Amgueddfa Blog: Amgueddfeydd, Arddangosfeydd a Digwyddiadau

Locust swarms have for centuries destroyed crops and threatened food supplies across large parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. This threat continues today - a recent plague in Madagascar destroyed 2.3 million hectares of crops. Controlling it took three years and cost million.

Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) swarms can move hundreds of miles within a vast ‘invasion area’ that can span dozens of countries, and even continents. To better understand and control such plagues of locusts the British founded the Anti-Locust Research Centre (ALRC) in the 1920s.

The ALRC took the lead in monitoring, studying, forecasting and controlling locust swarms. To do this they had to work with different experts including entomologists (insect specialists), cartographers (map makers), toxicologists (experts on poison), explorers, photographers, the military and local people.

For decades the ALRC gathered information on locusts worldwide. This now forms an incredible archive of thousands of documents, maps and photographs held at the Natural History Museum in London, and a collection of over 70,000 locust specimens that are now part of the collections here at Amgueddfa Cymru.

Our new display ‘Locust War’ reunites the archive and specimens to rediscover the remarkable work of the ALRC and the challenges it faced to understand and control the desert locust.

The exhibition is the work of a collaborative research project led by academics from the University of Warwick, University of Portsmouth and Glasgow School of Art, and supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

‘Locust War’ is part of the displays in our InSight Gallery, and runs until the 16th September 2019.

Eitem arall yn y gyfres Lleisiau o’r Archifau o Archif Sain, Sain Ffagan Amgueddfa Werin Cymru. Mae’r gyfres hon yn cyd-redeg â gweithgareddau a digwyddiadau amaethyddol yr Amgueddfa. Ffermwyr oedd y siaradwyr, a oedd, fel arfer, wedi byw yn yr un ardal trwy gydol eu hoes. Mae’r disgrifiadau, y profiadau, yr atgofion, y lleisiau a’r acenion yn wreiddiol ac unigryw, o wahanol ardaloedd, ac o wahanol gyfnodau.

I gyd-fynd gyda’r wyna yn Llwyn-yr-eos, fferm yr Amgueddfa, dyma ddarn o recordiad o Dan Theophilus, Allt yr erw, Rhandir-mwyn, a recordiwyd ym mis Gorffennaf 1975, pan yn 65 oed. Mae’n sôn am wahanol agweddau ar wyna: gofalu am y defaid; delio gyda thrafferthion ac afiechydon; mabwysiadu oen; marcio clustiau; a throi’r defaid a’r wyn i’r mynydd.

Each week, hundreds of people will walk through the front doors of the National Museum Cardiff. Yet despite visiting the exhibitions on display, many will be oblivious to what goes on in the background. Conducting a work experience placement at the museum gave us a rare insight into how much work and effort goes on behind closed doors.

 

With the intention of creating a video for the Saving Treasures, Telling Stories project, we were taken on a tour around the archaeology department on our first day of placement. We were fortunate to be shown around the stores, where many remarkable items were kept for preservation and research. Some of the items we viewed were Roman and prehistoric pots, vases and burial urns, which allowed us to explore how communities and cultures operated thousands of years ago.

 

The following day we attended Cyfarthfa Museum in Merthyr Tydfil, which is to acquire a hoard of five Roman Denarii, with thanks to funding from the Saving Treasures project. We filmed museum staff and the finders of the hoard, and heard about its significance. It was great to see the enthusiasm of the metal detectorists who discovered the hoard, and how proud they were of their achievement.

 

We spent the next few days editing the video together back at the University of South Wales campus. This proved to be a difficult job, as there were so many great shots to choose from, so it was difficult to decide which to cut out. However, the staff were always on hand to answer any questions we had and help out where possible.

 

Working at the National Museum Cardiff was a wonderful experience, and we were able to appreciate just how much work goes on behind closed doors to create the exhibitions we see. This work and research has helped us to understand history and past cultures in greater detail, and we would like to thank all the staff for their friendliness and a great week.

This St David’s Day, Friday 1 March, the Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion will present a unique eighteenth-century painting, Poor Taff, to the museum. The Honourable Society of the Cymmrodorion has kindly offered Poor Taff to Amgueddfa Cymru and the people of Wales, following the closure of its former home, the Welsh Girls’ School (later St. David’s School) founded by the Society in the eighteenth century.

This is one of four oil paintings, possibly commissioned by Welsh Societies, telling the tale of the Welsh satirical character, Shon-Ap-Morgan, who was widely known as “Poor Taff”, and his journey to London. Shon was intent on avenging the  “rabble” English who entertained themselves by annually hanging ragged effigies of Welsh people above the streets on St David’s Day. Things did not go as planned for Shon, many versions of the story claim that the “demon drink” was responsible for his many misadventures.

