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The green, green colour of the natural world

When leaves are budding and the Gardens are getting green again, what better time to have a look at the colour so closely associated with nature?

It's Only Natural

Green and nature go hand in hand. The colour conjures up growth, freshness, vitality and fertility. In fact, the word green comes from the old English grene, which has the same origins as grass and grow. If you enjoy gardening, you are considered to be ‘green-fingered’ or as having a ‘green-thumb’ due to its dominance in nature. 

For this reason, the colour is closely associated with medicine and healing, but this connection goes beyond symbolism. Studies have shown that green is the most restful colour for the human eye, reducing fatigue, with the wavelength of green overlapping with the area of greatest sensitivity in our eyes.

The biggest contributor to green in nature is chlorophyll, which is a green pigment that helps the plant or algae absorb energy from light (photosynthesis).

Green is a very dominant colour in birds, animals, and insects, as they have adapted to camouflage to their surroundings.

  • NH.27.7-IG, Green is a common colour amongst birds, especially amongst those that live in the rainforest. The green colour allows them to blend in with their surroundings.
    Green is a common colour amongst birds, especially amongst those that live in the rainforest. The green colour allows them to blend in with their surroundings.

Going Green

Green is associated with safety and trust as can be seen in traffic lights and escape signs, although the choice of this colour seems to have been related to it being clearly discernible from red. 

It has associations with vivacity and youth, through its abundance in the natural world, and this association with life, health and growth make it a natural choice for those who want to align themselves with green-focused messaging. Aside from some obvious organisations like Greenpeace and the Green Party, you will also find BP, Starbucks, and Landrover, who want to promote their associations with health and nature.

In terms of public perception, it is an equal choice, with 14% of both sexes choosing it as their favourite colour, although more women identify with green being their least favourite colour (6% to 2% of men).

Green Eyed Monsters?

Most of us know of the association of green with jealousy or envy, but why did this come about? The phrase green-eyed monster may have been coined first by Shakespeare, who uses it in Othello:

Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
Iago, Othello, Act 3, scene 3

Green has more than a passing association with the supernatural than the green-eyed monsters of jealousy. Fairies and dragons are often shown as green or wearing green clothing, and green gods are often related to rebirth and spring.

Green Men

Green men (not so much women) appear in lots of different cultures as important figures, whether they are gods, profits or integral to celebration.

The Green Man appears to have pagan origins, perhaps connected to ‘wild man of the woods’ figures, who in turn are link to satyrs or fauns. Despite this, Green Men frequently appear in church decorations and it is a common name for a pub.

Jack-in-the-Green is another green character from British folklore, who takes part in revels around May Day as a person (traditionally a chimney sweep) is dressed as a 3m tall bushy tree.

  • Jack in the Green, A chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May" (probably both played by men) in 18th-century London.
    A chimney sweeps' Jack in the Green dances with the "Lord and Lady of the May" (probably both played by men) in 18th-century London.

Outside of the UK, Khidr (or al-Khidr) from the Quran is a messenger or profit dressed in Green, the Egyptian god of the underworld Osiris has green skin because of its links to good health and rebirth, and Tlaloc, and Aztec god of earthly fertility and water, who also had green skin.

Dyes and Pigments

Green pigments that first appear in artwork originate from malachite or from green earth, found around southern Europe. Green dyes are rare, although did use ferns, plantain, nettles, lichen, leeks and others as accessible alternative, but these faded or changed colour quickly. Better dyes could be created by first dying the yarn or garments blue and then yellow, but this was more expensive.

Verdigris, the pigment created through weathered copper or bronze, was first used by the Greeks and is considered the first artificial green. Other green minerals include emerald and cobalt green.

  • statue-of-liberty-267948_1920, The Statue of Liberty owes its green colouration to Verdigris
    The Statue of Liberty owes its green colouration to Verdigris

In Artwork

Green in ancient artwork was closely associated with nature and rebirth, and was seen positively by the ancient Egyptians and the Romans in this regard.

In early modern Europe Green was associated with wealth and well-to-do merchants or gentlemen outside of the nobility, which had an association with red. Paintings like the Mona Lisa and the Arnolfini Portrait are good examples of this.

  • Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait, The Arnolfini Portrait features a woman in a green dress which at the time would have been a symbol of this family's position in the merchant classes
    The Arnolfini Portrait features a woman in a green dress which at the time would have been a symbol of this family's position in the merchant classes

This aligns with the modern association with money, which comes from the colour green in US dollar bills which was originally chosen to deter counterfitters.

