Saturday 31 August 2013

Gospel Burgers ... Undercroft Coffee ...

... ice-creams on the Palace Green ... all available during the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition ...

Gourmet Gospel Burger bar

It was strange arriving on the wide open space that is the ‘green’ between the Cathedral and the Castle, flanked by the entrance to the Gospels Exhibition in the Library, and other museum buildings to find a burger bar ...

Shop and Undercroft Restaurant posters

... granted said Gospel Burger van was strategically positioned to one side.  It appears that Durham University have taken the concession to offer these meaty delights from local estates and to promote a taste of history on the green.


Fish Lasagne
There is the regular lunch, homemade snacks and cakes, tea and coffee outlet within the Undercroft, located off the west Cloister ... opposite the shop ... also part of this huge medieval vaulted storage space at the west end of the Cathedral.

A dough trough once used for
leavening bread from
Aberdour Castle, Fife, Scotland
I noted the fish lasagne on offer, or even the raspberry and chocolate roulade ... but I was early, yet needed sustenance before seeing the Exhibition ... so I had an apple juice with a delicious fresh bap ... which sustained me for the day!

Ingram Valley Lamb
On reflecting on the ingredients at the burger bar ... perhaps I should have tried one of their speciality Gospel Burgers:

  • Ingram Valley Lamb ...
Cranerow Pork banner

  • Cranerow Farm Pork, Apple and Black Pudding ...

    Possibly venison burger to be ....?
  • Northumberland Estate Venison ...

  • Wellington Estate Angus Beef ...

  • or the vegetarian option ... Brinkburn Crispy Goats Cheese ...

Brinkburn Goats Chees

all offering a Taste of Durham ...

... what a spectacular setting for brunch, just munching a bap or roll filled with local ingredients, or a fish lasagne in the Undercroft ...

Ham, lettuce, cheese
and tomato roll

There’s nothing like home cooked traditional foods, endorsed under the banner of ‘A Taste of Durham’ ... enticing visitors who had travelled the world to see the exhibition  ...

... while here enhancing their knowledge of St Cuthbert and his community, who created one of the greatest landmarks of human cultural achievements: the Lindisfarne Gospels.

During his life Cuthbert became famous for being a kind, wise and incredibly holy man ... he was a travelling preacher, a seer of visions, healer of the sick and worker of miracles ...

... who then lived out is his life as a hermit, albeit elected Bishop of Lindisfarne for the last few years of his life ...

... he would have travelled throughout the region, no doubt crossing the farms, estates and valleys where A Taste of Durham comes from ...

... before the monks circuitously through need (those dreaded Viking attacks!), and over the centuries, brought his body into sanctuary at Durham, and once the Cathedral was built ... his relics have remained here ever since – a place of pilgrimage ...

Who would have thought a burger bar would feed pilgrims coming to the Shrine of St Cuthbert, or to the many from around the world who have visited Durham to see the magnificent Lindisfarne Gospels book, together with a unique collection of Anglo-Saxon artefacts ...

... late 600 AD meets 21st century at the centre of learning then as now ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Blaschka Glass Models of Flowers, Marine Invertebrates et al ...

As I mentioned in my previous post the glass flowers I had seen at Harvard in 1976 had always held a sway in my memory ... they were dusty ... but oh so accurate and quite quite extraordinary ... and obviously created an interest factor with you via your comments.

Cashew Nut - Blaschka
botanical model
So here’s a little more information about those glass botanical models ... leaves, branches, twigs, stamens, seeds, fruits, cross sections and flowers; sea-anemones, octopuses, squid, jellyfishes, radiolarians, amoebas and corals  ...

These Czech artisans, the Blaschkas, began their careers as jewellers working in Dresden, Germany ... but the family came from a long line of skilled glassmakers – originally from Venice, where they worked in the decorative glass trade, before moving to Northern Bohemia when Leopold (1822-1895) was four.

