The calm before the swarm

Juliet and Pete painting wooden panels ready to hang Kurt’s work

In just 24 hours, our brand new exhibition will be open to the public. Bees (and the odd wasp) in my bonnet has been over a year in the making, but it’s all finally falling into place and an unexpected calm has set in.

The exhibition is an arts/science collaboration, with vibrant artwork by Kurt Jackson alongside bee specimens from the Museum’s collection and the latest scientific research on threats to British bee populations. Pop in and see it between 18 March and 29 September.

But let’s lift the gallery barrier and take a peek at some of the hard work that goes into putting an exhibition like this together.

One of Kurt Jackson’s paintings is unwrapped

Back in November 2014, we first met with Kurt Jackson to discuss a new direction in his work. Famous for dramatic, dynamic landscape paintings, he had recently become particularly fascinated by bees.

He thought the Museum would be the perfect place to exhibit his new paintings and sculptures and, of course, we agreed.

Measuring 'Hives' bronze sculptures
Measuring ‘Hives’ bronze sculptures

Fast forward 15 months and these works arrived at the Museum, couriered all the way from Kurt’s home and studio in Cornwall. We then spent several days unpacking, measuring, examining and photographing each of the pieces.

When the Museum takes on loan items, we need to fill in object condition reports so we can be sure how they come into the building… and how they leave at the end of the show! With 57 pieces to work through, it was a painstaking process, but we all relished the opportunity to get up close to the beautiful artworks. Holding them in our hands and visualising them on display was a special experience.

Examining the back of one of the largest paintings in the exhibition, "Vespa".
Examining the back of one of the largest paintings in the exhibition, “Vespa”.

While Kurt was painting, drawing and sculpting to create these works, we were also working hard preparing the exhibition space to show them off. Pete Johnson and Adam Fisk, from the Museum’s workshop, created large wooden panels to hang paintings, installed all sorts of intriguing 3D works and suspended fabric banners, to name but a few challenges. They’ve done a great job in creating a contemporary art gallery space in a Victorian museum.

One specimen for each of the 270 British bee species

Bees are fascinating for artists and scientists alike. The scientific specimens and text panels interspersed among the artworks draw attention to the amazing diversity of British bees (almost 270 species in total) and explore the causes of population decline.

This was put together by James Hogan, in our Life Collections, but included further expert advice from Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex and Professor Charles Godfray of Oxford University, to ensure all of the research was accurate and right up to date.

As we tick off the last tasks on our to do list, I can’t wait to see the exhibition buzzing with visitors from tomorrow morning.

Rachel Parle, Interpretation and Education Officer

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More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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