Thursday, 8 September 2016

Access Visit to the NMA

Access visit to the NMA at Mitchell. Myself, Dr Christine Cargill (ANBG)
Tania Riviere and Catriona Donnelly from the NMA.
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA
 On Monday, Catriona and I had organised an access visit to the NMA repository in Mitchell to view the two Seaweed collections I have been blogging (and raving about) since I started my residency here at the NMA in July. I invited Dr Christine Cargill, Curator of Cryptogams at the ANBG and my long time scientific collaborator,  to also come and view the albums so that she could give us her professional opinion on the cryptogams that had been collected in both albums.  These included ferns and mosses collected in both Tasmania in 1836 (Port Arthur Seaweed Collection) and Drouin and Ferntree Gully in 1882 (Port Phillip Seaweed collection).

Because of the extreme fragility of the two albums - both in terms of plant matter and the paper of the books - we could only view the albums under the supervision of Tania Riviere, Conservator with the NMA. Each book was housed within its own custom made cardboard box, and then placed within an archival box for storage.  When they were bought out for viewing they were placed on a large, bean-bag type of pillow that supported the spine of each book as Tania turned the pages for us with gloved hands. The bags were moved and repositioned as the weight of the book changed during the viewing.

Christine was able to get quite close to the pages of cryptogams and identified that amongst them were some examples of hornworts, liverworts and lichens as well as mosses, ferns and lycopods.

Christine getting up close and personal with her eye-piece
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA

Christine finds a hornwort hiding amongst the mosses....
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA

It was such an interesting and informative visit, because each of us had our own inputs and insights into various aspects of the collection. Tanya made some very interesting observations about the condition of the Port Phillip album, how it had been repaired as well as  other modifications that had been made to it throughout its lifetime. I had been studying both albums for weeks via their high res images on the NMA database and I had already documented the contents of each page, so I knew what I wanted to look at and investigate further once I had access to the real albums. It was also the first time that Catriona had viewed the books first-hand and we were both surprised at the physical dimensions of each book.  For some reason, I expected the Port Arthur album to be small, when in reality it was about scrapbook or ledger size. The Port Phillip album was much thicker than I imagined and the discrepancies between the elaborately tooled front-cover and the back cover remain a mystery to be investigated. 

Despite the level of detail you can observe from hi-res images, what struck me is that it is the power of the actual object, its physical presence, its colouring, the mustiness of the pages and the beauty and intricacy of the actual plants, their forms, colours and shapes,  that impacted on me the most. It was really a privilege to see these objects and the visit has only made me even more enamoured and determined to find out everything I can about them, and similar botanical collections of the 19th century.

And last!! I have had two donations of buckets of seaweed from the north and south coast with which I can start playing! I have been hanging out to get my hands on various types of seaweeds to start exploring the materiality of them, to draw them and to preserve them just like the many women of the 1800's before me.

This week my solo exhibition, 'Chromophilia' opens at Timeless Textiles in Newcastle, so my next post will be from there.

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