In the 18th and 19th century the advent on new synthetic pigments saw a greater uptake of the colour, particularly by the romantic movement.

"I sought to express with red and green the terrible human passions. The hall is blood red and pale yellow, with a green billiard table in the center, and four lamps of lemon yellow, with rays of orange and green. Everywhere it is a battle and antithesis of the most different reds and greens”

1888, Van Gogh about The Night Cafe

Learn more about green in our exhibition – Colour: The Rainbow Revealed

Saint George, Patron Saint of Ethiopia

We're sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Saint George. As the Patron Saint of England, his legend is one well known across the country.

Even if you aren't familiar with George himself you'll have seen the cross of Saint George everywhere - from flags on government buildings to football strips.

Saint George isn't just the Patron Saint of England though. George's patronage extends to amongst others, Aragon and Catalonia, Georgia (unsurprisingly), Moldova, Palestine, and Ethiopia. In our collections from Ethiopia in particular, Saint George features prominently. So just why has the East African nation taken the Saint to their hearts?

Ethiopia, along with its neighbour Eritrea, is something of an exception in the Horn of Africa, in that it is a nation in which the majority of the population practices Christianity. Christianity in Ethiopia takes the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots all the way back to the Apostles. Made the official church of the Kingdom of Axum in the 4th century AD, making it one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, it has remained the dominant religion in Ethiopia ever since. In fact, the Kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from the biblical figures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  

  • Saint George 001, Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.
    Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.

It is unclear quite how the story of Saint George first came to Ethiopia. Saint George is an important figure in the Middle East particularly in Palestine and Lebanon - it is said he was born in either the Levant or Cappadocia - and may have been introduced to Ethiopia by contact with other Oriental Orthodox churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt. 

  • 465px-Bete_Giyorgis_03, The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.
    The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.

One thing that's very clear though is how important George is in the East African state. In the town of Lalibela, an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians, eleven churches were hewn from rock between the 7th century AD and the 13th century AD. This monumental task means that the churches are found in subterranean trenches with the earth around them excavated to create the form of magnificent church structures. The best preserved and best-executed church in Lalibela is the Biete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George. Allegedly, this church was sculpted under the orders of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela - after whom the town is named - in the 13th century AD after Saint George visited him in a vision instructing him to do so. 

Addis Ababa's cathedral is dedicated to Saint George, as is the city's leading football team. There's even a beer named after Saint George.

Saint George is a popular figure in Ethiopian iconography often appearing on horseback driving his lance or spear into the dragon he so famously slew. Just as George's role as a warrior saint made him a popular figure amongst knights and crusaders of Europe, his association with war and battle is prominent when examining our collection of depictions of George in Ethiopian art. The two paintings featured below depict Saint George at the heart of one of Ethiopia's most important historical moments, the Battle of Adwa.

  • Battle of Adwa 01, Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.
    Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.

At the end of the 19th century, Africa had been carved up by the European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. All of Africa was claimed by European empires with the exception of two states, the Republic of Liberia and the Ethiopian Empire. Despite this, in 1895, the Kingdom of Italy invaded Ethiopia to further its colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa. Despite initial Italian success, Ethiopian forces would rout their opponents at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, ending their imperial ambitions in Ethiopia. According to the historian Raymond Jones, Adwa stands out as one of the significant events of the 19th century as "In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia alone had successfully defended its independence."

  • Battle of Adwa 02, As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.
    As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.

In both paintings, we see the amassed forces of Ethiopia and Italy facing off against each other across a battlefield. The Ethiopian forces are also led by the same three figures in both paintings - Emperor Menelik II, Emperess Taytu, and Saint George. Saint George soars above both scenes surrounded by a halo of red, green, and gold, the colours of the Ethiopian flag, granting divine inspiration to the forces of Ethiopia. In one case he even hurls his spears into the massed ranks of the Italian army. 

The Battle of Adwa is commemorated to this day in Ethiopia as a national holiday, with public celebrations held in towns and cities across Ethiopia every year. Each year they celebrate the leadership of Menelik II, Tatyu, and of course Saint George.

The Elephant and the Rat

While looking through our collections recently we noticed that in most of the depictions of Ganesha we found he is often accompanied by a rat. Eager to get to the bottom of the mystery for World Rat Day we decided to delve deep and uncover the meaning behind this unlikely pairing.

