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Heritage

When I was young my mother would always be painting and drawing. She would draw my brother and I while we were watching television, or she’d draw the scenery from the car while my dad drove us towards our holiday destination. She would doodle while being on the phone and she’d always keep a sketchbook. I turned into a keen drawer myself (or rather she turned me into one!) and sometimes we’d draw together (always ending in great frustration on my part because her drawings would be so much better than mine).

I have very fond memories of the day my mum, my brother and I went down to the local zoo (Ouwehands Dierenpark in Rhenen) to draw the animals. I remember us coming back with loads of pictures of fishes and other creatures of the sea that we had drawn at the aquarium. I think we put glitters on the piranhas and then stuck them all on the wall, creating one big fish tank.

Needless to say I wouldn’t be an illustrator today if it wasn’t for my mum. Actually, I’m the third illustrator/artist in line. My grandfather was an illustrator, political cartoonist and an amazing watercolour artist. My mum studied art at The College of New Rochelle in New York (and later got her Masters in Tilburg, The Netherlands) and also had a career in the arts. She taught art courses and would frequently have exhibitions of her watercolour paintings and later collages and installations. She has now retired, and she doesn’t find any pleasure in making art anymore. This saddens me. So when my mum came to visit me last week I thought it would be a great opportunity to do some drawing together. Just to see my mum draw again and to recreate that treasured childhood memory of mine.

We went to the Grant Museum of Zoology, near Euston Square. It’s a small museum that was founded by Robert Grant in 1828 as a teaching collection for (what now is) University College London. Despite its small size it’s home to tens of thousands of pickled animals and skeletons. It was such a wonderful environment to be drawing in! It’s still very a much a museum that is used for research and education, and you really get a sense of that when you’re in that building. They’re very welcoming to artists who’d like to draw the collection and on request they will even take specimen out of the displays for you so you can observe them closely. Unlike the Natural History Museum there’s no queue that goes around the block to get in. On the contrary, it was pretty quiet.

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∧ My poor mum was suffering from her arthritis, so she decided to focus just on knee bones.

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Oh we had such a good time, I think it’s right up there with that time we went to the zoo! I wish we could have spent a bit longer there; there were so many interesting objects to draw!

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∧ Like this jar of pickled moles. Why there are so many squashed together in one jar is beyond me.
What’s even more bizarre is that they are on Twitter. Follow @GlassJarOfMoles!

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∧  Another favourite of mine was the skeleton of a 5 meter long anaconda.

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∧ There are three walls filled with micro-organisms. Absolutely stunning! Looking glasses are available.

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  1. Riet van Dellen Reply

    Dear Nanna,

    I really enjoied this wonderful story, drawings and pictures, I’m not going to London so often anymore because my daughter is divorced and is living with her new husband in Wageningen. But who knows! It’s a very interesting museum perhaps I can visit it in the near future.

    Lots of love, Riet

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