Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Undercurrent Market this weekend

Its that hectic yet creative time of the year again, where markets and studio sales keep popping up to ensure there's no downtime between now and Christmas...! This weekend it is the successful Undercurrent Market at the National Portrait gallery, run by The Curatoreum.


Last year was a fantastic buzz of selected top designers from all over Australia taking part, and this year it will be bigger and better than ever. I am looking forward to sharing some of my new seaweed inspired designs as well as the ever popular hand-dyed superfine merino socks. If you missed out on getting to my studio sale a few weekends ago, now is the last chance of buying those gorgeous stocking fillers.

SAT: 10-5pm
SUN: 10-3pm

Wednesday, 2 November 2016


As part of Design Canberra, Kirstie, Lisa and I are opening our studios once again this coming Saturday, 5th November.  We have been sprucing up our work-spaces, printing till the wee hours and putting out leaflets and corflutes to encourage you all to come along! Hope to see you at The Hayshed!

Kirstie Rea........................Julie Ryder........................Lisa Cahill

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Phycologia Australica in the NMA Library

After researching the early collection of seaweeds in Australia and overseas, and actually venturing out to collect and press seaweeds myself (I will write new post about this soon), I finally requested to view the five volumes of William Henry Harvey's Phycologia Australica.

Naomi, Librarian at the NMA, preparing Vol 1 for me to view.

William Henry Harvey (1811-1866) was an eminent phycologist who wrote many books on the algae and bryophytes of Britain, America and South Africa.  He first described Australian algae that were sent to him by Joseph Hooker, in Nereis Australis  (1847-1849) and later contributed to Hooker's Flora Tasmaniae (1860).  Harvey himself came to Australia in 1854, and spent just over a year collecting seaweeds and connecting up with other well-known collectors in many states such as Ferdinand Mueller, Ronald Gunn, George Bennett and William Archer. Whilst in Tasmania, for example, he stayed with the Reverend Fereday and his wife, Susan Fereday.  I have been following the Feredays (especially Susan) for a few months as part of my research into 19th century women botanical collectors. I will write more about this research in a later post....time to get back to Harvey. Harvey has dedicated each volume of Phycologia Australica, to collectors who showed him hospitality and whom he respected as a collector, and their knowledge of the habitats of Australian algae. I was delighted to find that Volume 4 was dedicated to the Feredays. In addition, Harvey named two seaweeds after them, including this one below.

Dasya Feredayae

In the accompanying text, Harvey writes "This species is named in compliment to Mrs Fereday, of Georgetown, in whose collection I first saw some fine specimens. Subsequently I collected it in considerable plenty in the Tamar, above Georgetown, where it is occasionally drifted ashore in large quantity."

Similarly, he has also named this species of Haliseris after Ferdinand Mueller

The five volumes contain beautifully drawn images that were printed using lithographic techniques by Harvey himself, and here are a few more illustrations to whet your appetite.

Hydroclathrus cancellatus, found near Fremantle WA
Halymenia Cliftoni a rare specimen also found at Fremantle
 The delicate Halymenia above was collected by Harvey himself and named after George Clifton, a noted collector who was of great assistance to Harvey when he was in Australia. Harvey writes "To George Clifton, Esq., R.N., of Fremantle, Western Australia, whose name occurs so frequently throughout the volume and in the synopsis, I am indebted for some thousands of beautifully preserved specimens, including many species collected by no one else. His contributions commenced in 1854, whilst I was resident in Western Australia, and have been regularly continued at short intervals up to the present time (Sept., .1863). Three new genera, Cliftonaea, Bindera, and Encyothalia, besides many new species, prove the zeal and success with which Mr. Clifton has conducted his researches."

The five volumes of Phycologia Australica are very fragile and I could only gimpse at a section or two of Volume One which was handled by Naomi, one of the lovely librarians at the NMA. There are special bean-bag type pillows for resting the books in, a beaded weight that holds the spine of the book firm, and gorgeous tiny suede weights for holding pages down.  it was such a challenge at times to manipulate the book with respect and to try and photograph with my ipad that I only took photos of the plates that really caught my eye with regard to both aesthetics and information that was important to my research.