Ganesha is one of the most easily recognisable deities of the Hindu pantheon and he will be familiar to many non-Hindus. His distinctive elephant's head marks him out as one of the most memorable figures in Hinduism, and as a patron of the arts and scientists and the remover of objects he plays an important role for many communities throughout South Asia. You may have also noticed that often wherever Ganesha goes he is accompanied by a rat. A small rat may cower beneath his feet, or a giant rat may serve at his vehicle or 'Vahana'. How has a figure as revered as Ganesha come to be associated with the common rat then?

  • 1990.23, This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet
    This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet

The rat first appears as Ganesha's mount in Hindu mythology in the Matsya Purana, a Sanskrit text that is believed to have been begun in the 1st millennium BCE. Since then it has appeared in a number of important texts and myths surrounding Ganesha including the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana

According to the Ganesha Purana the mythical origin of Ganesha's rat is this:

There was a celestial musician-god by the name Krauncha. One day, in the court of Lord Indra, Krauncha accidentally stepped on the foot of Muni Vamadeva, who (as all Munis), got enraged and cursed Krauncha to become a mouse. However, Krauncha became a huge mountain-sized mouse and ended up damaging everything in its path. Once, he ended up stepping on the ashram of Maharshi Parashar, with whom Lord Ganesha was staying, and destroying it. Lord Ganesha, inorder to teach Krauncha a lesson, unleashed his pasha (noose) on Krauncha which ended up looping around the mouse and bringing him to Lord Ganesha's feet. Ganesha then said something like, "Krauncha...you have caused a lot of trouble and you deserve a severe punishment. But since you ask for my forgiveness, I will pardon you and use you as my vehicle". However, when Ganesha mounted on Krauncha, he couldnt bear the weight of Lord Ganesha. Krauncha pleaded for Ganesha to become light-weight so that he could support him. Lord Ganesha obliged and since then, has been using the mouse as his vehicle.

However, the argument continues on quite what the rat is meant to symbolise, and many aren't even sure it's a rat - it could be a mouse. Some believe that the rat helps Ganesha in his role as the remover of obstacles. Rodents can travel in spaces that others could never reach and this allows Ganesha to do his work in the unseen places of the world. The writer, Yuvraj Krishan has argued it is the opposite that is true - that the partnership of Ganesha and the rodent is not one of harmony but rather of domination:

Lord Ganesha is known as the Conqueror of Obstacles (Vighnaharta). In ancient times, when agriculture was the primary mode of sustenance, rodents were one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity. Rodents would destroy standing crops, eat up stored grains and thereby result in severe losses for the common man. Lord Ganesha, in having a mouse/rat as his vehicle, is symbolically shown to have conquered this pest, thus staying true to his name of Vighnaharta.

Whatever the truth is it seems these two aren't going to be separated any time soon. Next time you see a depiction of Ganesha why not see if you can find his rat companion nearby?

  • 513.003, A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana
    A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana

What do you own that means the most to you?

We need your help

The Horniman is looking for stories about the objects that mean the most to you.

It could be a photograph, a gift you’ve been given, a family heirloom or something that always makes you smile. Whatever you choose, tell us the story of how you came to own it, why it is important to you and what you think when you see it.

Our World Gallery will be full of objects that mean a great deal to different people, whether they are vital tools, clothes, decorations or toys.

We want your help in creating an online museum of objects to complement the World Gallery, so that we can see the objects that are most important to you, our audience and visitors.

So, how do you send your entry?

Send us a picture of your object and the story behind it, or record your own video like the ones above, to web@horniman.ac.uk. Alternatively, you can message us on Facebook or Twitter.

We will be selecting some of your stories and pictures to go into the World Gallery and will include others on our website, as part of this virtual museum.

Reef Encounters: Dr Michael Sweet

As part of International Year of the Reef, we're speaking to people who work with coral reefs, from filmmakers to fish taxonomists. Dr. Michael Sweet, researcher and lecturer at the University of Derby, tells us how 'with a bit of luck and a lot of work' we can save coral reefs around the world.

What is your typical day?

As a full-time academic, each of my days is very different. Like all in my position, a good 20% of my time is taken up by administration. I am then in charge of a large and very active research team with five Ph.D. students and three Post Doctorates and so time is spent in meetings with these early career researchers and in the field, assisting with sampling when possible. Of course, I try to cram in some teaching along the way as well and make myself available to the even younger minds which need inspiring.

