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Building the Extremes Garden

Wes, our  Head of Horticulture, lets us know what went in to creating our new outdoor showcasing exploring plants with some amazing adaptations to extremely arid environments.

The big challenge to build our Extremes Garden was to find suitable plants to display, as they are not the type that can be picked up in your local garden centre, and we needed something especially striking as a centre piece.

Fortunately my old mate David Cooke, manager of Kew Gardens' Temperate House helped us out, and loaned a Giant African Cycad, Encephalartos altenstenii.

Cycads are amazing plants that survived when the dinosaurs inhabited the planet; they actually predate the evolution of flowering plants and produce cones rather than flowers as reproductive structures.

Glasshouse manager Kate Pritchard from Oxford Botanic Gardens also kindly loaned us two lovely Organ Pipe Cactus that have also made a big visual impact on the garden.

Other plants came from Southfields specialist cacti nursery; gold medal winners at Chelsea this year. The amazing Architectural Plants Nursery in Horsham also provided us with a nice selection.

We paid a visit to a private nursery/collection owned by Cacti expert John Pilbeam (Connoisseurs' Cacti) to source the remaining smaller specimens.

After a lot of deliberation we positioned the plants. They were planted in their pots because they are only going to be on display until September (when they will need to be moved inside for the Winter) so it saved disturbing their root balls which cacti in particular don’t appreciate.

We then laid a weed-suppressing membrane around the plants and over the surface of the bed, creating a patchwork between the plants.

We then mulched with 5 bulk bags of decorative stone, to give the display its arid/desert look.

The display only really took the highly skilled Gardens team 2 days to install, and we are very pleased with the results.

Ethnomusicality with SELAN

Last year, South East London Arts Network (SELAN) member Phil Baird completed one of our community worker training days with fellow artist Carlo Keshishian. As a result, they devised a project for other SELAN members to take part in.

Here they report on the project and what it was like for the group working closely with the Horniman and our collections.


I enjoyed co-facilitating art and music workshops at the wondrous Horniman Museum, upon being summoned by fellow artist and friend Phil Baird.

Initially we had imagined basing the sessions at the Horniman's aquarium due to Phil and I's shared interest in the mysteries of ocean life and deep sea creatures. By the time our workshops came to fruition, however, it had all metamorphosed into another area we are both very much in tune with (pardon the pun), music and improvisation.


We entered the hands on base and quickly got the idea to set a rhythm going and made an amazing piece of improvised piece of music. One participant discovered an amazing gift for solo didgeridoo.

We began working with small pieces of paper and ink pens to draw the rhythms of different instruments such as the Irish Bodhran or African Djembe drum. Everyone created a way of capturing the sound on paper.

Carlo took on a Dr/Shaman role giving individual music treatments literal and metaphorical, each person laying down a track towards a group soundscape recording.

Everyone enjoyed these workshops so much, Phil managed to secure funding from Drake Music Connect and Collaborate to take the project further.  The group recorded the sounds of instruments in the handling collection to create a composition, and then created an animation to go with it.

The brilliant end result is entitled 'Ethnomusicality':

Thanks to everyone at SELAN – you are always a pleasure to work with!

The Big Draw at the Horniman

A couple of weeks ago, the Horniman took part in the annual Big Draw event. This national campaign for drawing sees events spring up all over the UK to encourage people to have a go at drawing, and not just with pencils and paper.

At our Big Draw event, we asked visitors to first choose a word from our list, then to explore the galleries and choose an object that reminded them of their word. The creative bit came in when they were asked to draw their object and then use the drawing to create an artwork from wires and pipecleaners which joined together with everyone else's art to create a massive wire image.

The word choices were ‘love’, ‘memory’, ‘power’, ‘belief’, ‘safety’ and ‘exchange’. Can you guess which word inspirec each of these images?

Some visitors spent their time making faithful reproductions of objects from the collection.

While some chose to set their creativity free and created images not strictly related to the Horniman.

