DRAWING BUGS AND BOTANICALS: Sunday 12th August

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For the last few open days I worked in the cottage, showing people my work and sharing my research. For this session we decided instead to run a drop-in drawing workshop. This is also a wonderful link to my research on both John Barrow and his wife Lady Barrow (formerly Anna Maria Truter). As I’ve written about in previous posts, both were keen botanical artists, in particular Lady Barrow when she was younger. It also gave me the opportunity to use the cottage garden as a place to engage people with the project – something I’ve been wanting to do since the beginning as it’s such a big space which is very open and I think quite welcoming.

My last visit was during the heatwave, and when we were planning the workshop it seemed as though this was never going to end. I imagined a day of glorious sunshine, where we could all sit on picnic blankets. Of course, come the 12th of August the weather had broken and it had rained quite a bit, which was probably a good thing or there might not have been much left to draw.

Luckily, it was damp but not raining by 11am, so I gathered up everyone who had come along and we all went out in to the garden. After talking through the paper, pens and processes I use to draw, there was suddenly a spell of silence as everyone concentrated on their own drawings. Eventually the rain did come along, so we took some weeds that wouldn’t be missed, added them to a vase of teasels and other seed heads and drew inside instead.

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I also used the opportunity to take photos of any wildlife I could find in the garden, and even found a ladybird on my jumper who I think had sneaked in with us to escape the rain.

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I really enjoyed this workshop – both the opportunity to meet people and the chance to share my passion for drawing the natural world. Drawing is such an important part of my life, and I feel it has taught me to look at the world more closely and carefully. John Hall shared some really interesting ideas about about drawing on the project blog:

‘Drawing is fundamental; it’s a way of developing an understanding of the world by examining it and giving an account of what you see. A way of defining the relationship between you and what isn’t you. It can be difficult and requiring of a cold eye. It can be a way of passing on primary information about personal experience or objective reality.
Equally, it can provoke a shared experience. And if you work in other disciplines, requiring a different kind of enquiry or response it can be like calling home.’

You can see more photos and read this rest of the post here.

For the next workshops I’ll be running a ‘Print your own bookplate’ session, inspired by the bookplates in the books at the cottage. The provisional date is Sunday 23rd of September, so keep an eye out for more information or join me at my Facebook page where I’ll be adding more details.

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WORKING IN THE COTTAGE | Tuesday 26th June 2018

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On Tuesday 26th June I had my second working visit to the cottage. I had planned to do some more work on my ‘Arctic Exploration’ resource sheet that I have been drawing  – so far mostly whales, narwhals and other arctic animals that were hunted by the whaling industry at the time of Sir John Barrow (more to come on this is a separate, slightly bleak ‘Whaling’ blog post.)  I also intended to start some more illustrations for the book I’m creating, to  be added to the recent ‘White-clawed Crayfish’ drawing.

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However, it being the middle of a heatwave the weather was glorious, so after sitting inside and looking longingly out of the window for a bit I decided to pile up all my belongings and head out in to the garden.

The cottage garden is a really lovely space filled with all sorts of flowers, bees, beetles and other tiny insects. After seeing a pretty yellow and black butterfly I decided to try to identify it using the books I had brought. I failed completely at this, but it then turned in to an hour of looking at insects and identifying them. My guides were perhaps a bit simple as I couldn’t find a few and resorted to taking blurry photos and writing highly scientific notes such as ‘green shield (like) bug with long pointy nose’ (I now think these were probably nettle weevils).

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Photographer extraordinaire Lindsay Ward took this photo of me looking the part of a ‘Victorian entomologist meets i-phone’ due to my comical oversized charity shop hat (note – no planning went into this whatsoever, it just stops me from getting a burnt head).

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There was also a nice little cairn of broken snail shells, which we guessed had been left by a song thrush. They are known for using a specific hard stone as their ‘anvil’ – they hold the snails with their beak and smash them against the hard stone so they can eat them. Obviously bad if you are the snail but overall so clever!

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After a bit we (mostly me) began to get a bit too hot outside, so we went in again and it gave me the opportunity to take another look at the books on display in the cottage. I’d like my own book to take some inspiration from these, and am planning to run a short drop-in ‘Print your own book plate’ workshop later in the summer, so I took some photos to use in my own designs.

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As we walked away from the cottage Lindsay and I stopped at the beck and discovered some surprise fish swimming in the shallow water. I’m hoping to go back with a better camera soon as there was so much more life there then you would initially think – I just had to stay still for a few minutes to see it!