Then, and only then, I might get in the lab myself to start on a new topic or write up some of the work we have already analysed.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 01, Dr Michael Sweet collects snails for study from Porites Turbinaria, Dr Michael Sweet
    Dr Michael Sweet collects snails for study from Porites Turbinaria, Dr Michael Sweet

When did you first know you wanted to work in this area, and how did you get into your work?

For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be in some form of zoological career. My mum was a countryside ranger so I spent many an evening and weekend in the wilds of my home county of Lancashire. I may not have been exactly close to the marine environments I now study I grant you, but we spent a few holidays by the coast which inspired me further.

When University came around I toyed around between choosing marine biology or zoology and opted for the latter. I then spent four years traveling around the world working on a variety of projects from individual identification in whale sharks, to research on the most endangered bird at the time, the black robin of the Chatham Islands. I then moved in the direction of getting a Ph.D. and this was where the coral work started.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 02, Dr. Sweet is well known for his work on coral diseases but also takes part in a variety of other studies, Dr Michael Sweet
    Dr. Sweet is well known for his work on coral diseases but also takes part in a variety of other studies, Dr Michael Sweet

What inspires you in your work?

My inspiration starts with the teaching of the undergraduate students who really show the passion for their chosen career and ends, if it ever really ends, with my team of excellent researchers who work tirelessly to answer some very interesting questions.

Every day is different, every day is exciting, and every day we work to try and make our world a better place. A better place for us as humans but also a better place for the rest of the organisms we share our home with, be they the smallest viruses or bacteria, the corals or sponges, or the fish in our oceans and rivers.

  • IMG_1418, 'Every day is different, every day is exciting, and every day we work to try and make our world a better place', Dr Michael Sweet
    'Every day is different, every day is exciting, and every day we work to try and make our world a better place', Dr Michael Sweet

What would your message for the future of reefs be?

To be honest, it's looking bad but we should not lose hope. If we all do our bit we can certainly make a difference and hopefully, with a bit of luck and a lot of work we can preserve reefs for future generations. They may not look exactly how we know them to be but I do believe that life will find a way and corals as a whole will keep on fighting.

  • bleaching, Coral bleaching occurs when coral expels the algae they rely on to survive from their tissues, Dr Michael Sweet
    Coral bleaching occurs when coral expels the algae they rely on to survive from their tissues, Dr Michael Sweet

What’s your favourite creature on the reef, and why?

I should probably say the corals themselves but I have a soft spot for octopuses – so beautiful, so clever – I just think they are so amazing.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 03, Above-average sea temperatures caused by global warming have been identified as the leading cause of coral bleaching incidents, Dr Michael Sweet
    Above-average sea temperatures caused by global warming have been identified as the leading cause of coral bleaching incidents, Dr Michael Sweet

What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen at sea?

A whole container full of toilets sunk in the Red Sea was a little weird.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 04, In 2016, bleaching events killed between 29% to 50% of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Dr Michael Sweet
    In 2016, bleaching events killed between 29% to 50% of coral on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Dr Michael Sweet

What kit do you use?

Cannon PowerShot G9X with custom housing.

  • Dr Michael Sweet 05, 'If we all do our bit we can certainly make a difference and hopefully, with a bit of luck and a lot of work we can preserve reefs for future generations', Dr Michael Sweet
    'If we all do our bit we can certainly make a difference and hopefully, with a bit of luck and a lot of work we can preserve reefs for future generations', Dr Michael Sweet

What’s the next big thing for your work?

We’re exploring the implications of ‘human-assisted evolution’ with some collaborators with regard to restoration efforts for some areas. In particular, we are focusing on the importance of coral's bacterial communities known as the microbiome in coral resilience and susceptibility to aspects of climate change.

Who’s your ‘reef hero’ – someone doing great work or advocacy for the future of reefs?

I always struggle with this. I guess my obvious hero would be my old mentor and supervisor Professor John Bythell who took me in to complete my Ph.D. and nurtured my interest in corals and the diseases which plague them.

However, there have been a number of others whose work inspire me on a daily basis and not just the well-established researchers. My students keep my passion alive and make me feel that what we do is worthwhile.

Furthermore, the dedication I see from other groups and fields of interest such as hobbyists and aquarium curators is also heroic. Their knowledge is second to none, in what makes a coral tick and how to look after them and it’s these guys who may well be the unsung hero in the field of coral reef biology.

World Poetry Day: The Wilsons and Wuhan

World Poetry Day is celebrated every year on 21 March to recognise the importance of poetry to human culture across the world.