Happy to hear some comments if you have had the pleasure of viewing these books firsthand.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Seaweed Collecting

After having read so much about 19th century seaweed collecting, and examining the two seaweed books first hand, I thought it was about time I started my own seaweed collection, just so I could experience working with the material itself and also the technique of seaweed pressing. This may be easy if you live by the sea, but in Canberra it's at least a couple of hours journey to a beach! Luckily I was given several bags of seaweed from two different locations by friends and family who spent a weekend at the north and south coasts respectively, and who took time out to gather a variety seaweeds that had been washed up by the tide.  Each state has rules regarding the quantity of seaweed that can be collected off its beaches, so it is advisable to check these limitations before you start collecting.
There are a variety of instructions available on how to press seaweed over the internet but basically the seaweed is 'floated' onto a sheet of watercolour, or other heavy gsm paper, and then further arranged using a paintbrush and tweezers. This is important for seaweeds that have feathery fronds, so that they do not clump together when pressed.
Seaweed floated onto paper before arranging.
Sometimes it is necessary to trim the seaweed so that the fronds at the back do not create too much bulk for pressing. This could lead to uneven drying of the specimen and possible mould if not pressed properly.

A few of the seaweeds found on MacMasters beach, NSW

It is important to ensure that the papers separating the pressed seaweeds are changed regularly and that the stacks are aired to avoid drying issues.

As mentioned in earlier posts, some seaweeds will adhere directly to the paper under pressure, however others will dry and come away from the mount.  In this case it is usual to use herbarium mounting tape to ensure that the specimen remains fast.  Specimens were also stitched to the mounting papers with a fine linen thread in past herbarium samples.

I expected the process of sorting through a few bags of seaweeds to take me an hour or so, but to my surprise the more I looked, the more varieties of seaweed I found.  I think I ended up pressing over 40 specimens that day, no two of which looked the same. The challenge would be to now identify them, and I guess this puts me firmly in the same category as those anonymous 19th century women strolling along the beach, observing and collecting then becoming entranced with the beauty to be found washed up with the tide, and wanting to find out more about them.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Chromophilia @ Timeless Textiles

Detail of 'Threads of Life' Julie Ryder
My solo exhibition 'Chromophilia' opens at the Timeless Textiles Gallery in Newcastle East

14 September - 9 October on Thursday night 6-8pm

Timeless Textiles 
90 Hunter Street

Gallery Hours
Wed - Sat 10 -4pm
Sun 10-2pm

The word chromophilia means an abnormal love of colour, deriving from the Greek chromo (colour) and phileo (to love), and is described as the property possessed by most cells of staining readily with appropriate dyes.

I first became interested in chromophilia when I was researching the use of Scanning Electron micrographs (SEM’s) in my Master’s work at ANU in 2003. With a past history of working in laboratories, I was scanning fragments of my dyed fabrics at very high magnification with the SEM.  However, the SEM uses electrons, not light, to build up an image on the computer, so I had to learn how to use digital software to add the colour back in.  This opened up a whole area of research into what colour was and how it was perceived – how were colours changed when they were placed together in various combinations? How were colours changed when they were seen from various distances? In what way are colours dependent on the size of the coloured surface?

In order to translate these concepts into textiles, I needed to explore a new technique of printing with dye called ‘chemical resist’.  This technique works on the principle that if you print two different classes of dye onto the same fabric, one will repel the other so that full colour designs can be printed, without the tedious and sometimes impossible method of colour separation that is used in screen-printing.  By mastering this technique I could then fully explore the questions I posed by working with complimentary contrasts without the fear of my colours turning ‘muddy’. Most of us know that if we put complimentary contrasting colours together (for example red +green; blue+ orange or yellow + purple) you will get hues of brown, grey or black. With this new technique I could print these colours together and still retain their integrity.