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WORKING IN THE COTTAGE | Wednesday 9th May 2018

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To share our residencies as they develop the artists from the project will be spending time in the cottage. These will be open days where we will work and give people the opportunity to come and find out more. Wednesday 9th of May for the first of these for me, and I was looking forward to having a closer look at the artefacts on display in the cottage, exploring the plants in the garden and sharing my research so far with people.

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I chose to work at a table in the second room, it looked like it had room for all the books, sketches, art materials, extra clothing layers and snacks I’d brought with me (I always, always overpack). Lack of lighting can be a problem in the cottage as it has small, low windows that are set into the thick walls. It was also quite a cloudy day, and had been raining, but I found a patch of light and the desk which I quite liked so I unpacked and settled in to my studio for the day.

At this stage my hopes for the residency are that I will:

  • Explore the life living in the Beck and the other waterways it connects to, from the microscopic to small mammals and birds.
  • Share this research in the form of a book that will be printed both in softback and limited edition hardback.
  • Research Lady Anna Maria Barrow and share her story, referencing her work as a botanical illustrator in the book, and producing an activity sheet so families can learn about her work and create their own drawings in response.
  • Learn more about Sir John Barrow as a botanical artist, surveyor, map maker and Arctic explorer. I hope to summarise these findings in illustrated activity sheets that can be used as a resource by families and schools in the area.

My plan was to spend the day making small steps forward on all of these elements of my residency, in the hope that this would give me a clearer idea of what I wanted to achieve and help me to plan how I was going to get everything done!

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LIFE IN THE BECK | Meeting Jayne from the South Cumbria Rivers Trust

The day began really well as we were visited by Jayne Wilkinson from the South Cumbria Rivers Trust. This gave me a great opportunity to learn more about the organisation and the work they do, as well as a chance to ask some questions of my own. I’ve been struggling a bit about where to begin with my research – I have no training in environmental science or biology whatsoever, and am still at the early stages of understanding how different species influence one another and operate within the food chain. Jayne pointed me towards the Field Study Council guides, and the website Buglife, which is an amazing resource full of information. Through our conversation I learnt that the Environment Agency monitor the health of the rivers and becks with something called the Water Framework Directive classification system. This identifies the health of the becks and rivers, in part by looking at the populations of freshwater aquatic invertebrates who are a pollutant sensitive indicator of water quality. If there are drops in numbers of riverfly species this indicates that there has been an increase in pollution in the river. I’m really interested in these tiny riverflies and their sensitivity to changes in their environment as indicators of aquatic pollution, especially the cased caddis which make tiny ‘sleeping bags’ case out of small stones, plant materials, sand and shell. And of course these riverflies are an important part of the food chain so their decline with impact fish and other animals in the area.

SPECIES AT RISK|The Freshwater Pearl Mussel and the White Clawed Crayfish

Jayne also told me about two freshwater species in the UK which are under threat.

The freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) is an endangered species of freshwater mussel, which is capable of living up to 130 years and has an amazing life cycle I plan on writing more about in a separate post. The Freshwater Biological Association is leading two projects focusing on conservation of the freshwater pearl mussel, which you can learn more about here.

The white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes) is Britian’s only native freshwater crayfish. They look like little lobsters, and aren’t often seen during the day as they hide under rocks, coming out after dark to feed. However the white-clawed crayfish is endangered due to the crayfish plague, a disease carried by the invasive North American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) which the white-clawed crayfish has no resistance to. It is also sensitive to pollution like insecticides which are washed into the water. You can learn more about them on this page.

I am hugley grateful to Jayne for giving me this time and advice, and want to say a big thank you to the South Cumbria Rivers Trust for their help with the project.

EXPLORING THE GARDEN | Botanical sketching

After my conversation with Jayne I decided to spend some time in the garden of the cottage. I want to create an activity sheet for schools and families to use about Lady Barrow and Sir John Barrow’s shared passion for botanical drawing, and so have decided to make some studies of my own of the plants that grow in the little patch behind the cottage. It had rained recently and everything was covered in dew drops, so I used my camera to take some close ups of the different plants growing at the moment, with the plan to do this again in a month when I spend another day there.

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I didn’t want to pick plants from the garden, but I found a bluebell that was broken which I took to draw. I also picked some stickyweed (Galium aparine) from the edge of the cottage wall, as I didn’t think anyone would miss this too much.