Glass Octobpuses
Artistic as a child, Leopold was apprenticed first as a goldsmith and gem-cutter, before joining the family business to make glass ornaments ... and more squeamishly glass eyes for taxidermists.

He became interested in the newly fashionable field of natural history and in the late 1850s started making glass models of the exotic flowers he found in natural history books.
Glass Blossom

He was commissioned to produce glass plant (orchid) models, but on seeing those the curator at the Dresden Natural History Museum changed Leopold’s direction by ordering some glass models of sea-anemones, which would be of more scientific value than the pickled creatures available.

Leopold’s models were so precise in scale, colour and form, that news of his prowess spread swiftly.  Aquaria and natural history museums were then opening all over the world ... glass sea-anemones were soon followed by snails and jellyfish, as his repertoire built ... with a major order from London’s Natural History Museum.

See the cactus spikes ... all glass

Rudolf (1857-1939) had joined his father working as a team from their workshop far from the newly fashionable city museums, where these works of art would be exhibited.

At a time when the public was entranced by the bizarre plants unearthed by explorers and by the splendidly surreal creatures discovered beneath the sea (since the invention of the submarine and deep sea diving kit in the mid-1800s) the Blaschkas’ models offered a rare glimpse into these exotic worlds.

c/o Harvard Museum - theglass banana plant
being admired by children
The soft bodies of marine invertebrates were particularly difficult to preserve – but the glass models more than made up for this scientific challenge of the 1800s – they also detailed the colours, which were lost in the alcohol or formalin preservation process.

The Blaschkas’ skill died with them ... though they practised techniques that were common to glassworkers of the time ... but it was their incredible skill in glassworking, dedication to the study and observation of nature, then their enthusiasm for the subject matter that made them exceptional.

A model of Leopold Blaschka at
his workbench
They practised lampworking, a glassworking technique in which glass is melted over a flame fed by air from a foot-powered bellows.  The melted glass is then shaped using tools to pinch, pull or cut and forms can be blown as well.

Coloured glass was used, as were coloured paints made from ground glass and minerals to give veracity to the models ... these were applied and then melted into the model using a lamp flame.  Copper wire armatures were used within the glass stems, when necessary.

Charles Darwin observed in 1874 the digestive process and insectivorous nature of the plant Pinguicula (Butterwort) ... which to the amazement in 1997 of the botanist Donald Schnell, on visiting the glass flowers ...

This is not a glass model, but
shows a butterwort leaf, with
its hairs and a caught insect
... he was astonished to see a panel showing Pinguicula and a pollinating bee: “one sculpture showed a bee entering the flower and a second showed the bee exiting, lifting the stigma apron as it did so,” precisely as Schnell had hypothesized ... which the Blaschkas had faithfully executed in glass over one hundred years earlier ...

The Blaschkas described themselves as “natural history artisans” ... and today they seem remarkably contemporary: working as they did in the late 1800/early 1900s on the cusp of design, craft, art and industry.

Panels upon panels of exquisite
glass botanicals at Harvard
Which now reminds me a little of the doors that were opened in Britain by the 2012 Olympics ... allowing a multitude of trades to express their wares, some seen at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, now on show in museums and design centres around the UK and worldwide.

That mix of enterprise, trying new methodologies, combining disciplines – yet practising the art of precision, dedication and perseverance ... will always be a part of human progression.

The glass models made by the Blaschkas are able to be viewed ...

·        a few marine invertebrates at the Grant Museum, see previous post
·        some at the Natural History Museum, Kensington, London
·        the majority of the glass flowers are at the Ware Collection, Harvard, USA
·        many aquaria models are held by the Corning Museum of Glass, Steuben County, New York

An example of a
Further reading can be found at Wikipedia, and at the:

Ø Design Museum – The Glass Aquarium 
Ø Natural History Museum – Blaschka Glass Models

Radiolarians were also sculpted – these are amoeboid protozoa (diameter 0.1-0.2mm) that produce intricate mineral skeletons ... the Natural History Museum video shows the Blaschka model ... magnified many times – well worth a six minute watch:

The video also shows how the NHM prepared and looked at ways to preserve and repair the 185 ‘treasured specimen models’ by the Blaschkas now on show in the Treasures Cadogan Gallery – enjoy!