The fabrics I have printed for ‘Chromophilia’ are the results of my research.  Images and shapes are derived from observations of cells and bacteria under the microscope, and then juxtaposition of scale and motif are played out in the pairs of narrow fabric lengths. The larger, more complex cloths use a variety of these marks and motifs, building up heavily coloured and patterned textiles.  I liken this process to that of DNA transference in living things – some motifs and colours appear dominant, whilst others are recessive.  The combinations of colours in different proportions impart tension within the artwork, which can then be further enhanced or denied by the form it inhabits. I have further exploited these concepts by embellishing textiles with stitch and buttons, bound by embroidery hoops as a framing device to infer the process of looking through a microscope and observing form, scale and repetition.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Access Visit to the NMA

Access visit to the NMA at Mitchell. Myself, Dr Christine Cargill (ANBG)
Tania Riviere and Catriona Donnelly from the NMA.
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA
 On Monday, Catriona and I had organised an access visit to the NMA repository in Mitchell to view the two Seaweed collections I have been blogging (and raving about) since I started my residency here at the NMA in July. I invited Dr Christine Cargill, Curator of Cryptogams at the ANBG and my long time scientific collaborator,  to also come and view the albums so that she could give us her professional opinion on the cryptogams that had been collected in both albums.  These included ferns and mosses collected in both Tasmania in 1836 (Port Arthur Seaweed Collection) and Drouin and Ferntree Gully in 1882 (Port Phillip Seaweed collection).

Because of the extreme fragility of the two albums - both in terms of plant matter and the paper of the books - we could only view the albums under the supervision of Tania Riviere, Conservator with the NMA. Each book was housed within its own custom made cardboard box, and then placed within an archival box for storage.  When they were bought out for viewing they were placed on a large, bean-bag type of pillow that supported the spine of each book as Tania turned the pages for us with gloved hands. The bags were moved and repositioned as the weight of the book changed during the viewing.

Christine was able to get quite close to the pages of cryptogams and identified that amongst them were some examples of hornworts, liverworts and lichens as well as mosses, ferns and lycopods.

Christine getting up close and personal with her eye-piece
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA

Christine finds a hornwort hiding amongst the mosses....
Photo: Jason McCarthy, NMA

It was such an interesting and informative visit, because each of us had our own inputs and insights into various aspects of the collection. Tanya made some very interesting observations about the condition of the Port Phillip album, how it had been repaired as well as  other modifications that had been made to it throughout its lifetime. I had been studying both albums for weeks via their high res images on the NMA database and I had already documented the contents of each page, so I knew what I wanted to look at and investigate further once I had access to the real albums. It was also the first time that Catriona had viewed the books first-hand and we were both surprised at the physical dimensions of each book.  For some reason, I expected the Port Arthur album to be small, when in reality it was about scrapbook or ledger size. The Port Phillip album was much thicker than I imagined and the discrepancies between the elaborately tooled front-cover and the back cover remain a mystery to be investigated. 

Despite the level of detail you can observe from hi-res images, what struck me is that it is the power of the actual object, its physical presence, its colouring, the mustiness of the pages and the beauty and intricacy of the actual plants, their forms, colours and shapes,  that impacted on me the most. It was really a privilege to see these objects and the visit has only made me even more enamoured and determined to find out everything I can about them, and similar botanical collections of the 19th century.

And finally.....at last!! I have had two donations of buckets of seaweed from the north and south coast with which I can start playing! I have been hanging out to get my hands on various types of seaweeds to start exploring the materiality of them, to draw them and to preserve them just like the many women of the 1800's before me.

This week my solo exhibition, 'Chromophilia' opens at Timeless Textiles in Newcastle, so my next post will be from there.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A fond farewell

The past couple of weeks since my last post has seen me continuing to research the Seaweed albums at the NMA, tracking down signatures and handwriting to establish a line of provenance for one of them. My interest in these albums was inspired by the contagious enthusiasm of Senior Curator and Head of PATE, Dr Kirsten Wehner. It was a chance meeting with Kirsten nearly two years ago that started the ball rolling for my residency with PATE at the NMA.

