Archive for December 10th, 2010

Friday Quick Links

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

How do you prepare a panda cub for life in the wild? Step one: wear an adult-sized panda suit.

In 1551, Konrad Gesner published the five-volume Historiae animalium (“History of the Animals”), the first modern work of zoology that attempted to describe all the world’s animals. Gesner did well, given that many of the animal records he wrote were based on others’ descriptions. The National Library of Medicine has digitized the book so you can flip through and see some of the highlights, from an armored rhino to a unicorn.

And if organisms smaller than the ones Gesner was describing are more your style, the National Library of Medicine has also digitized Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, which was a pioneering text for the world of microbiology.

The Japanese probe Akatsuki was supposed to reach Venus, but missed. No worries, its orbit around the sun means the probe and Venus will run into each other again in six years.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star, How I wonder what you are, Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky…” Meet LS IV-14 116, a pale blue star revealed to be the most zirconium-rich star known to date.

Unwanted object in a frog’s body? No problem! Just have the bladder grow around it and pee it out later!

We have amazing photographs in our Local History Archive. But as far as I know, no one’s animated them in quite this way: Poetry Animations.

Threads of Feeling

by Linda Moore, Curator of Collections


A heart cut from red woollen cloth, a ribbon of blue paduasoy silk, and a piece of linen diaper © Coram

Last night I came across a museum exhibit I have to share, because it so poignantly draws upon the power artifacts have to connect us across time to the experiences of others. Threads of Feeling: 18th Century Textile Tokens from the Foundling Hospital showing now at The Foundling Museum, presents the history of the Foundling Hospital (an 18th century London orphanage) using a medium that couldn’t really cut any closer to our hearts: scraps of garments left by the impoverished mothers who turned their babies over to the hospital in hopes of using these mementoes as a way of reconnecting with their child sometime in a distant, better future.  On the website devoted to this exhibit curator John Styles, history professor at the University of Hertfordshire, explains:

The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.

‘A bunch of 4 ribbons narrow – Yellow, Blue, Green, & Pink’. Silk ribbons tied in a bunch with a knot © Coram

Swatches of cloth cut from the clothes of mothers and babies, gowns cut in half, scraps tied to babies’ wrists –some kind of cloth memento was collected for each of the more than 4,000 babies left at the institution between 1741 and 1760. These precious fragments were attached to registration forms and bound up into ledgers, and today are held at the London Metropolitan Archives, where they make up the largest collection of everyday textiles from the 18th century in the world.

The exhibit features the fabric mementos paired with the bare facts that were collected for each child that came under the Hospital’s care. These spare personal histories run the gamut from tragic to redemptive:

Sleeve blue and white strip’d cotton turn’d up with purple and white linen. Foundling number 220. A girl aged about three weeks, admitted 15 November 1745. Named Catherine Walton by the Foundling Hospital. Apprenticed 1757 to James West, watch case maker, Fleet Street, London.

A piece of blue silk pin’d on ye Breast’. Foundling number 1254. A girl aged about xx, admitted 29 May 1755. Named Anne Robinson by the Foundling Hospital. Died as a child, date unknown.

A patchwork huswife made from printed and woven fabrics, embroidered with a heart and the initials SC and cut in half to form a broken token. Foundling number 16516. A boy aged xx admitted 11 February 1767. Christened Charles, but given the name Benjamin Twirl by the Foundling Hospital. Reclaimed by his mother, Sarah Bender, 10 June, 1775.

Beyond the fascinating history of The Foundling Hospital and the individual lives of the children cared for within its walls, Threads of Feeling takes full advantage of the rare glimpse this textile collection offers into the garments and fabrics available to working people in the 18th century.  In contrast to the luxury fabrics and garments of this period, well documented in written records and portraiture, these everyday clothes, like many of the objects which most closely shape and reflect the way most people actually lived and looked, are mostly used, reused, and finally disappear.

This exhibit seizes hold of the fragile threads this collection preserves, and uses them to weave a vivid picture of an often invisible history.

Visit the exhibit’s Facebook page for more images and stories from the exhibit.


December 2010

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