But it wasn’t just about fun and creativity. Events like these are a fantastic opportunity for us to learn from our visitors. For instance, ‘love’ was the run-away winner in the popularity stakes: over half the participants chose this word. Words like ‘safety’ and ‘exchange’ were not chosen nearly as often. Stats like these help us learn which ideas are important to people, and which we should be exploring further.

It also helps to highlight popular objects from the collections: many people chose to recreate masks on display in African Worlds and the Centenary Gallery.

What we learn from events like the Big Draw will be used to inform future developments at the museum so that our visitors can get the most out of the Horniman and its collections.

At the end of the day, all the artworks created were displayed in Gallery Square.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s Big Draw. Our learning team are always looking for more ways for our audience to participate in the museum’s future, and we hope to plan plenty more fun and creative events for the future.

A Visit from the Stroke Association

The Stroke Association's Communication Support Coordinator Rachel Morrison reports on a recent group visit to the Horniman.

Every year over 450 people have a stroke in Lewisham. The Stroke Association believes in Life After Stroke and runs services in Lewisham to support stroke survivors and their families. I run the Communication Support Service, which enables stroke survivors to attend weekly support groups. Survivors meet regularly and, together with trained volunteers, develop and practice communication skills and build their confidence. The group is a lifeline for many stroke survivors, and helps them to work towards their own personal goals and achievements.

We decided to go to the Horniman Museum recently instead of our usual group. It was a really fun day out, we were lucky that the sun was shining so were able to sit outside on the lawn for some coffee and cakes!  The museum is really easy to navigate and the exhibits are so varied that there was something for everyone. One group member said the aquarium had brought back memories of when she went scuba diving and others had enjoyed reminicing about musical instruments they used to play whilst looking around the music exhibit.

  • Music Gallery 2, Photo by Peter Cook
    , Photo by Peter Cook

We were able to take lots of photos so it should be fun looking back on them at the next group and having a good discussion. Quite a few people were inspired to visit the museum again, with one group member saying she had lived in Lewisham all her life and couldn’t believe she had never been to the Horniman before, she is hoping to go along with her family soon!

Group member Anne Jones also sent us her thoughts on the visit.

I hadn’t visited the Horniman Museum since my grandchildren were small, but I really enjoyed my visit. I liked seeing the fish in the aquarium, they looked wonderful, and we particularly liked watching the jellyfish opening in and out.

  • Aquarium - Jellyfish, Photo by Ludo Des Cognets
    , Photo by Ludo Des Cognets

The models of the man and woman in the African Worlds exhibition looked beautiful and really life like. I thought the models of the stuffed animals looked good but I wasn’t too keen on the models of the insects, I didn’t like them at all!

I didn’t get chance to see the clock this time but I would like to visit again and explore some more as there was so much to see.

At the end of our visit we sat outside the café in the sun and enjoyed a nice coffee while we planned our next visit to the museum. I enjoyed my visit and I’m planning to go again soon, next time I’ll be heading to the music exhibition!  

#LatinLate at the Horniman

A Few Favourites from the Walrus Wall

While the Horniman Walrus is holidaying in marvellous Margate, we've been inviting visitors to leave him messages on the Walrus Wall in the Natural History Gallery.

Of course, we already knew how important our over-stuffed star is, but the heart felt messages really drive home just how much he is loved by all our visitors. We thought we'd share just a tiny selection of our favourites here.

We've seen some truly excellent artwork.

Dear Horniman Walrus

Even poetry.

Dear Horniman Walrus

And puns abound.

Dear Horniman Walrus

The Wall definitely proved that the Walrus is popular with all ages.

Dear Horniman Walrus

Dear Horniman Walrus

He even had his first (we think) marriage proposal.

Dear Horniman Walrus

Some people were understandably disappointed with his absence.

Dear Horniman Walrus

And it all got a bit surreal for a while.

Dear Horniman Walrus

Dear Horniman Walrus

But most simply wish him well on his first trip outside the Natural History Gallery since 1901.

Dear Horniman Walrus

Dear Horniman Walrus

The best part of the Walrus Wall has been the brilliant stories people have shared with us.

Dear Horniman Walrus

Don't forget to make your own visit to the Museum and get your message out to the Walrus before he returns in mid-September. If you're lucky, you may get an answer to any questions from the Walrus himself.