So it was with great sadness that this week the Museum said a teary farewell to Kirsten, who is off overseas to start a Masters in London. I was proud that the PATE staff chose one of my artworks as a farewell gift for Kirsten, and the following day the team and I went on a group outing over lunch to see my glass work in the Hindmarsh Prize at the Canberra Glassworks, then on to my studio so they could see what I get up to behind those huge closed doors at the bottom of the dusty shed on a secluded horse agistment!
Catriona, Jen, Kirsten and Martha viewing my work

Farewell Kirsten, thanks so much for the opportunity to work with you briefly on my project. I'll keep you updated with photos of the work as it unfolds. Safe journey and happy studying.

Monday, 15 August 2016

A Tale of Two Collections

Following on from my last post I thought it would be interesting to share my observations on object collection from two national institutions that I have had the opportunity of working with as an artist in residence. Although these two institutions have collected the same type of objects - botanical collections - their reasons for doing so are completely different and in this post I attempt to explain why this is so.

In 2004 I was an ANAT Synapse artist in residence at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, working closely with Dr Christine Cargill, Curator of the Cryptogam Herbarium. Christine's area of expertise lies within the group of plants known as bryophytes - mosses, liverworts and hornworts. My residency there culminated in an exhibition, 'artandthebryophyte', which looked at the history of botanical collection, from Aristotle right through to Cargill (!), and the ways in which these collections have been portrayed. The photo of the installation below shows the 'Cargill' part of botanical collecting showing enlarged images of SEMs of spores of four species of the hornwort, Phaeoceros.

'artandthebryophyte' exhibition, ANBG 2005-6

During this residency I had unlimited access to the Herbarium collection, and I was fascinated with the very old books containing specimens of preserved plants, known as exsiccate.

A few of the old exsiccate in the Cryptogam Herbarium, ANBG
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

Exsiccate consisted of either whole, or parts of, real plant specimens that were dried and mounted onto a sheet, or placed into paper packets, and then mounted into a bound book.

A page within one of the exsiccate showing individual packets
containing dried specimens
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

Inside one of the specimen packets..this is a Bryam (moss)
and you can see that the plant has been collected when the
moss has sporophytes, the long stem-like structures which
produce the spores for reproduction.
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

These exsiccate were often compiled and exchanged between herbaria around the world so that botanists had access to, and could learn from, plants endemic to other countries. They were also sold to other collectors or gentry who compiled private herbaria and cabinets of curiosity to reflect their social standing and knowledge of the world. The plants that were collected were fully identified, including name of the collector, name of the plant, the location of collection etc.

This is the title page of one of the exsiccate held at the ANBG.
This collection is of Swedish Mosses from 1838.
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

This paper was folded inside the above exsiccate and was intended to be the
cover for the collection.  You can see that there is the back page, spine and
front page for the collection.
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

Exsiccate were not only important resources for botanists and taxonomists, but also were a "critical source of data used by systematic botanists, ecologists, geographers, entomologists, conservation biologists, students and the general public.  DNA preserved in dried specimens is useful in phylogenics. Herbaria are also essential for the study of ex-situ conservation, geographic distributions and the stabilizing of nomenclature (or name resolution) and often act as repositiories of viable seed"

Dr Christine  Cargill, Curator of the Cryptogam Herbarium,
ANBG. Today specimens are housed in packets, within boxes,
within even larger boxes to protect them in storage. This is  a
view of the Algae collection at the ANBG.
Photo: J Ryder

Thus, provenance was of extreme importance in the compilation of exsiccate, and interestingly they were also considered true publications, equal to literary publications that we are more familiar with.