At the Horniman we have been searching our collections for objects that will help us join the worldwide celebration and in this hunt have uncovered an object that shows how poetry and art unites us all across borders.

Horniman Object No. 2013.366 may not look like much at first glance. Wooden boards bound into a book by a leather spine does not make for the most eye-catching display, but open up the pages of this tome and you will be stunned. Each double-page spread features a unique poem written in both Chinese and English by an individual whose portrait has been lovingly painted as an accompaniment.

These poems were written to commemorate Reverend Robert Wilson, or ‘Mr Wei’, who had lived in what is now the city of Wuhan in Central China. Robert had passed away, leaving behind his wife and daughters. With the family set to return to England, it seems that friends and congregants of Mr Wilson had collaborated to produce this book to thank his widow for the impact he had on their lives, and to express the sadness that she too was leaving theirs.

We have highlighted three of these poems in particular that highlight how a group of ordinary people used the universal language of poetry to explore the sorrow and grief that they all shared.

 

Ah! How sad, the pastor is gone to heaven;

Having gone to the heavenly hall he has left

                The world forever.

Alas! The mother teacher has to return solitary,

When I think of the miles of ocean and

                Sea, my heart grows very sorrowful

                And sad.

 

-          Liu Chang Sin

 

  • 2013.366_01, Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait
    Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait

 

Oh how joyous! The mutual acquaintance between

The pastor Wei and myself was complete.

Oh how sorrowful! The teacher is gone to heaven,

And the teacher’s wife and daughters will

Now be separated from us.

 

Still my joy and my sorrow do not simply

Consist in this.

 

More sorrowful is it, that the harvest is great

And the Labourers few.

More joyous still is it, that there is a day when

The Teacher, with his wife and daughters

Together with ourselves shall meet each

Other in heaven.

 

-          Shun Tsi Sin, the local evangelist

 

  • 2013.366_02, The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin
    The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin

 

I am having my likeness taken,

And in presenting it to her who is about to return,

My object is to a small degree to soothe the sadness

                Of the voyage,

And not because I regard it of any value.

Though visibly there is a temporary separation,

After death we shall be again near each other.

Say not that the distance will be great there;

In heaven we shall all be neighbours.

 

-          Chii Hien Ohme

 

  • 2013.366_03, The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme
    The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme

The many sides of yellow

What comes to mind when you think of yellow. The sun? Spongebob? Lemons?

The colour yellow is all around us, in our food, our clothes, our waste. As most kids can tell you, it is a secondary colour, created by mixing red and green.

It is considered a cheerful colour – conjuring up images of sunflowers, buttercups and sunny days. However it is also closely associated sickliness and cowardice. In China, it is associated with pornography, while in Russia it has associations with mental illness.

We look into the multi-faceted nature of yellow.

So what makes things yellow?

There are a few origins.

Carotenoids are pigments that create bright colours like yellow (as well as orange and red) in foods. You find them in organic material like plants, bacteria and algae, and they play a really important role in absorbing light for photosynthesis, and protecting chlorophyll in a plant. Carotenoids are behind the yellow of lemons, autumn leaves, egg yolks, daffodils and much more.

  • Yellow blog, A daffodil which contains carotenoid
    A daffodil which contains carotenoid

There are quite a few different minerals behind yellow pigments in paint, but one of the oldest found used in art is yellow ochre.

In fact, yellow was one of the first colours ever used in art, as ochre (a mix of ferric oxide, clay and sand) was very accessible and could be found in many places all over the world.

Engraved ochre was found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa that dates from around 75,000 years ago. A bit closer to home, ochre has been found in paintings of animals in French caves  from 25,000 years ago, and in Spain, from around 15-16,000 BC.

  • Yellow blog, An Ancient Egyptian coffin cover painted with yellow ochre
    An Ancient Egyptian coffin cover painted with yellow ochre

But ochre is not confined to history. If you are wondering if yellow ochre is used in any of your paints, have a look for PY-43 on the label.

Yellow dyes were about as widely available as ochre, and the colour can be taken from saffron, safflower, gorse bushes, as well as the bark of the Eastern black oak and Dyer’s mulberry. Find out more about yellow dyes in our Dye Garden.

  • Yellow blog, A Gorse bush in our Dye Garden
    A Gorse bush in our Dye Garden

What do we think of the colour?

It is a vibrant colour that is used to create an emotional or energetic response.