I took my ‘specimens’ in to the cottage to get drawing, but mainly spent the time talking to the visitors who popped in to see what I was working on. These conversations were really helpful. People seemed interested in learning more about the unknown story of Lady Barrow, and they were intrigued to find out about Sir John Barrow’s involvement in the whaling expeditions. When I explained my ideas with the book to make it into a ‘tiny adventure’ of the rivers and becks of Ulverston everyone was supportive, which was encouraging to me.

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ARTEFACTS | Books, maps and more

In a quiet moment I also took the chance to photograph some of the artefacts in the cottage that have captured my interest. As I’m making a book, I would like the design of this to reference the books published by Sir John Barrow, and so have been studying the examples in the cottage displays.

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There is also a map of the arctic circle which I love and would like to look at more carefully.

On the window sill of the room I’m working in there is an old book press, which I would like to use to make some pressings of plants from the garden and beck if I can get permission. I also hope to use this to make some limited edition lino prints which I can include in the hardback books, or possibly make into dust sheets.

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Finally I spent some time crawling around in the attic rooms photographing a large map I had noticed on my last visit. I’m planning to write more about this in a separate post, but it belongs to the Ulverston Civic Society and is thought to be a map that was created for all the Lakes train stations. I’d like to use this in the activity sheet I’m making about Sir John Barrow’s experiences as a surveyor and map maker.

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I was also lucky enough to have some photos taken by Lindsay Ward, who takes the credit for all the photos above of me working in the space. I think for the next visit I’ll brush my hair beforehand.

That’s all for now, but I’ll be back in the cottage in June to do more drawing and to share the work I’ve made to that point. If you have any ideas, information or questions please feel free to leave a comment below!

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DRAWING A PICTURE OF ANNA | The search for Lady Barrow

Researching Sir John Barrow has led me to discover a few things that I want to learn more about. Four things have really caught my interest are –

  1. That he was born in Dragley Beck village, which was named after the stream that runs next to the cottage. Dragley Beck apparently means ‘stream of the dragon’.
  2. That he went on a whaling expedition to Greenland when he was 16 years old.
  3. That before he went to South Africa, John Barrow spent three days a week studying Cape plants and is described as a ‘well informed amateur botanist and geologist’.
  4. That when in South Africa between 1797 and 1802 he met and married his wife, Anna Maria Truter (later Barrow) who was a South African botanical artist.

It’s Lady Barrow who I want to focus on for now, and to try to put together the pieces of her story.

According to her Wikipedia page, Anna Maria Truter was born on the 17th August 1777 in the Cape, also known as the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape was a British Colony, but before this had been a Dutch colony of the same name, the ‘Kaap de Goede Hoop’ which was established in 1652. There were several battles over it’s ownership between the British and the Dutch. The Cape was under Dutch rule from 1652 to 1795 and again from 1803 to 1806. (Bear with me here, I promise this is all relevant to the story!). There’s no mention of the people who lived there before colonisation, or how all of this impacted them.

When John Barrow and Anna Maria Truter married in 1799 the Cape was under British rule, but it had been under Dutch rule from 1652 to 1795 before this. Which makes me wonder what her life and culture had been like before it was won by the British. What languages could she speak, and did she identify as British in any way? Her father, Petrus Johannes Truter had been an official in the East Indian Company, which was an English trading company, but both he and her mother, Johanna Ernestina Blankenberg, have names that sound Dutch to me (although this is not my specialist area I’ll admit).

There is very little other information about Anna Maria as immediately the page starts to talks about her husband and his various roles… expect for this line that caught me at the end of the paragraph – ‘By the time she left the Cape in 1803, Anna Maria had assembled the first known portfolio of Cape flower studies and landscapes.’

Why, I wondered, did they leave? This, at least, I discovered. The couple had bought a house in 1800 in Cape Town and planned to stay in South Africa, but when the colony returned to the Dutch as part of the Treaty of Amiens they decided to move to England – it seems as though they had to because John Barrow wouldn’t have held a position anymore.

But then on to the next line – surely assembling the first know portfolio of Cape flower studies and landscapes is quite an achievement I thought. There must be loads of information about her on the internet!

But no, no there is not.