Here is an example of an algae collection, Porphyra laciniata, collected in 1889 by
Frank Collins in the USA.  Interestingly there is also another label attached to
the right of this sample in German and another one above it explaining that it is the
wrong label! Provenance is everything in botanical collections and this is included
because it  originally accompanied the sample, even though it is the wrong one.
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

Algae are extremely interesting specimens to mount, because they must be floated and 'wet-mounted' to enable them to open up to show their form.  If the specimens were dried first, then adhered onto paper, you would not see the diaphanous and convoluted structures you see under the water. Algae have the marvellous property of containing natural mucillage, or adhesive, so that no commercial adhesive is needed to mount them to the paper. This property has been well-exploited in cullinary and textiles for hundreds of years - think 'agar-agar' as a setting agent and sodium alginate (Manutex) used as a carrier for dyes in the textile printing industry.

This Ulva sp., collected in 1929 by Mary Fuller  has been
wet-mounted but has also used mounting tape to ensure
complete adhesion to the paper.
Photo: J Ryder (ANBG Cryptogam Collection)

However, sometimes other methods are also used when mounting algal specimens to ensure they are completely protected. Below is an image of  an Ulva sp. collected from the Cocos & Keeling Islands. The algae have been adhered to the paper by wet-mounting with muslin to keep the specimens in place.  Unfortunately, the muslin was not removed in the critical stage between drying completely and being damp and now it is impossible to remove the muslin for closer identification of the plants without breaking the fragile, dried specimens.

Ulva sp. from the Cocos& Keeling Islands.
ANBG Herbarium, Photo: J. Ryder

In contrast, as my last post described, I have been investigating two albums of seaweeds collected in the 19th century by two different collectors - one from Port Arthur in Tasmania, and the other from the Port Phillip Bay in Victoria.  Although these are both albums of dried botanical specimens, they both differ greatly from scientific exsiccate.

Front page of the Port Phillip Seaweed Collection.
NMA. Photo : George Serras

The first album, known as the Port Phillip Seaweed Collection, has many pages of dried algal specimens collected mostly from St Kilda and Queens Cliff (now Queenscliff) between the years of 1859 -1882. There are also  a few specimens collected in previous years from Ireland and from the Cape of Good Hope. The album itself is anonymous, so we have no idea of its provenance - who collected it, whether they were male or female, or why. It is likely that this book was purchased as a blank album to fill with a seaweed collection, as the front page is printed with a poem that reads:

"Call Us not Weeds - we are Flowers of the Sea
For Lovely, and bright, and gay tinted are we;
And quite independent of culture or showers -
Then call us not Weeds, we are Ocean's Gay Flowers"

 There have been other seaweed albums from around the world that also have this inscription in them. Many of the specimens are annotated with the place of collection and the year and/or month of collection. A proportion of the specimens are also named botanically, however whether these classifications are correct or not is still to be investigated. As you can see, mounting tape (white) but also sticky tape (yellowed and brittle) have been used to adhere the separate specimens to the exsiccate page. This clue seems to point to the fact that the specimens were made and kept, perhaps for some time, before collaging into the exsiccate.

Page of seaweed specimens, Port Phillip Seaweed Collection.
NMA. Photo : George Serras

 There are also several pages of cryptogams (plants which reproduce by spores, not seeds) towards the back of the album - ferns, mosses and lichens - which have also been classified. Was the collector knowledgeable on the taxonomy of cryptogams, or was he/she looking through botanical references produced overseas in order to name them? These are questions only a trained botanist may offer insight into.

Page of bryophyte specimens, Port Phillip Seaweed Collection.
NMA. Photo : George Serras

If this was the case many of the species may not be correct, and this is something I could further investigate with the help of Dr Cargill at the ANBG.  Another interesting observation is that the specimens are not collated in chronological order, so during my time here at the NMA I have systematically gone through the hi-res digital images of the album to collate this information to build up a picture of the geographical movements of the collector and the patterns of collection.Perhaps the owner of this album only collected specimens during seaside holidays, as sometimes there are almost decades between collections.