Yellow is thought to increase cheerfulness and optimism when used in marketing, but can apparently make babies cry.

That emotional energy makes it an ideal colour to draw in shoppers and prompt impulse activity. There is a reason why it is the colour of choice for fast food outlets like Burger King and McDonalds, stores like Ikea and toy companies like Play-doh and Nerf.

However, when it comes to picking our favourite, the colour yellow falls very low for both men and women gaining only 1% and 3% of responses respectively.

Sickness or royalty?

This lack of love for yellow may have something to do its association with illness and disease. Yellow is the colour of jaundice, pus and bile, and it has associations with cholera, which shares etymological routes (Khloros). Bruises turn yellow and no one wants to get Yellow Fever.

Yellow had negative associations in the Middle Ages, when repentant cathars were forced to wear yellow crosses on their clothes. Hundreds of years later, Jewish people persecuted by the Nazis had to wear a yellow star on clothes or display the sign on their houses. Heretics were forced to wear yellow during the Spanish Inquisition.

  • Yellow blog, Yellow badge made mandatory by the Nazis in France, kitkatcrazy thanks to Wikimedia Creative Commons
    Yellow badge made mandatory by the Nazis in France, kitkatcrazy thanks to Wikimedia Creative Commons

In the late 18th century the phrase yellow-belly was first identified as a derogatory term, as set out in Grose’s A provincial glossary (1787):

Yellow bellies. This is an appellation given to persons born in the Fens, who, it is jocularly said, have yellow bellies, like their eels.

But despite all this, we prize gold which is of a yellowish hue.

Yellow was associated with gold in Ancient Egypt. The bones of gods were believed to be made of gold, enforcing the belief that it was eternal and indestructible.

It was also associated with the Pope in the early days of the Christian church and royal yellow is the colour of the robes of the Emperors of China, because of its links to the sun. Jing Han writes,

Just as there cannot be two suns in the sky, there cannot be two emperors in a nation. Thus from then on, yellow was regarded as the costume colour used exclusively by emperors.

Ribbons, roses, a submarine and a big yellow taxi

Lots of other musicians have featured yellow in their songs.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree sung by Dawn featuring Tony Orlando is about signalling that a prisoner of war is still welcome by his sweetheart when he arrives back home. Songs or poems with similar themes crop up from early in the 1900s, but the first copyrighted version was in 1917 by George A. Norton, which he titled Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon (For Her Lover Who Is Far, Far Away).

The yellow ribbon gained popularity in the US during the Gulf War as a way of supporting troops, and are still displayed in some towns and cities on this basis today. Yellow ribbons are still identified with POWs in Italy and Kuwait. 

  • Yellow blog, A yellow ribbon
    A yellow ribbon

Two famously yellow songs, Mellow Yellow and Yellow Submarine are linked, as Paul McCartney is one of the people heard in the background of the Donovan track, and Donovan helped McCartney with the lyrics for Yellow Submarine.

Listen to these and some other famous tracks associated with the colour yellow.

Both China and Vietnam had music genres called yellow music, both with separate origins.

In China, yellow music or songs described early popular music between the 1920s to 1940s, as a reference to pronography, and this term was used up until the Cultural Revolution.

It also referred to music created in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, as opposed to red music from the North. The content of the songs were considered “decadent” and were banned in 1975.

Liked reading about yellow? Find out about the colour blue in our earlier post and stayed tuned for more colours throughout the year.

Horniman History: Lectures given by Women

For International Women's Day, we have a look at some of women who gave lectures here in the early days of the Horniman.

Our Librarian Henry Rowsell recently uncovered an interesting fact about the Horniman as part of #NHEphemera.

The Horniman used to host lectures from visiting experts, as well as our own curators, up until the 1980s. The records show that we had a few well known women lecture, which was (according to author Kate Hill) unusual for the time.

Although women could undertake the public role of lecturing to a mixed-gender audience, they rarely did so, and those who did so had, or were in the process of developing, the professional authority to be able to speak publicly. Moreover, it may be significant that of the museums studied here, only the Horniman recorded women delivering lectures, and these were all in its Saturday afternoon popular lecture series.

In fact, the women we talk about below featured in both Saturday and Sunday lectures, in the morning and evening, repeated three times on Sunday evenings alone. Rather wonderfully, the Sunday afternoon lectures were repeated "to reduce the amount of aimless loafing in the Museum" by visitors during that time.

So who were these lecturers and why were they invited to speak?

