As we descended the steps, leaving the sunshine behind and plunging into an ever colder atmosphere I tried hard to banish thoughts of cellar based horror stories from my mind. I was taken through a labyrinth of windowless corridors, with light sensors illuminating only as we approached, rows and rows of identical doors leading who knows where. Hoping the twins from The Shining weren’t around the next bend as I lost all sense of direction, I put my trust in my guide.
This was a very privileged place to be. Mathew Lowe, Collections Manager at the Zoology museum kindly allowed me to come and select work from their archive to draw from directly. The museum was shut to the public so it was just me, staff and a few thousand dead animals underground.
The day started by signing their very prestigious visitors book, adding my name to the ranks of Prince Philip, Quentin Blake, David Attenborough and many more eminent guests.
Deciding what to select to draw from was an almost impossible task. Matt was kind enough to hear the agony in my voice and allow me to browse with his help, which was actually pretty overwhelming! Through the underground labyrinth we went, to a storage room, a huge warehouse-like space with row upon row of archival shelves on wheels. Shelves containing categorised draws reaching up to the ceiling.
We started with small native woodland creatures. I looked at tiny skulls, water voles, mice, shrews and picked a particularly clean and fine specimen. We took a small detour on the search to look in the dog drawer, comparing the skulls of different breeds of dogs. Matt dug out a particularly impressive barn owl skull and claw, impossibly light and crispy. It was tempting to keep looking and select more than I could manage in one sitting. I limited myself to three specimens and was allowed to set myself up in the research room.
Equipped with a lamp and a huge desk and a rather unnerving creature staring me out, while its moth problem was dealt with I began drawing.
I usually lose sense of time when I’m drawing anyway, but with no daylight and a constant icy temperature I had no clue how long I had been there. My first pass at all three sets of bones was certainly enough to work from home but has now left me wanting to explore more! This time I want to come up with a list of creatures before I set out, it’s far too distracting to see incredible exotic bones, skins and feathers and almost impossible to choose between them.
Matt Lowe was incredibly accommodating and understanding of my artistic whims, a far cry from the straightforward, logical scientists he normally works with! I’m so grateful for the time he generously spent helping me!
I’m not finished with the Zoology museum yet! I have many plans which will have to wait until after the summer holidays. It’s very exciting to feel that I have this world-class collection at my fingertips and can share some of the extraordinary specimens with you all via my paintings.
And next time you visit, remember that the museum is only the tip of the icy underground iceberg! Treasures lie beneath your feet!
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