f 21).
Livingstone and his men found it hard to leave their Victorian values behind and could not help being rather shocked by some of the indigenous people’s behaviour:
“We came across a Batoka people quite devoid of the sense of shame going about possibly with a few beads or a fine pipe and a spear but without anything as a covering and when some of them were given a piece of cloth they might tie it round the neck or the head but laughed at the idea of using it as others do, yet they were a kind hospitable race.” (AEX/2/1 f 7).
Map of Lake Nyassa, drawn by Kirk, DC69 f.160c
Although the expedition failed to follow the Zambesi to its source, it did lead to the European discovery of Lake Nyassa (Lake Malawi). Also of major significance were the mapping and surveying of a region previously unknown to most Europeans.
- Michele -
If you would like to read more about Livingstone and the Zambesi Expedition, please have a look at the Livingstone on-line project website. We contributed digital copies of our letters to this project.
We don’t yet have an online catalogue of our Archives, but details of many of our catalogued collections are available through the National Archives Catalogues
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The Directors' Correspondence team, based in the HLAA (Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives), have just started the digitisation of Kew's collection of Asian correspondence. Our project over the next two and a half years is to summarise and scan approximately 12,000 letters dating from the turn of the nineteenth century through to the 1930s.
We are really looking forward to uncovering more tales of botanical discovery and exploration from eminent naturalists and plant collectors in Asia such as William Munro, Henry John Elwes and Frank Kingdon-Ward.
We also enjoy coming across letters from noteworthy persons who are not necessarily famous as botanists or naturalists. On that note, and as we are soon to see England play Pakistan in the Test Series, we were very pleased to find in our first volume of Asian correspondence, a letter from the Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, K. S. Ranjitsinhji, known as Ranji to his friends.
The England versus Australia team, Trent Bridge, 1899.
Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, K. S. Ranjitsinhji, is second from left in the middle row. Image via Wiki Commons.
Ranji was an Indian King and is also regarded as one of the best cricket batsmen of the Empire. He took up the sport during his studies at Cambridge, played county cricket for Sussex, and became one of England's best known test cricketers.
Following his sporting retirement, Ranji returned to Jamnagar in the Indian state of Gujarat to become Maharaja. From here he wrote in 1909 to Sir David Prain, then Director of Kew, asking for advice regarding the planting of 'gum' or Eucalyptus globulus trees to alleviate the problem of malaria.
Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium which is transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water and Ranji reported that there was a lot of standing water in his district. Eucalyptus trees are fast growing and are sometimes used to drain swamps. By removing the stagnant water the breeding grounds for the mosquitoes would be significantly reduced. Ranji also asked Sir Prain if other trees would have the same effect and wondered if perhaps willow might be planted in the shallow water, suggesting in fact Salix alba, the willow from which the cricket bat is made!
Extract of a letter from K.S. Ranjitsinhji to Sir David Prain from Kathiawad, India, 1909 (DC Vol. 160 f.189).
Malaria continues to be a significant health problem in tropical and subtropical areas with 250 million cases and nearly one million deaths resulting from infection every year. Now there are several anti malarial drugs available and transmission is reduced and prevented using mosquito nets and insect repellents.
We'll be keeping you updated with more of our finds from the DC in coming weeks so do come back to check out the blog.
- Kat -
We don't yet have an online catalogue for the archive, but details of many of our catalogued collections are avaliable through the National Archives Catalogue.
- All of Kew's Latin American Director's Correspondence is avaliable to view online for those with access to the JSTOR Global Plants initative.
- Learn about the history of Cinchona bark as a treatment for malaria.
- Did you know Ranji has a cricket competition named in his honour?
- Find out about Harry Potter's Whomping willow at Kew.
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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', © 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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org 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 -
- Find out more about the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
- Discover more about the current exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery: Old and New South American Botanical Art
- Learn more about the Marianne North Gallery and the Marianne North paintings conservation work taking place
- Discover how you can play a part in safeguarding the future of each Marianne North painting
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Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
Kew's Library, Art and Archives contains many millions of items within its collections. Find out about the diverse teams who look after these collections and make them accessible.
- Archives team
- Directors' Correspondence Digitisation team
- Exhibitions & Galleries team
- Library Information Services team
- Preservation team
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Discovering David Douglas through the Directors' Correspondence: My husband Ken and I take tours around Mauna Kea, the vast volcano on the island of Hawaii, on Mana ... by: Maile Melrose
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