Marie Stopes

Many will know her name from the Marie Stopes family planning clinics, but Stopes' original work focused on botany and geology.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes in her laboratory
    Marie Stopes in her laboratory

Stopes graduated from University College, London with a first class B.Sc. after only two years by attending both day and night schools.

She continued racking up firsts, becoming one of the first women to be elected a fellow of the Linnean Society and the first female academic at the University of Manchester, as a lecturer of Palaeobotany (although they later tried to rescind the offer when they realised she was a woman). She took up postgraduate work in Munich in 1903 and became the only woman amongst 500 men, and in 1904 Stopes achieved her doctorate on cycads seed structure and function. She was the youngest person in Britain to earn a DSc in 1905.

In 1907, Stopes was sent on an 18-month expedition to Japan by the Royal Society. Charles Darwin wrote about flowers being an “an abominable mystery” as the earliest samples in the fossil record all dated back to around 100 million years ago in various forms, suggesting an explosion of diversity. This was the mystery that Stopes intended to shed light on.

In her journal she wrote:

August 24th: Really it is hard work to carry tents and everything along these rivers. Often I alone find it difficult to go, and I have nothing to carry – except my fan and hammer, both of which are in constant use.

Her work on angiosperms from Hokkaido, Japan provided vital evidence which proved to be, at the time, the oldest flowers discovered.

Stopes’ Lecture at the Horniman on 2 March in 1912 “Evolution in Plants, illustrated by Fossils” would have doubtless drawn from her experience in Hokkaido.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Marie Stopes' lecture in our records
    Marie Stopes' lecture in our records

Kate Hall

Kate Hall was the Curator if the Whitechapel (or Borough of Stepney) Museum from 1895 until 1909 – the first paid female curator in the country, according to Kate Hill.

Hall was a protégé of Henrietta Barnett. Barnett who, along with her husband, established The Whitechapel Library and Toynbee Hall, as a way of educating working class people in London’ East End. A room was given on the second floor to serve as the Whitechapel Museum, which housed natural history specimens collected by Rev. Dan Greatorex.

During this time, Hall founded during this time the Nature Study Museum which opened in 1904, containing living specimens, taxidermy and insects, as well as a bee hive with glass walls, all of which sounds very similar to the Horniman today. The intention of the Nature Study Museum was to give city people the opportunity to encounter live animals, and who may have otherwise not had this opportunity. Over 100,000 people visited in two years.

The lectures Hall gave at the Horniman in January, February and March 1905 drew on her knowledge as part of the Nature Study Museum. The first two talks were, “The life of the honey bee” on 22 January and “The work of the honey bee” on 12 February, with an enigmatically titled lecture: “Trees” following on 5 March. According to St George-in-the-East Church, the bees in the Nature Study Museum had a local fame so it is little wonder that they were the subject of Hall’s lectures.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, Kate Hall's lecture in our records
    Kate Hall's lecture in our records

According to the Survey of London, Hall was innovative when it came to education, providing a carefully planned syllabus prior to the school visit. She also created a handling collection of natural specimens which were changed weekly and around 400 children visited for nature-study lessons at the museum each week in 1907.

Dr E M Delf-Smith

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

Dr Ellen Marion Delf-Smith, as she was later known, went to school down the road from the Horniman at James Allen's Girls' School in Dulwich, studied natural sciences at Girton College, Cambridge and went on to a post at Westfield College, University of London teaching botany.

According to her obituary in the British Phycological Journal, Delf-Smith had very few facilities or help when she first took up her teaching post and “if she wanted a specimen she had to go out and collect it and prepare it herself.”

She is described as having a remarkable gift for stimulating and training students, “able to discern the faintest spark of interest in a student and to fan it into a flame.” Her determination and initiative led to the University approving the Westfield laboratory for preparing students for pass degree examinations in botany in 1910 and for honours degrees in 1915.

Delf-Smith’s passion within botany lay in marine algae and the process by which plants excrete water (transpiration). It was her results in this area that lead to her award of the London DSc as well as the Gamble prize from Girton.

  • Women lecturers at the Horniman, A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records
    A lecture by EM Delf-Smith in our records

She returned to her old stomping ground in South London to give numerous lectures at the Horniman, and we can find listings in our records from 1912, with talks on “The Plant life of a Moor” on 9 March and “The Botany of Bread” on 2 November.

