Sunday 30 June 2024

Liverpool Central Library & Audubon's Birds of America

Liverpool Central Library


As a regular but infrequent visitor to Liverpool, I thought I was familar with most of the sights.  However I have recently come across Liverpool Central Library which is quite a gem!  It has a very modern part and a more historic part, both of which are rather amazing in their own right.  You could easily miss the Library as it is sandwiched between the Walker Art Gallery and the World Museum on William Brown Street, Liverpool.

Modern Atrium at Liverpool Central Library

The modern atrium, which opened in 2013, is light and airy and a lovely place to sit and study but there is also the Picton Room (opened 1879) if your preference is for something more traditional...

Picton Room - Liverpool Central Library - Outside

Picton Room - Liverpool Central Library - Inside

Picton Room - Liverpool Central Library - Inside

Check out the Hornby Library, opened in 1906, which housed an exhibition about Thomas Stamford Raffles and his plant and animal collections when we visited...

Hornby Library - Liverpool Central Library

However the reason I was there was to see the rare books in the Oak Room, which was built in 1914/15 to house the Library's 4000ish rare, valuable and important books.  My quest was to see John James Audubon's "Birds of America" book. This book comes in 4 volumes, is massive (a metre high!) and contains 435 hand coloured, copper plate etchings of life sized birds. 

John James Audubon's "Birds of America" Book

Each picture depicts both the male and female of the species, sometimes with their chicks or eggs, in their natural habitat and may even include their predators.  The book is so heavy it has to be supported so that the weight of the book doesn't break the spine and, if carried, needs 2 people to lift it!  Only one of the volumes is on the display which happens to be the volume that is in the best condition.  Every week, the Library's conservator, who is specially insured, turns a page to reveal a new bird.  When we were there the Willow Ptarmigan was on show...

The Willow Ptarmigan from "Birds of America"

It was possible to see some watermarks on the pages.  During the Liverpool Blitz in 1941 the Library took a direct hit and the volumes were rescued by the librarian from the strongroom, which was being flooded by water from the firemen's hoses as they tried to put out the blaze.

The book is kept in a bullet proof case with specially treated glass to prevent the watercolours from fading.  There are 4 copies of this book known in England - King Charles has one & the Bodleian in Oxford and Birmingham City Library each have one.   It is known as a double elephant folio.  "Double elephant" refers to the size of paper and was the largest paper available at the time (39.5 inches x 26.5 inches). Apparently, a complete first edition sold in 2010 at Sotheby's in London for over £7.3 million - a record auction price for a printed book!

Going back to John James Audubon - he was born in 1785, in what is now Haiti, was brought up by his stepmother in Nantes, France and was sent to the USA in 1803.  Because of the length of time it took him to complete his drwings, the birds he drew were dead, having been shot.  They were wired into lifelike poses for him to draw. In 1826, he arrived in Liverpool, cutting quite a dash in his fringed jacket and hair slicked down with bear grease.  His aim was to raise funds to print his book.  About 175 copies were sold - 100 in England and 75 in the USA, and about 120 copies still exist.

So next time you're in Liverpool, go take a look.  It's quite a story! 

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Jesmonite Workshop at Rural Arts, Thirsk with Laura Docherty

My Jesmonite Tray and Bobbins

Recently, I attended a Jesmonite workshop at Rural Arts in Thirsk, run by Laura Docherty (@ottomezzaluna on Instagram).  I've been wanting to try out using Jesmonite for some time so a short course at Rural Arts seemed ideal. 

Wikipedia tells us that "Jesmonite is a composite material used in fine arts, crafts, and construction. It consists of a gypsum-based material in an acrylic resin. It was invented in the United Kingdom in 1984 by Peter Hawkins." Initial experiments acually began in 1978 in Jesmond, Newcastle which is where the product's name comes from. It was conceived as a safe alternative to fibreglass and as a lightweight alternative to cast concrete. In fact, on our course, Peter's daughter, Laura (not our course leader), was with us and was also trying it out for the first time!

Laura Docherty's Jesmonite Examples

Jesmonite, like concrete, involves a powder and a liquid that have to be mixed together.  Both can be poured into moulds and become solid.  However, Jesmonite is more ecological.  Known as an eco resin, the water based acrylic liquid and mineral base have to be mixed in a specific ratio.  It solidifies quite quickly and there is very little waste...

Moulds & Mixing Equipment

Jesmonite - Powder & Liquid

You can add pigment to the liquid element before mixing in the powder to colour the Jesmonite.  The pigments can be combined to create the colour you want.  Not much pigment is needed...

Jesmonite Pigment

Terrazzo chips can be made which you can then use as inclusions in your mix and result in a finished product speckled with the colours of terrazzo chips that you have added.  They are made by making thin sheets of Jesmonite and breaking them up into small chips once the Jesmonite has solidified...

Making Terrazzo Chips

Tubs of Terrazzo Chips

I enjoyed making a dark grey tray with multi-coloured terrazzo chips...

Mould filled with my mix of Jesmonite and terrazzo chips

The tray had to be sanded with wet and dry sandpaper once it had set to reveal the colourful terrazzo...

Sanding my dish to reveal the terrazzo chips

Finished dish

I am keeping some bobbins on my terrazzo dish at the moment (see first image).

I also made a pot with a black colour-blocked rim and a mint green body. You do this by pouring the black Jesmonite into the mould first and because there were streaks of black on the mould this made an interesting pattern when the green was poured in...

Pouring Jesmonite into a pot mould

Pot mould after pouring

Finished pot

It's not always possible to completely control the outcome so you can get some really interesting results.  I'm not sure how I expected my pot to come out but I like it and am currently using it to store my crochet hooks...

Finished Pot & Crochet Hooks

I thoroughly enjoyed the session and look forward to experimenting more at home.  Thanks Laura!

The Courthouse, which is where Rural Arts is based, has a great cafe, an artisan shop and has exhibitions, workshops and performances - worth a visit for the cafe and shop alone!  The next Jesmonite workshops is on Wednesday 17 July 2024. Check it out here.