All things floral

This month we are focused on all things floral. At the end of October South Taranaki comes alive to the sound of hundreds of pairs of feet wandering round lovely gardens during the garden festivals. What does that have to do with the Museum? You’d be surprised!

Gardening has always been important as a source of food as people moved beyond being just ‘hunter gatherers’ but gardening is about much more than food production. Think back to the time of Henry VIII and the political powers struggles. What was the war called? The War of the Roses. Tulips have been a source of power and a symbol of wealth since the 1500s when Sultan Suleiman had tulips cultivated for his pleasure. Chrysanthemums were being cultivated in Chinese gardens for more than 2,500 years before they were first exhibited in England in 1795.

The beauty of flowers has inspired artists, embroiderers, scientists, fabric designers, photographers and perfume makers for centuries. At the Harvard Museum of Natural History they have a collection of over 3000 glass flowers, the first pieces having been commissioned in 1886.  You can view a few of these amazing pieces here. More recently, glass artist Dale Chihuly has worked with museums to install enormous floral extravaganzas in glass, and has work in over 200 museums worldwide. The main entrance of the Victoria & Albert Museum features the 30 foot V&A Chandelier designed by Chihuly and completed in 2000.

At the Smithsonian Institution in the USA the Department of Botany has a Herbarium of around 4.5 million specimens, a vast collection of collector’s field books and botanical art, and a wood collection of more than 43,000 samples. In England, the Natural History Museum houses 6 million lichen and plant specimens including algae, diatoms, ferns, mosses and seed plants, while the V&A Museum has everything from British watercolours of flowers to pistols made for Tipu Sultan by Sayyid Ma’sum in 1795  which have carved wooden stocks with silver mounts chased with flower heads.

Here in South Taranaki we may not have any Chihuly glass or 4.5 million plant samples, but what we do have is some lovely wee treasures. Some of the photos in our vast archives collection show people’s gardens, we have gardening implements, fabrics with a floral design or embroidered flowers on them, and in the shop we have glass Tapa leaves by local glass artist Lisa Walsh. Join us as we celebrate all things floral in October.

This stunning floral fabric is from one of the dresses in our collection.
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