Exhibition curator Steve Marshall introduces St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery’s newly opened ‘Small Wonders’ — a celebration of the oft-overlooked species of the natural world, featuring works by the likes of Kurt Jackson, Carry Akroyd, Angie Lewin and Kittie Jones.
‘Hobby’ serigraph by Carry Akroyd
One of the upsides of the COVID lockdowns was the chance to stop and appreciate some of the everyday nature that surrounds us in our parks, gardens and countryside. That reconnection and awareness is ever more important as climate change, habitat destruction and pollution impact on our native wildlife. This was the inspiration for a new contemporary art exhibition focusing on the ‘small wonders’ that are often overlooked but are as remarkable, in their way, as more headline-grabbing species.
We invited ten artists to portray their idea of a small wonder. Kurt Jackson followed the trail of the now extinct New Forest Cicada, from Victorian specimens in the collection of the Oxford Museum of Natural History to the location of its last known sighting, Gibbet Wood in the New Forest. For Jackson its disappearance is part of a wider pattern: ‘The fact that such an iconic species has been lost from the country is profoundly tragic and marks a significant moment in our shrinking biodiversity.’
‘New Forest Cicada, specimens from Brockenhurst from 1831’, mixed media, by Kurt Jackson
Julia Manning has created a series of prints exploring the incredible life of the European eel (now critically endangered), tracing its epic round trip to the Sargasso Sea and back to the waterways and wetlands of Somerset. The exhibition finds Angie Lewin in the Outer Hebrides among the primroses, field pansy, kidney vetch, orchids, yellow rattle and devil’s bit scabious of the machair. Carry Akroyd’s dynamic screenprints portray some of our most beloved birds, sometimes combining her imagery with the words of that champion of rural wonders the poet John Clare.
From New Forest-based sculptor Geoffrey Dashwood comes a selection of our smaller birds, ‘the dids’ as he calls them. These minimalist life-size bronzes are shorn of virtually all surface detail to emphasise the form and character of native favourites such as the robin, wren and nuthatch and less familiar wonders like the nightjar, turnstone and hobby. In contrast Harriet Mead’s insects are fashioned from found scrap and old tools. Egg whisks, pieces of ducting, calipers and tin snips are transformed into damselfly, earwig, horseshoe dor beetle, and soldier beetle.
‘Machair’ screenprint by Angie Lewin
Esther Tyson’s expressive paintings champion the house sparrow, stonechat and snow Bunting, observed on trips to Speyside, the New Forest and the Cairngorm National Park. Of that most common of birds, she says: ‘Wherever I travel the sparrow is there, their familiar chatter, their busyness, they are a subject I return to over and again and their ordinary is extraordinary to me.’ Kim Atkinson overcomes the difficulties of working outside in all weathers to marvel at Six-Spot Burnet Moths, Mottled Grasshoppers and Thrift Clearwings found among the wildflowers of the Gwynedd coast.
To give the exhibition a local flavour we also commissioned wildlife artists Kittie Jones and Nik Pollard to spend a week working near Lymington, Kittie capturing the flora and birdlife on the Solent shore and Nik hunting for rare plants and insects in the meadows, heaths and ancient woodlands of the New Forest. Also on display, from the museum’s collection, are a group of colour woodcuts made by Allen William Seaby a hundred years ago when subjects like lapwing, dormice, nightingales and cuckoos were still abundant.
‘Shoreline plants, Needs Ore’ in charcoal, pastel and coloured pencil, by Kittie Jones
We hope that the exhibition will inspire visitors to seek out their own small wonders and hopefully play their part in ensuring these species will be around for future generations to enjoy.
‘Small Wonders’ is open at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, until 7 January 2023. More information here.