I googled every variation of her name, adding ‘artist’ ‘botanist’ and ‘botanical illustrator’. There are several lists of the 7 (!) children they had, 6 of whom survived past infancy. And many many mentions of her husband’s achievements, but almost nothing else. I thought perhaps if I read Sir John Barrow’s books I might learn more, but a small volume I got out of the library ‘Sir John Barrow – 250th Anniversary’ states that ‘(he) was a private and formal person who placed duty to his nation above all else: even his wife and children get only one mention in his autobiography.’ (p. 9)

I did find this tiny paragraph about her in a book on Google Books called ‘Botanical Exploration Southern Africa’ By Mary Gunn, L. E. W. Codd from 1981.

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Interestingly, ‘Sir John Barrow – 250th Anniversary’ also says her husband ‘was an excellent botanist, having visited Kew Gardens many times to study the plants; he identified and recorded many of the plants he found in the Cape, naming some for the first time.’ (p.9)

Was a mutual interest in botany and natural history what brought the two together perhaps? Or is this too romantic, given that matches were often based on social and financial status then?

To have created a portfolio of studies of the Cape landscape and its flora must have meant she had a passion and interest in this project. Did she have any formal training as an artist beforehand? Who were they painted for, and were they exhibited? To try and learn more I’ve emailed both the Museum Africa in Johannesburg and the librarian at the Botanical Research Institute in Pretoria asking for help in finding any more about Anna Maria Barrow’s work or story.

There is one image of her work online, from a book called South African Botanical Art, edited by Marion Arnold, (Fernwood Press, 2001). It’s caption says ‘Sutherlandia frutescens, 2 species of Wurmbea, Hermannia pinnata and a small Senecio, c. 1800, pencil and watercolour’.

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I love the warm colours of the flowers against the the dark curves of the foliage, and the delicate brush strokes, especially on the two larger stems. I also really like the composition – the way the different plants weave around one another giving the study energy.

I keep thinking about what it must have been like to leave South Africa. To have created this study of the botany of the Cape she must have had a real understanding and connection to this landscape. And yet after she got married she quickly ended up living thousands of miles away in London, in a completely different climate, apparently no longer painting and having lots of children.

Maybe this is what she wanted, and she was happy as a woman of such privilege to abandon her art and take on this role as a wife and mother, which was of course the expectation of the time. But as a mum myself, who has had to really work to continue with my practice as an artist, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want this to be true. I keep imagining her drawing in Kew Gardens, managing to keep her passions for drawing and botany alive in her new life.

 

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AN INTRODUCTION | The journey begins

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Hello and welcome to ‘Tiny Voyages of Discovery’ – a blog to document my project for ARTSPACE Cumbria.

In March 2018 I was commissioned by the group ARTSPACE to make work inspired by Sir John Barrow Cottage. I thought it might be helpful to begin with a description of the project.

Four artists – myself, John Hall,Alex Blackmoore and storyteller Dominic Kelly, will act as ‘engaged observers’ of  Ulverston social life, history, traditions and environment. We will each explore an aspect of Ulverston as though we were explorers, looking at the town with a new perspective. We will be working from the restored birthplace of the 18th century statesman Sir John Barrow, and the project will reflect Barrow’s work as cultural emissary and chronicler of the ‘manners and amusements’ of other peoples.

We’ll be working in the SJB cottage, the SJB Monument, SJB school and in the town’s public venues. The Cottage will be used as our artist’s shared workshop and presentation space and will be open to the public at agreed points in the project in order to introduce our artists and present work in progress. We are also lucky enough to have been offered the help and knowledge of local historians and archaeologists.

Last year I worked with John on a wonderful project with South Walney Infant School in Barrow-in-Furness, making a A – Z of local natural spaces for families to explore. “Fun In Furness” is a kids-eye guidebook of free and accessible places to visit in our area. It’s made up of 32 pages of mixed – media artwork and poetry by the boys and girls of South Walney Infants School, made during sessions with myself and Kate Davies, along with links to a Walney Sound calendar and some video.
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I supported the children in making illustrations for the book, including a field guides of wild flowers and beach flora and fauna. My work explores the natural world, from tiny microbes to giant whales in the ocean. For this project I will be looking at the life in the Beck which runs behind Sir John Barrow Cottage, and will produce a limited edition book illustrating what lives in local rivers, the canal and seashore.
I’m really looking forward to doing this project, learning more about the story of Sir John Barrow and exploring the natural world in the waterways in Ulverston.
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First stop: The library.

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