Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery
The Wonder of Birds exhibition is currently showing at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. I’ve written about a gallery visit here before. One Thursday a couple of weeks ago when I was in Norwich for a few days visiting family I thought I’d see what all the fuss about birds was all about. Well, it was about quite a lot of amazing stuff, actually.
When I first heard that The Wonder of Birds was to be next up I wasn’t too keen. Then I read this article in the Guardian and saw the accompanying pictures and changed my mind. Many of the artefacts and pictures came from the Museum’s own collections.
‘The Wonder of Birds’ explores the cultural impact of birds upon mankind. Eliciting a wide range of emotions from awe to fear, from pleasure to cruelty – birds have intrigued humanity since the earliest of times. The exhibition will span the centuries, informed by local and national collections, to include the arts, natural history, archaeology, fashion and social history. Works by major artists and illustrators, historical and contemporary, will be included and the exhibition will examine local, national and international issues.
Spring Cuckoo by Harriet Mead, 2009
‘The Wonder of Birds’ comprises six sections, each highlighting a different aspect of birds, their meanings and our relationships with them. It begins by introducing the visitor to the breadth of this fascinating subject: what is a bird; what do they mean to us; how have we studied, portrayed, preserved, endangered and used them?
Adult Male Paradise Parrot : Frederick Strange, taxidermist, 1851
Section 2, ‘Predators and Prey’ … Section 3, ‘Birds & Landscape’, primarily examines birds in East Anglia, … Section 4, ‘Migrants and Ocean Travellers’, will examine the seasonal behaviour which may take migrating birds from Norfolk to the Arctic, Africa or South America …Section 5 is titled ‘Introducing the Exotic’. Exotic birds have always been coveted for their brilliant plumage, combined with their sheer rarity value, both as high status pets and for their feathers.
Exotic feathered hat from the 1960s
‘The Realms of the Spirit’, the final section, will illustrate how songbirds and their relatives have symbolised the immortal soul, been seen as heralds of the seasons, messengers from heaven, or magical beings moving between the worlds.” [Museum website]
Bird related postcards in the Museum Shop
I discovered that birds may not need humans but humans certainly do need birds. They appear in our decorative arts, religion, symbolism, folklore, heraldry, fashion, literature and language.
The 147 million year old Archaeopteryx fossil cast is the earliest known bird. The Natural History Museum cares for the first skeleton specimen ever found and this spectacular fossil helped prove that modern birds evolved from dinosaurs. It was the first example providing support for Darwin’s theory of evolution. It is the most valuable fossil in the NHM’s collection.
Archaeopteryx fossil [source]
I saw an exquisite hollie point (English needle lace) baby’s Christening cap featuring a dove – a visual reminder of the Holy Spirit …
Here is a similar example [source]
… and a pincushion made by Sylvia Pankhurst whilst she was incarcerated in Holloway Prison and a copy of the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner’s Bestiary ‘Historiae animalium’ which must have been seen by Mary, Queen of Scots. A group of her embroideries The Oxburgh Hangings feature animals and birds from this book.
Bird detail from the Oxburgh Hangings [Source – V&A]
The section on birds in the landscape featured Maggi Hambling’s Heron in the shallows of the Thames bearing its environmental message. The bird has a mouthful of sewage.
Then in the afternoon I saw birds in their true East Anglian landscape. I drove out to the Norfolk Broads to meet up with an old schoolfriend and we walked around Hickling Broad stopping to look at a variety of birds including a goldfinch, a plump of geese * and many different species from a hide along our path.
* The collective noun for a group of geese on the ground is a gaggle; when in flight, they are called a skein, a team or a wedge; when flying close together, they are called a plump. [source]
Hickling Broad from the Hide
The Plump of Geese from the Hide
Typical Broads View
I must have been interested in birds once upon a time – my well-loved book!