It is very clear to see the difference between this collection and that of the ANBG Herbarium exsiccate with relation to placement and mounting of specimens, and annotation of provenance. This album has been compiled with several different species all on one page, and often not from the same year or place.

Front cover of the Port Arthur Seaweed Collection.
NMA. Photo : George Serras

The second seaweed album, known as the Port Arthur Seaweed Collection, is equally fascinating because of it's lack of provenance, and the different mode of collection and collation.  This album is much smaller than the Port Phillip album, but has at least one point of reference to its collector and the date it was collected.  The front cover has a label affixed stating " Seaweeds and Mosses collected at Port Arthur, Van Dieman's Land 1836". The inside cover has a signature "C. Frere". The specimens themselves are arranged neatly and artistically, again with many per page, but in this album there is no attempt at specimen identification on either the seaweeds or the two pages of mosses. You can see that the algae have been wet-mounted from the reverse of the page where it has buckled with the damp from the specimens.

Page of seaweed specimens, Port Arthur Seaweed Collection.
NMA. Photo : George Serras

Like the previous album there are also several pages of  cryptogams that have been collected. The page is labelled "Mosses" but there are a few ferns mounted in there as well.

Page of bryophyte specimens, Port Arthur Seaweed Collection.
NMA. Photo : George Serras

Dr Kirsten Wehner in her article (hereon these two albums had an idea that 'C. Frere' could have been Catherine Arthur, the daughter of George Arthur,  Governor of Tasmania 1823-1836. Catherine later married Sir Henry Bartle Frere while they were both living in India, so this last week I have been tracking down examples of her handwriting and signatures so the team at PATE can compare them.
This would be a wonderful link, if the evidence supports it, because then the album would have a whole layer of history to add to it, linking it to other events both in Australia and overseas.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the two national institutions I have been artist-in-residence with - the ANBG and the NMA - have collected similar types of objects from similar periods of time.  However, that is where the similarities end.  As a scientific institution, the ANBG herbaria (there is one for the Cryptogams and another for vascular plants) need to have as much information about where the specimen was collected as possible, otherwise they are useless as a point of reference. Herbaria have sets of type specimens - i.e. those which define and act as name-bearers for a species. New specimens can be compared against the type specimen and results published in scientifically reviewed papers. There are about ten categories of type specimens but two examples are holotypes (a single specimen designated as a type of the species by the original author at the time the species name and description was published); and isotypes ( a duplicate specimen of the holotype). A scientific herbarium would never collect an object such as the Port Phillip or Port Arthur Seaweed Collections because there is simply not enough relevant data that accompanies them; the specimens are compiled together,  risking physical damage and/or contamination, and they are perhaps not displayed correctly as a tool for future research. However, although these two collections are not suitable for scientific institutions, they are incredibly important objects with regards to a Museum collection. 

The NMA collects objects on several different levels for its collections, the main one being the National Historical Collection, or NHC.  Objects within the NHC comprise a rich and diverse collection of Australian historical material which is held in trust for the nation. These objects contain important stories about our past, present and future as a nation and can vary widely in type and size. For example, the other day out at the Mitchell repository I saw the painted double decker Peace Bus, which was used by the People for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1970's. Measuring 9 metres long, 4.3m high and weighing a massive 10,400 kg this amazing bus was totally decorated with hand-painted flora and fauna of the Pacific. In contrast there are many smaller and more fragile objects, including the two seaweed albums I have been researching.  To date my research of these albums has been online by gaining access to the hi-res photographs that have already been taken of the albums under strict conditions.  Although not as tangible as the real objects themselves, these photographs show details that perhaps you would not see as clearly with the naked eye viewing the actual album.  Because both albums are so fragile, they must be viewed with a conservator or registrar at hand to turn pages and ensure the book has the correct supports to prop it up for viewing .  I have made an application to view these books in a few weeks time so will blog about that soon.