The next installment of natural history museum delight is my most local – the Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton. The museum has collections of stuffed birds, skeletons, butterflies and insects, minerals and fossils. It is partly a museum showcasing the natural world, but it is also a museum showing how naturalists of the Victorian age collected, displayed and interpreted the natural world. Its brillantly old fashioned and smells quite a lot of moth balls, I love it!
The Museum was founded by Edward Thomas Booth in 1874, in the grounds of his house on Dyke Road in Brighton. Booth was a classic Victorian naturalist and collector. He collected a rather scarily large number of stuffed birds, which he displayed in what he termed ‘dioramas’. This meant displaying birds in glass cases surrounded by recreations of their natural setting. When he died, Booth insisted that the dioramas never be changed, which helps to create the old fashioned and slightly eccentric feel to the museum.
There is very limited information and text panels, which is actually really nice. So many museums have tonnes of writing and explaination which means you spend much longer reading things you could read on the internet, rather than actually looking at the things on display. At the Booth, you pretty much just have to look. I like that.
I went last winter with my sketchbook for a rainy day session of drawing in the museum. As I was squinting in the semi darkness (its a pretty dark museum) to try and see the bullfinch I was drawing, a very nice man, who turned out to be the Keeper, offered to let me draw another bullfinch he had, not in a glass case and in the light of the workshop out the back.
After gladly accepting this offer, I went back again and spent the whole day upstairs in the collection storeroom. I was pretty much given free rein to draw whatever I wanted, opening drawers to find hundreds of colourful birds or butterfly cases or birds eggs. This day spent in the storeroom, most of it still stored in the original wooden cabinets with slightly faded and inky labels, is what inspired my Victorian Collectors necklaces.
If I haven’t already over loaded you with pictures, there are even more over on my Flickr account.
Oh and there will be a special edition of This Way to the Zoological Museum very soon – an interview with none other than Anna of Anna’s Museum!