Monday, 8 April 2013

Art meets Science at Fairlynch

The sponge Clathrina Coriacea (Montagu, 1818) was greatly admired by Henry Carter
Image credit Fiona Crouch, Marine Biological Association of the UK

There’s an awful lot of science in Fairlynch’s 2013 exhibition ‘Sea, Salt and Sponges.’ There’s fearsome-looking medical equipment, a fine display of microscopes and much information about the geology of places ranging from India to Canada, not forgetting Devon of course. Not to mention the surprisingly intricate anatomy of sponges with all those complex chemicals that they produce which are providing useful weapons in the war against cancer and other diseases.

But Budleigh scientist and FRS Henry Carter (1813-95) whose bicentenary the Museum is celebrating was an artist in his way. He often shows himself in his writings charmed by the beauty of the marine species that he examined. Of the sponge Clathrina Coriacea (Montagu, 1818), pictured above, which he found on Budleigh beach he wrote “It veils the dark rock beneath with the most chaste and exquisite network that could be produced artificially. No representations of it hitherto do it full justice in this respect.


Under the microscope these natural wonders moved him greatly.  The species Rotalia spiculotesta shown above was one of the subjects of one of the naturalist Henry Bowman Brady’s (1835-91) celebrated 1884 monograph of foraminifera dredged up during the Challenger expedition. Carter had described it in 1877 as an “exquisite little organism”; it is now named after him as Carterina spiculotesta.  




A page from the 1869 issue of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History showing Carter's illustrations to accompany one of his articles  

He was proud of his skill as a draughtsman. “I employ no artist,” he wrote in 1872, “make my own drawings, and write my own descriptions to the best of my ability.”

Many scientists including Leonardo da Vinci have shown themselves to be talented artists. The best example of a 19th century scientist similarly inspired by the beauty of the marine environment was the German naturalist and supporter of Darwin's theories Ernst Haeckel, with whose work on sponges Carter was acquainted.

The work Kunstformen der Natur was a collection of prints based on Haeckel’s sketches and watercolours of marine organisms. It was published in two volumes as Art Forms of Nature in 1904 and has been described as influential in early 20th century art, architecture, and design, bridging the gap between science and art.


The 49th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur of 1904, showing various sea anemones classified as Actiniae

So contributions to the Fairlynch exhibition by members of Budleigh Salterton’s Venture Art Group have been welcomed at the Museum, which of course is also an Arts Centre.

The artists are mostly members of Budleigh Salterton Art Club who have come together with the aim of developing their technique through painting sessions.

There are works in oils, acrylics, pastels and watercolour, all for sale at affordable prices.

Artists exhibiting include Iris Ansell, Julie Bingham, Jane Briscoe, Sue Chapman, Teresa Creton, Peter Fletcher, Pam Harber, Jean Harmsworth, Audrey Holden, Wendy Markham, Dorothy Ormerod, Sally Roberts, Ken Simmons, Nick Speare, Chris Stacey, Sheila Stacey, Michelle Sykes, Judy White and Jenny Young.

The sea naturally features in many of the paintings. Water is notoriously difficult to portray in art.  Judge for yourselves how well the artists have risen to the challenge.

 'Summer Wave'  Wendy Markham  


 'Misty Morning'   Julie Bingham

'Moon Shimmer'    Nick Speare


'Sunnny Day at the Sea'   Teresa Creton

“The most interesting and challenging aspects for me are using texture in the painting of rocks, sand and sea,” says Teresa Creton. “I paint in an impressionistic style but I want my work to look realistic so the challenge for me is finding a balance between the two.”

Favourite views familiar with coast path walkers feature in many of the landscapes like these three paintings of Ladram stacks by Jean Harmsworth, driftwood on Budleigh beach by Chris Stacey and the Otter marshes by Iris Ansell.



But some of the artists have chosen subjects further afield, like Audrey Holden's 'Sunset Isles of Scilly' or Sue Chapman's 'The Lighthouse', seen below.






There's a good variety of paintings of coastal wildlife like Michelle Sykes's study of a seagull,
Jane Briscoe's 'Avocet' and Ken Simmons' watercolour 'A Fine Plaice.'

Something of the vivid and colourful life of the sponges that Henry Carter studied is conveyed in Dorothy Ormerod’s work ‘Ocean Floor’

Sheila Stacey's  'Seahorse & Sponges' was inspired by a photo taken by Singapore wildlife photographer Ria Tan.  The sponge in the painting, Pseudoceratina purpurea, was first described by Henry Carter in 1880 and incidentally has been identified recently as a source of cancer-beating chemical compounds by a team at Imperial College London.

I think Budleigh Salterton's most celebrated scientist would be delighted with this painting and with all the others on display at the Museum.

Fairlynch’s exhibition ‘Sea, Salt and Sponges’ is open from Friday 29 March until the end of September. The Museum is open daily except Saturdays from 2.00 - 4.30 pm. Admission is free. For further information see


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