Grant Museum of Zoology - my previous post

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Grant Museum of Zoology ... Creepy Crawlies, Slippery Slitheries, cabinets of curiosities and odd oddities ...

This is where the world of Thomas Huxley (grandfather to Julian, Aldous and Andrew), Damien Hirst, glass models, slices and slides are gathered – it would be one horrendous, smelly, gory, bone shattering mess if they were to collide.

Inside the Grant Museum

Bearing in mind that Damien Hirst’s art fits in cosily here ... you might want to drop down and pass this post by ... equally you might be entertained by the squeamish ... on your head be it ... there are bisected heads (.... of animals I hasten to add) ...

This museum is a place to explore often ... to revisit and marvel ... to find new ‘treasures of surprise’ that occurred or occur on our living planet, zoological specimens covering the whole range of the animal kingdom whose specimens can be sponsored ...

Sorry forgot what this chap is!!
... a great fun way to fund raise, while giving an interesting gift to relative or friend (as Old Kitty commented this had happened to one of her colleagues) ... while the Museum looks to provide a new environment for its collections ... a move, personally, I’d hate to organise and do!

Early slides and photos or lithographs

The Museum is described as a Kingdom in a Cabinet and I don’t think I can do it justice ... the place is dusty, musty and stacked high and tall ...  not remotely dull ... the contents might put one or two off – yet this is the stuff of life – our life.

A great resource for zoologists, botanists, medics, biologists ... there are over 67,000 specimens here, with all the research papers and records to match, some going back nearly 200 years (1827 and beyond).

Blaschka glass models - these have all been
adopted for fund raising!
Robert Edmond Grant (1793-1874), after whom the museum is named, came to London from Edinburgh to lecture at the newly established University College London ... where he mentored the young Charles Darwin, who was studying medicine, a course he left unfinished ...

Grant’s specialist interests were sponges and other marine invertebrates ... and while on research expeditions back in Scotland with his young pupil ... Grant talked of early evolutionary theory ... setting Darwin off on his life’s work ...

Glass snail - the shine, the slime can
all be seen ... by the Blaschkas
It was Grant that set about building a collection of teaching resources from scratch, bringing his own collection to the Museum, and using a modest fund from the University to build on his collection.  At his death in 1874 these 10,000+ specimens formed the basis of the Museum today.

I was specifically interested in the Blaschka glass models ... as I’d originally seen the glass flowers at Harvard way back when!  Those botanical glass models, perfectly reproduced, have made a lasting impression on me. 

Here we have early glass models of marine invertebrates ... extraordinary to think they were made of glass – all of glass!  I will write more about the Blashkas and their legacy anon ...

Anaconda wrap around skeleton -
also sponsored
Natural History abounds in twists and turns ... the 250 kg anaconda skeleton – six metres long – sinuously wrapped without its flesh amongst other reptiles ...

Huxley was known as “Darwin’s bulldog” ... and his huge collection came over to the Museum once Imperial College closed its Zoology Department in the late 1800s.  Huxley had dissected many of the specimens himself.

Sir Victor Negus was a laryngologist who did much to shape the course of the modern ear, nose and throat research  ... the specimens preserved and shown may remind us of the artist Damien Hirst’s work.

Walrus head with tusks

The Finzi Lepidoptera Collection can be found here ... over 7,000 specimens held by the Museum ... some of them still have their original labels, providing an insight into Victorian taxonomic thinking.

This is a very valuable collection as it includes many specimens that are now nationally scarce, have become extinct during the last century, or are seriously endangered.

I didn't take any photos of the Lepidoptera collection .... 

Tape Worm ... with parasatic worms ..
I see also sponsored!
There’s an Invertebrate Collection – animals without bones, comprising around 97% of animal life today.  They were the first animals to appear on Earth, around six hundred million years ago, and all vertebrate life has evolved from them.  They occupy most niches in most habitats.

