Background to the Margaret Mee Fellowship Programme

The Vision

The Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was founded in 1988 following discussions with Margaret and Greville Mee concerning the future of the magnificent Amazon Collection: 60 paintings of Amazonian plants by Margaret Mee. The MMAT was an educational charity dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of the conservation of Brazil's forests, especially in Amazonia. The Trust was based in the UK and its immediate objectives were to raise funds for i) the purchase of the Amazon Collection for deposit at Kew, and ii) the creation of a scholarship scheme, aimed at supporting forest conservation.

Those involved

With active support from Professor Grenville Lucas (then Acting Director) and later Professor Sir Ghillean Prance (Director), the Trust secretariat was established at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Sir William Harding, a former British Ambassador to Brazil, kindly agreed to take the role of Chairman and many of Margaret Mee's friends, including the Hon. Christopher McLaren (Deputy Chairman), the Duchess of Westminster, the Earl of Dartmouth, the Hon. Aylmer Tryon, the Hon. David Bigham, Dr Raymond Harley, Dr John Hemming, Dr Simon Mayo and Professor Sir Ghillean Prance, came forward to form the Appeal Committee. Vice-Presidents included the Duchess of Beaufort, Robin Blackhurst, Roberto Burle Marx, Sir Hugh Casson, Ambassador Mário Gibson-Barboza, Greville Mee, Professor Luiz Emygdio de Mello Filho, Geoffrey Langlands, Professor Richard Evans Schultes, Dr Lyman B. Smith, Sir George Taylor, Mrs Elizabeth Edmunds and Mrs Rosemary Verey. The Brazilian Ambassador to the Court of St James's and the British Ambassador to Brazil kindly agreed to become Joint Presidents, and Princess Alexandra graciously accepted the role of Royal Patron. Establishment of the Appeal Committee was followed by fundraising and events promotion.

The Margaret Mee Amazon Trust was officially launched, in the presence of the artist and her husband Greville, on the 9th November 1988 at the preview of the exhibition of the Amazon Collection at Kew. Simultaneously, Margaret Mee's diaries, edited by Tony Morrison, were published by Nonesuch Expeditions.

Early Progress

Following Margaret's tragic death in 1988, her many friends and admirers in Brazil, under the dynamic leadership of Philip Jenkins, set up a sister organization based in Rio de Janeiro. This was the Fundação Botânica Margaret Mee (FBMM). The scholarship programme then developed at two levels, FBMM promoting local scholarships within Brazil, providing the selection committee and, in the initial stages, seeking out suitable candidates. International scholarships were organised in close collaboration with the MMAT at Kew.

The first scholar was Malena Barretto, a botanical artist who came to study at Kew in the autumn of 1989. The FBMM has since made a tremendous impact in Brazil, building public awareness of the work of Margaret Mee through exhibitions and promotions, archiving her works, promoting botanical illustration through the Brazilian Botanical Society, managing conservation research programmes on the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and much else besides.

In August 1990 the MMAT purchased 29 paintings from the Amazon Collection, followed in 1993 by the rest of the paintings, the complete set of sketch books and several notebooks, together with other memorabilia. All are now deposited in the Library at Kew.

The Programme Today

With both major objectives achieved, it was decided in 1996 that the future of the Trust's work would be best ensured by working under the aegis of the Foundation and Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The transfer was formally carried out in December 1996 and the Trust was dissolved.

The Scholarship scheme, renamed the Margaret Mee Fellowship Programme, continues working closely with the FBMM in Brazil. In late 2005, however, as a consequence of funding constraints, it was decided that the programme should be restricted to the artist scholarship alone.

The exhibition and educational activities relating to Margaret Mee's work are now run by the Library and Archives and the Education Departments of RBG Kew, respectively.

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