We’ll leave you with a poem she wrote for The Sportophyte, a journal edited by Marie Stopes:

A Botanical Dream

Last night as I lay dreaming

There came a dream so fair

I stood mid ancient Gymnosperms

Beside the Ginkgo rare.

 

I saw the Medullosae

With multipartite fronds,

And watched the sunset rosy

Through Calamites wands.

 

Oh Cryptogams, Pteridosperms

And Sphenophyllum cones,

Why did ye ever fossilise

To Palaeozoic stones?

E.M. Delf

 

The Horniman drumming circle

We spoke to the Studio Collective about how they've been getting their creativity flowing in their recent meetings with some rhythmic drum circles.

During the Collective’s discussions to create our exhibition we’ve talked a lot about sound-making and looked at drums from the Horniman’s collections. One of our members Joe is a keen drummer, so he and artist Serena hatched a plot to begin one of our meetings a little differently, with something to get our creativity flowing…

  • Underfloor_heating_warms_the_drums (1), Drums warming on the underfloor heating
    Drums warming on the underfloor heating

With a selection of drums from the Horniman’s Handling collection, we formed a drumming circle. There were no rules apart from, it turned out, ‘don’t stop drumming’. So Joe started us off by setting a beat and then we drummed.

  • drumming_circle_ready, Drumming circle ready
    Drumming circle ready

As a group, our playing naturally grew into crescendos and at times softened almost to no sound at all. I faced my own challenge of not racing ahead of the beat. We stopped by unspoken consensus halfway through and then resumed. We didn’t time it, the drumming simply lasted as long as it lasted. 

  • Judith_drumming, Judith drumming
    Judith drumming

Joe, our resident drummer, was quite complimentary of our efforts. He was pleased that we listened to each other and tried to fit our playing together. Very apt for our collective endeavour to co-create the first Studio exhibition. Keep an eye out for some drums when it opens later this year.

Artist Commission: The Studio 2019

We are looking for an exceptional artist with a collaborative practice for our 2019 Studio commission. 

What is the Studio?

The Studio is an exciting, new contemporary arts space at the Horniman, as well as a collaboration between the Horniman, artists and local community partners. The successful artist will join the Collective, the working group who programme the Studio. The chosen artist will be commissioned to create a new artwork as part of an exhibition opening to the public in October 2019.

The Studio will open for the very first time in October 2018. We will commission a new exhibition programme each year inspired by the Horniman’s collections.

The Studio aims to be a hub for exciting events and activities alongside its exhibitions programme, co-curated by artists, community groups and partners working with the Horniman.

The Commission

The Studio in 2019 will focus on Memory. Museums play a vital role in mediating memory, since they often present objects, images and stories from the past. 

Anthropology museums have a particular responsibility in how they present the way the past speaks to the present.

They need to provide a space for contested and alternative forms of memory to flourish. Such memories often challenge and re-orientate the Horniman's curatorial voice, creating both social cohesion and disruption amongst its visitors.

Selection Criteria

We are looking for an artist with great experience of working with people, and involving communities within their work. The artist will also have experience of exhibition-making in their portfolio of works but is not required to have had past experience of working with museums or museum collections.

  • Artists with a practice in social arts or socially-engaged arts, who work together with people and community as part of their practice. We will also consider applications from artist-led organisations where artists share a collaborative practice.
  • Artists who have a track record of creating exhibitions as an outcome of participatory process.
  • Artists who can demonstrate best practice and ability to engage the public in critical enquiry through their work.
  • Artist’s Expression of Interest statement on why the area of enquiry is of interest and interest in the Studio.

Please note: we are not looking for a proposal idea response to the enquiry in your Expression of Interest at this stage of application.

Next steps and application

Download and read the Guidance in the open call document below:

Then submit

1. A brief Expression of Interest statement of no more than two A4 sides that include the following information:

  • Why you are interested in the area of enquiry (see above section Commission Area of Enquiry). No more than 500 words.
  • How you may work collectively or collaboratively with community partners and curators. No more than 700 words.
  • How this opportunity will support your own artistic practice. No more than 500 words.

2. Visual examples of your work. Select three examples that best represent your practice in relation to the criteria outlined in this brief. Please send these as a separate document or signpost us to links of these works online. Please note that if you are emailing us images we are unable receive emails over 9MB.

3. An up-to-date CV (Curriculum Vitae).

To Anila Ladwa, Curator of Studio Programmes (aladwa@horniman.ac.uk) by 5pm on Tuesday, 3 April 2018, with the subject line ‘Studio 2019 Expression of Interest’.

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