The Vertebrate Collection covers animals that have bones ... these are separated into five groups: birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians.

Back Wall of museum with display
cabinets ... 
Then there are the Extinct Animals – the Dodo has probably become iconic because it was the first time humans realised they had destroyed a species.

In the three centuries since lots more species have disappeared ... the Museum holds many specimens, which were collected in the 1800s, from species that have since disappeared.

While going back further in history ... through its palaeontology collection of fossil animals – scientists can study this prehistoric life to determine organisms’ evolution and interactions with each other and their environments.

A Dipetera - to me looking uncannily like a mozzie ... 
While my main reason for visiting was the see the Micrarium – a place of tiny things ... lived up to expectations.   

These back lit slides highlight and remind us that about 95% of known animal species are smaller than our thumb ... so it is great to see this wonderful display of microscopic creatures ...

·        “Legs of Fleas showing muscles”;
·        Whole squid, just a couple of millimetres long;
·        Beetles which have been sliced through their entire body, through the antennae, head, legs and body ... 1/10th of a millimetre thick;
·        Scattered amongst the miniature creatures are a handful of tiny pieces of giant animals on microscopic slides, including whales, mammoths and giraffe ....

Another shot of some of the slides in the Micrarium
Then the Glass Flowers remind me of a happy visit to the States and to Harvard in 1976 ... I have to say since I started writing this post I cannot get photos and memories of skeletons, creepy crawlies, light-box slides out of my head ...

Welcome to a brief note on the world of natural history courtesy of the Grant Museum.

Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL, Rockefeller Building, 21 University Street, London WC1E 6DE

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday 18 August 2013

Time travel anyone? Zoology, Ancient Egypt, Lindisfarne Gospels in Durham, John Betjeman at the Quadriga, Dutch Art and Music at the National Gallery ....

The aim of my journey was to see the Lindisfarne Gospels, Europe’s oldest surviving bound book on loan from the British Library, in London, which has been incorporated into an exhibition celebrating the journey of St Cuthbert to his final resting place in Durham Cathedral

These Gospels have a unique place in the art and culture of the North East and the Christian heritage of Britain - St Cuthbert (c 634 – 687 AD) wrote the Gospels on the island of Lindisfarne.

Showing positioning of Durham

While on my way to Durham in the north east of England via London I went to see two tiny museums with a wealth of knowledge crammed into cabinets, hung high from ceilings, floors covered, drawers stacked with more artefacts or specimens ...

These two museums are part of a suite of museums and collections owned by University College London – as the third university to open after Oxford and Cambridge – its early custodians pioneered work in many nascent disciplines ... zoology, geology and archaeology amongst others.

A Quagga mare at London Zoo
in 1870
The Grant Museum of Zoology now houses around 30,000 zoological experiments covering the whole range of the animal kingdom – including rare and extinct species such as the dodo, quagga – whose skeleton is one of only seven in the world.

One of the many thousands of slides -
a tiny squid

The collection includes wet and dry specimens as well as many fossils ... I went specifically to see the Micrarium ... a place for tiny, tiny things!  Many thousands of these slides are archived away ... and they are just not of insects ... but tiny mammals, specimen slices etc ...

The location of the Nile river
in Africa
The museum is a typical avid Victorian scientist’s collection ... jam-packed, dusty ... be prepared for gruesome slices, exquisite works of art ... an alcove, the Micrarium, of light boxes with over 2,000 slides lining walls from floor to ceiling ...

Then round the corner to the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology where I could wander in Ancient Egypt from the Sudan, straddling the confluence of the Blue and White Nile, following its northerly flow in the Nile valley to its mouth at the east Mediterranean.

Glass display cabinets at
the Petrie Museum

Here we will find the artefacts we expect to see ... Sudanese and Egyptian art, hieroglyphic panels, sculpture, pottery, beads ... but arranged alongside mud toys, rat traps, everyday garments, socks and sandals and more ...

