The Ellen Hutchins exhibition in the old Anatomy Building at Trinity College Dublin closed on Friday 28th April.
The big draw for Thursday 27th April was the added delight of being able to join award-winning botanical artist Shevaun Doherty as she demonstrated the beauty of botanical painting. Shevaun was painting one of Ellen’s seaweed specimens. This was a very special end to the exhibition Celebrating Ellen Hutchins.
Shevaun spent most of the week preparing her drawing, and you can see the progress she made day by day in the photogrpahs below.
By the end of Monday Shevaun had made her choice of the seaweed to paint and made a start, with a colour chart and a drawing. See the first photo above, from Monday evening.
The second photo shows Shevaun’s progress by the end of Tuesday with drawings of enlargements at x2 and x10.
The third photo shows Shevaun’s painting of an enlargement, done using a microscope in the Herbarium at Trinity. Shevaun had been in the Herbarium from early to late on Wednesday, and sent this photo as she left there that evening.
Shevaun set up in the exhibition space itself on Thursday afternoon and worked on the painting all afternoon and during the Public Open session in the early evening. She then stayed on afterwards to get a bit more done on it. Photo 4 shows Shevaun on Thursday afternoon.
Shevaun continued work on the painting after the close of the exhibition on Friday 28th April, finishing it the following Tuesday 2nd May. Here it is looking absolutely wonderful.
The exhibition – Celebrating Ellen Hutchins – was the first ever display of seaweed specimens collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay more than 200 years ago, alongside letters she wrote to James Townsend Mackay, the Botanist in charge of the Trinity College Botanic Garden at the time. This material from the Herbarium of the Botany Department of TCD was displayed beside text and pictures telling the story of Ellen Hutchins: the Young Woman, her Work and her World; letters Ellen wrote to her brothers about her botanizing from the Hutchins family private collection; and prints of her exquisitely detailed and accurate drawings of seaweeds, reproduced with the kind permission of The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Museums Sheffield.
The exhibition was held in the old Anatomy Building at Trinity, and mounted by the Herbarium, Botany Department, Trinity and the Ellen Hutchins Festival.
On display from 30th March was Part Two of the exhibition with different specimens, letters and drawings and information panels from those shown in Part One. However, if you had missed Part One, then highlights of it were still available by going round the back of the display panels and seeing them on the other side!
The Ellen Hutchins Festival was delighted to work with the Herbarium of the Botany Department of TCD in mounting the exhibition for the staff and students of the School of Natural Sciences of TCD. Provost Patrick Prendergast of Trinity College Dublin formally opened the exhibition on Thursday 9th February, the 202nd anniversary of Ellen’s death in 1815. She was twenty nine years old when she died, but had made a significant contribution to the understanding of cryptogams – non flowering plants.
The Entrance Hall of the Old Anatomy Building provided a very suitable space to house this material, and as Ellen was supported and encouraged in her study of botany by two of the staff of Trinity College, Dr Whitley Stokes and James Townsend Mackay, it is very appropriate that the exhibition was mounted for the current staff and students of the School of Natural Sciences at TCD.
Ellen’s specimens have been in the Herbarium at Trinity for over two hundred years, since she posted them or sent them in parcels (a different process in the early nineteenth century) to James Mackay. Illustrated above, is one of the first specimens she would have sent; it is dated 1805 and Ellen only started collecting and studying seaweeds at the suggestion of James Mackay when he visited West Cork and spent some days with her at her family home, Ballylickey, in the summer of 1805.
The letters that Ellen wrote to James Mackay were found in the Herbarium correspondence files in 2015. Some contain small specimens of plants, and the letter shown above also has cross hatching, where Ellen has filled the page with writing and then turned it sideways and written over it.
Here is another beautiful seaweed specimen, of Delesarria sanguinea, collected by Ellen Hutchins in Bantry Bay over two hundred years ago. This and the others were found in the Herbarium by Professor John Parnell in 2015, when Ellen’s significant links to Trinity were being researched.
This image shows the exciting moment in Spring 2015, when Professor John Parnell found the first of the Ellen Hutchins seaweed specimens in the Herbarium.
The exhibition uses specimens and letters, words and pictures to tell the story of Ellen’s life, and her significant contribution to the understanding of the non flowering plants known as cryptogams.
There are a selection of the prints of Ellen’s drawings of seaweeds, first shown in Ireland at Bantry House in August 2015, and seen here being prepared for that exhibition. The prints are reproduced with the kind permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Exhibition and Botanical Art Trail: August 2016
A legacy from the Exhibition Trail
The Trail took place during the Ellen Hutchins Festival in Heritage week, August 2016. While the Trail is no longer in place, in Bantry you can find an information panel about Ellen in the Bantry Tourist Office, and (the same panel) at Ballylickey in Mannings Emporium and the Ouvane Falls, as well as at Future Forests near Kealkil.
