Institute students on a 'tropical extravaganza'

28 March 2012

'Tropical Extravaganza' at the Princess of Wales Conservatory, Kew

Institute students from the Conservation Management course recently undertook a research visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew.

Following a a tour of the grounds and the Princess of Wales Conservatory, which is full of tropical plants, Mark Nesbitt, curator of the Economic Botany Collection, and Institute alumnus, provided the students with a tour of the collection, discussing the history of the collection, one of the earliest in England and a likely inspiration of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Mark showed the students a sample of some of the amazing objects preserved in the Economic Botany Collection, including a lace bark bonnet constructed from the Jamaican lace-bark tree which was incredibly beautiful.

The students also enjoyed seeing a Maori cloak made from the leaves of the mountain daisy, Celmisia (tikumu) and fibres of Phormium tenax. It is the only example in the world and, after extensive research and conservation, has been consulted by contemporary Maori weavers so that the technique can be re-learned. Though the students could not handle the cloak itself, Mark provided a surrogate material to feel, which exactly represented the texture of the cloak. Surprisingly, the 150 year old cloak felt like very soft and flexible suede!

A tour of the Economic Botany Collections

The Economic Botany Collection has archaeological artefacts in addition to its historic and ethnographic plant specimens. Not only do they have one of the oldest fragments of woven basketry in the world, but they also have an extensive collection of flower offerings discovered in tombs in Northern Africa. Though largely discoloured now, Mark showed the students a replica of what a florally decorated Mummy would have looked like.

After a tour of the stores, the students helped Dean Sully and Mark Nesbitt with the selection and packaging of several objects, which will undergo conservation treatments by the current students on the MSc Conservation for Archaeology and Museums programme.

  • "It is exciting for those of us continuing onto the MSc from our current MA in Principles of Conservation, to know that next year we will have a chance to work on objects from this collection! Our time in the gardens and with Dr Nesbitt was a wonderful way to bring together the skills we learn in the classroom with real scenarios and local examples. As the first of our series of fieldtrips, Kew Gardens set a wonderful tone for those still to come!"
    [Katherine Becker, MA Principles of Conservation]
Students examining the Maori cloak up-closeStudents examining the Bark lace bonnet up-closeAncient tomb offeringsAncient tomb offerings