Then off passing the Lego tube map at Kings Cross (Lego info post here) to catch the train up to the north east of England ...

1610 map of Durham - the Castle to the
north, Palace Green surrounded by
Medieval buildings and to the
south high above the Wear river the
Cathedral and ancillary buildings can
be made out.

I certainly did not do Durham or its UNESCO World Heritage designation due justice with my visit – but I knew that before I left the south coast ...

.... I particularly wanted to see the exhibition focusing on the story of one of the world’s most important Anglo-Saxon manuscripts – the Lindisfarne Gospels.

The City has put on a whole festival of events, as well as bringing together other Anglo-Saxon treasure, significant medieval manuscripts ...

Durham Castle

I was able to take a tour of the Castle, visited the Cathedral, saw the Chronicles and all the other exhibited works, and then spent time with one of the Museum outreach managers looking through a facsimile edition of the Gospels ... complete with thumbed pages, ‘worm holes’, torn edges ... replicated this century to the standard of the original Gospels.

Lindisfarne Gospels - the book, with its cover as
it might have looked, which was lost at some stage
The Wolfson Room had activities for the children and us! ... digitally displaying the Chronicles, discovering how the manuscript was created ... a variety of props, including cow puppets (the dun cow led the monks carrying the coffin of St Cuthbert to Dunholme (Durham), quills, vellum sheets, wax tablets ....

The UNESCO World Heritage Site – the first in Britain, designated in 1986, is doing justice to that award ... the Palace Green was the economic centre of Durham for centuries – bounded by the Castle (1072), dominating the southern end is the Cathedral (1093 – 1133) ... while now the Palace Green Library houses the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition.

Durham Cathedral - taken from across the river
Durham was built atop a plateau, the Palace Green, on the incised meander of the River Wear that surrounds three sides to form Durham’s peninsula – ideally situated to survive thirteen hundreds years of marauding raiders and thus now able to put on the various exhibits for this splendid festival.

Sadly I had to leave after only one day – certainly a major challenge, but as so often happens life intervenes – and back to London I went.

The "quadriga" (four-horse sculpture) that sits
atop Wellington Arch and its museum

Off to Hyde Park Corner and the Quadriga Gallery housed within the Wellington Arch for the 3rd of five exhibitions covering the story of the 1913 Monuments Act – landmark moment for England’s heritage.

It’s a tiny space within one half of the arch, but allows views across London from the viewing platforms ... while the other side of the arch functions as a ventilation shaft for the London Underground ...

National Gallery in Trafalgar Square,
to the west (left) is the new wing
My final visit was to the new Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to see an art exhibition with a difference, “Vermeer and Music” ... while not wholly on Vermeer some emphasis has been placed on the musical culture of the Netherlands in the ‘Golden Age’ of Dutch culture.

The Academy of Ancient Music are playing short concerts on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in a salon attached to the exhibition rooms ...

The poster advertising
the exhibition
... 17th century instruments, together with Songbooks from the era, are on display with the works of art ... five Vermeer paintings, together with other artists reflecting the Dutch period of music making at all levels of society.

With all that culture, information, history and guide books weighing on both my brain and my back I returned to Eastbourne – to further absorb an incredible journey.

Detail from a painting by
Jan Verkolje (c 1674)

The one thing that has become apparent to me in the 21st century and was most definitely on show here at all five sites ... is how the digital age is opening the door to new revelations – acknowledged by how important contact with original materials is to our researchers today.

I came back refreshed and inspired ... yes tired too ... but not exhausted as so often happens ... my eyes had been opened to so much and I will revisit the Grant and Petrie Museums, and go back north at some stage for a week or so to spend time in and around Durham, Lindisfarne  ...

... now to write up more posts for the blog on each of the experiences ...

Such a wonderful trip ... too short – but ... so worthwhile ...

Hilary Melton-Butcher

Positive Letters Inspirational Stories