You can see plenty more from the Walrus Wall in our Flickr set.

#wanderingwalrus inspiration

Last week, we announced a photo competition to find the best snap of our cuddly toy walrus out and about and on holiday.

Who knows where the walruses will wander to? Here are some ideas to get you going.

  • Walrus in Paris, Thanks for Henry from London for this photo of a walrus enjoying the Eiffel Tower
    Thanks for Henry from London for this photo of a walrus enjoying the Eiffel Tower

This walrus has travelled beyond Margate and Britain's shores, all the way to Paris to gaze upon the Eiffel Tower.

  • Underwater Walrus, Walrus deep in the Pacific Ocean, Photo by Jamie Craggs
    Walrus deep in the Pacific Ocean, Photo by Jamie Craggs

This walrus has plunged into the depths of the tropical Pacific Ocean, a very long way from a walrus's usual habitat.

  • Walrus at Attersee, Austria, Enjoying the clear waters of a beautiful Austrian lake, Photo by Christian Huez
    Enjoying the clear waters of a beautiful Austrian lake, Photo by Christian Huez

And this walrus is enjoying the crystal clear, beautiful blue Alpine waters at Attersee Lake in Austria.

So the only question is: where will you take your #wanderingwalrus?

To enter the competition, you can tweet, instagram or upload your photos to flickr using the hashtag #wanderingwalrus. You can also email them to web@horniman.ac.uk. We're looking forward to seeing your photos!

Horniman Inspiration - Jessica Light

Jessica Light is one of the last working trimming weavers left in England. Here she tells us all about how the Horniman has inspired her work.

I'm a frequent Horniman visitor (it's one of my favourite museums) and I always come away inspired, whether it's from one of the exhibitions or the static galleries. I'm inspired in so many ways: designs, colours, materials, even processes and techniques, as well as the more esoteric, abstract and surreal qualities of the exhibits. 

  • Mask from African Worlds, Photo by Jessica Light
    , Photo by Jessica Light

I've always been fascinated by tribal and indigenous art and it is a constant theme that runs through a lot of my work, but I like to mix up my references as I think it produces something different and I don't like to be too literal.

The Horniman was a particularly important source for my Bexley Collection, which is an amalgamation of Art Deco motifs and time spent in African Worlds. I was in this instance especially inspired by the masks and graphic patterns: the tag-line for the range was '30s mock-Tudor meets African witch doctor'. The pale mint, sage, peach and coral are pure Deco colours, whereas the use of paper and raffia gave the products a tribal element.

I think so many people now just Google for their references, but I think there is no substitute for actually seeing and connecting with things first hand as you may be inspired by the whole object or a tiny detail triggers an idea. It gives you a physical and a creative relationship with what you are seeing that can be translated into your own work.

  • Masks on display in African Worlds, Photo by Jessica Light
    , Photo by Jessica Light

Visit Jessica’s website to read more about her work and explore her other collections.

Interview with Museum of the Year Photography Finalist

Back in May you might remember us telling you about the Museum of the Year Photography Competition. Today, we are proud to announce that one of the ten finalist photographs is going on display in the Museum.


Visitors were encouraged to enter their photographs inspired by each of the ten Museum of the Year 2013 finalists. This photograph, by Oliver Hine, shows one of the jellyfish from our Aquarium. The judges selected this image to celebrate the Horniman's place as a finalist, as they felt it most creatively captured the spirit of the museum.

Unfortunately, Oliver's photograph didn't win the competition, but it's definitely a winner in our eyes and today it goes on display in the main museum building.

We interviewed Oliver to find out more about his photograph and how it felt to be exhibiting at the Horniman.


How does it feel for your photograph to be selected to represent the Horniman in the final of the competition?
It was fantastic to receive the news that my photo had been selected. The reaction from my friends and family was wonderful and since then I have found new confidence and enjoyment in my photography which I’m really pleased to be able to share with the Horniman, its visitors and supporters.