He is portrayed in the painting with his attributes that include the goat he rides, leeks, cheese and herring. Some versions show him with his wife, Unnafred [Winifred] Shon. This caricature probably stems from a combination of early anti-Welsh prints and a popular Meissen figurine that originally poked fun at the tailor of the Saxony factory’s director, Count Brühl. The figurine shows the tailor riding a goat with a female companion. English factories were quick to copy this popular design that became known as “the Welsh tailor and his wife”.

This image of Poor Taff shows that he self-styled himself as a gentleman. However, he was so poverty-stricken he had to ride a goat rather than a horse. Whereas today, his diet of leeks, cheese and fish seem a healthy choice, they were seen then as further symbols of his poverty. These satirical anti-Welsh symbols were promoted in London’s popular print culture that was convenient for anti-Welsh sentiments. Some English artists used this satire on prominent public figures such as Watkin Williams Wynn and the Prince of Wales (later George IV).

Later versions of the prints however, began to praise Wales and Welsh people, condemning the previous English abuse. As a result, Shon-Ap-Morgan, or Poor Taff, became an affectionate symbol of Welsh national identity. For this reason the painting may have been commissioned by a London-based Welsh society. The stereotype that we see in this painting eventually gave way to a more benevolent Welsh icon created by Augusta Hall (Lady Llanofer) of the Welsh lady, “Blodwen”, with her tall black hat and shawl.

This week marks the launch of the exhibition ‘People and Plants’ in the Insight Gallery, National Museum Cardiff and accompanying public report ‘Sharing Stories, Sharing Collections.’

The exhibition and report are outcomes of a collaborative placement between the Sustainable Places Research Institute and Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales funded by the National Environment Research Council Valuing Nature Programme.

During the placement, Dr. Poppy Nicol (Sustainable Places Research Institute) spent four months within the Natural Science Department at National Museum Cardiff. Poppy worked with Principal Curator Dr. Heather Pardoe and other members of the Botany team to investigate the Amgueddfa Cymru economic botany collection and its potential role it can play in supporting, valuing and understanding of biodiversity. As part of the placement, Poppy and Heather conducted a series of workshops with community groups and interviews, with the aim of exploring how future activities associated with the economic botany collection can further societal understanding and valuing of biodiversity and address the Museum’s duty of well-being.  

Drawing upon the findings of the placement, the exhibition offers insight into the Amgueddfa Cymru economic botany collection and the important role of plants in society.  

Health, well-being and plants

The Amgueddfa Cymru economic botany collection includes over 5,500 specimens of medicinal plants, food products, fibres, seeds, gums, dyes and resins, most of which were acquired between the nineteenth century and present day. The selected specimens in the ‘People and Plants’ exhibition highlights the role of plants in supporting the health and well-being of past, present and future generations.

Plant-based Remedies: old and new

The economic botany collection contains over 700 medicinal plant specimens including a Materia Medica (donated by Professor Terence Turner, Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences). The exhibition features a range of plant specimens used medicinally – including quinine (used for treating malaria), star anise (containing a compound used for treating influenza) and senna pods (a traditional laxative).

It also features a contemporary example of a plant-based compound for medicinal purposes – the daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus). Although toxic if consumed raw, it contains galantamine which is used in the treatment of the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease.

Biocultural diversity: heritage grains

The exhibition also showcases some of the specimens within the Museum’s economic botany seed collection - which contains over 2,700 seed specimens. The collection includes a range of wheat, barley, oat and rye varieties acquired from the Welsh Plant Breeding Station. Hen Gymro, an old wheat variety affectionately known as “Old Man’s Beard” was cultivated in South Wales into the 1920’s, said to have thrived in South Wales. With predicted changing climates and the urgent need for more ecological growing approaches, perhaps some of these old grain varieties might be of value for future farmers and growers. The exhibition highlights the importance of safeguarding biodiversity – of both wild and cultivated crops and wild species.

Sharing Stories, Sharing Collections

The accompanying report to the exhibition, ‘Sharing Stories, Sharing Collections’ by Poppy, highlights how bio-cultural collections have the potential to support public understanding and valuing of biodiversity. It suggests recent legislation in the form of the Well Being of Future Generations Act (Wales) (2015) presents opportunity for Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales to become a global innovator in terms of curating bio-cultural collections.

The report identifies clear interest in the Amgueddfa Cymru economic botany collection amongst the public. It identifies a number of opportunities for innovation in bio-cultural and economic botany collections including research-driven curation; inter-generational learning programmes; and, innovative and participatory approaches to digitisation. Inter-disciplinary collaboration with other centres of learning particularly present great opportunities to share and enhance the value of the collection. Such innovations will improve the role of the collection in supporting public valuing and understanding of biodiversity and the health and well-being of future generations.

In an era where biodiversity is being eroded, bio-cultural collections have a crucial societal role of developing understanding and valuing of biodiversity through raising public awareness of the crucial role of plants in supporting livelihoods, supporting health and well-being, maintaining ecosystem services and adapting to global environmental change.

You can see the People & Plants exhibition at National Museum Cardiff until Sunday 17 March.

Read more about the start of the project in this February 2018 blog post.