Your finalist photograph is going to be exhibited in the Horniman Museum. Have you ever had your work exhibited before?
Very recently one of my favourite photos, which won a competition with the photography society at my workplace, has been requested by some friends to display in their homes, but nothing like an exhibition at the Horniman!

How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve always had a camera but I took it up seriously with the purchase of my first DSLR 5 years ago.

What do you get up to when not photographing jellyfish?
This year will feature a lot of wedding planning as I am getting married to my beautiful fiancée Hanna next year! I am a software developer by trade and I have a few pet projects that I work on in my spare time. In terms of other photographic subject matter anything is game!

Are you a regular visitor to the Horniman?
We visited for the first time in April 2013 when I took this photograph.

What made you decide to photograph the Horniman?
I take my camera with me almost everywhere I go so I had it with me when I visited the Horniman. My fiancée Hanna pointed out the competition to me so I spent longer than normal hanging back taking photos whilst we were walking around!

The jellyfish are popular subject for photographers at the Horniman. What made you choose them?
The aesthetic simplicity and beautiful lighting of the jellyfish in their tank immediately drew my eye. I find jellyfish interesting from a scientific respect in that they function without a brain, heart or many other major organs we cannot imagine doing without but I imagine this allows them to have a very peaceful and serene life!

Were they particularly tricky to photograph?
The lighting in the jellyfish tank is particularly good, and the glass was nice and clean so the shot was relatively easy to take.

Did you have any specialist kit to help you get the shot?
Just my DSLR and 50mm prime lens!

How many shot did it take for you to get your finalist photograph?
I took about 8 shots of the jellyfish and chose based on the clean lines and razor sharp focus of the one I eventually entered.

Do you think you’ll be back to shoot more scenes at the Horniman in the future?
There are plenty of interesting exhibits we didn’t even have time to see on our visit, including the music section, so I’m sure I will be back in the future with my camera!


We look forward to welcoming back Oliver and his camera. View more of Oliver's photography on Flickr.

Don't forget you are free to take photographs to non-commerical use anywhere in the museum, so get snapping and don't forget to share the results with us in our Flickr group!


Update: Here's Oliver with his finalist photograph on display in the main museum building.

A Visit from the Woodcraft Folk

Earlier this month, Bromley Woodcraft Folk Elfins group visited the Horniman.

Their leader, Tracy, had recently taken part in our Community Training, and used what she'd learnt to plan a series of themed visits for her group. To start, she planned a session that included looking at the Benin Bronzes in the Hands on Base, exploring the Discovery Boxes in family groups, and doing some art and craft activities.

From our point of view it was a wonderful session - we had 28 souls on site from Bromley and Greenwich, Lewisham Folk. We had children as young as 1 and up to 11 years old.

The families really participated in the session and it was lovely to see parents working with their children. The children were very responsive and joined in really quickly which I think had a lot to do with the environment.

I am glad I attended the training as having been in the position of the participants helped me relate to their learning and it made me feel much more confident about the session.

- Tracy

Some of the group members also shared their thoughts on the visit.

You should really go to the Horniman Museum, and I mean it!!! With this museum you’ll never get bored.
When we went to the Horniman Museum we made some plaques, we touched some weird bits and bobs and we went outside and saw animals, music things and lots of different kinds of plants and we didn’t even explore half of the museum! So you see, you really should go to the Horniman Museum to see all its incredible features.

- Ben

We were led into quite a big room for something called Hands on Base. We sat on the floor on the carpet and the adults on chairs. A very friendly person called Rachel told us that she worked at the museum and was in charge of our session. She was very helpful and told us what a plaque was, for later we were doing a clay family inspired plaque. Also, she said that the Hands on Base is special because it is one of the few rooms where you can touch and hold things. This got me quite excited! We were allowed to look around and take things out of their boxes, which was also fun because there were loads of weird masks and puppets.
Then we the left the Hands on Base for a walk around the Horniman gardens for inspiration on our family inspired plaques. We all got a little bit carried away with the incredible musical instruments! Afterwards we all met inside again to start making our clay models. They all looked unbelievable!
Finally, we finished off with a little juice and biscuits. It was my best trip to the Horniman Museum, EVER!”

- Hanifah

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