The plaque commemorating Ellen is on the old Garryvurcha church wall in Church Road, Bantry, and the gate to the churchyard is unlocked most days.
Bantry library (open Tuesday to Saturday) has loan and reference copies of the book of Ellen Hutchins and Dawson Turner’s letters, and books on Irish lichen and wild flowers of the area.
The Craft Shop in Glengarriff Road, Bantry and Mannings Emporium in Ballylickey have prints of her watercolour drawing of the seaweed Fucus asparagoides for sale at 25 Euros. They are also available online on the Limited Edition Prints for Sale page of this website.
About the Trail
The Trail had fifteen sites, in shop windows and indoors in shops, Bantry Credit Union, the library and the Tourist Office. Each site could be seen and appreciated separately for part of Ellen’s story, and the sites could be undertaken in any order. Taking the trail round all the sites (fifteen of them) allowed you to discover more about Ellen and see a wonderful range of her seaweed drawings.
The Ellen Hutchins Festival is very grateful indeed for all the support from the shop owners and others who hosted the Exhibtion Trail, and says a huge thank to all of them: Bantry Credit Union, Bantry library, Bantry Tourist Office, The Craft Shop, The Cookware Company, Phyllis’ Art Shop, Organico, Bantry Charity Shop, the former Kelly’s Hardware Shop, Hi Lites, Bantry Yarns; in Ballylickey – Mannings’ Emporium and Cronin’s Centra; and in Glengarriff – O’Connell’s Shop.
The illustrated information panels, on Ellen Hutchins: the Young Woman, her Work and her World, were first seen in Bantry Library in the Ellen Hutchins Festival in Heritage Week, August 2015, and the seaweed drawings were exhibited in Bantry House at the same time, with the kind permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London.
Some of the Trail sites had ‘extras’ alongside the watercolour drawings and the information panels. The Library had a hand painted silk scarf by Annie Sage, commissioned to commemorate the Ellen Hutchins Festival in 2015.
There were also Ellen’s Treasures, which are explained on the Ellen’s Treasures page on this website here.
Bantry Library had a simple ‘sit down’ version of the whole Trail (as well as being a site on the Trail). There was a folder with all twenty two of the prints of Ellen’s watercolours of seaweeds, and small versions of the five information panels available to be studied while sitting at a table. You could ask for it at the desk, and return it there when you had finished with it.
A Home Coming
The seaweeds came from Bantry Bay and the drawings were done by Ellen at Ballylickey, where she lived for almost all of her short life. Last year, 2015, was the ‘home coming’ for the drawings, the first time that they had been seen in Bantry, (and in the Republic of Ireland) since they were drawn here by Ellen over two hundred years ago. This year’s Festival Trail was an opportunity to see them again, in a very public setting, and close to where she collected the seaweeds.
Ellen as botanical artist
Ellen had been collecting and studying seaweeds, and making specimens (dried plants on paper) since the summer of 1805, when she was twenty years old and James Townsend Mackay, a botanist from Trinity College Dublin, visited her at Ballylickey and suggested that she should make a particular study of seaweeds.
The first mention in Ellen’s letters of her drawing plants is in July 1808, and then again in December when she wrote to Dawson Turner:
‘Dear Sir, Your most interesting letter found me employed finishing the drawing you wished for of Fucus tomentosus. I have sent it with drawings of some Confervae. … These are the very first that I have attempted.’
Ellen to Turner 2nd December 1808
The first three drawings exhibited, of Confervae, are dated October and November 1808, and are some of Ellen’s ‘very first’. Dawson Turner was full of praise for them and encouraged Ellen to continue drawing:
‘Your Fucus tomentosus will be very soon engraved. The others, I am sorry to say, seem doomed ‘to blush unseen’ in my portfolios, but they shall not be wholly lost. I trust you will not fail to cultivate this art, without which it is scarcely possible to study the Confervae with success. … Let me advise you also, if the trouble is not too much, to sketch the leaves of the mosses you examine under the microscope. It saves a prodigious deal of trouble.’
Turner to Ellen 21st March 1809
In July 1809, Ellen wrote that she had drawn ‘near 76 Confervae and a few Fuci.’
Ill health, death and burial
Ellen suffered from periods of ill health for most of her life, and she seems to have stopped being able to draw in 1812. Her botanising seems to have ended in 1813, and she was very seriously ill for much of 1814, dying in February 1815, just before her thirtieth birthday. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Garryvurcha churchyard, near the south wall of the church.
Memorial / Commemorative Plaque
In August 2015, a commemorative plaque for Ellen was unveiled on the church wall in Garryvurcha churchyard. She is described on it as Natural History Pioneer, and cited for Cryptogamic Botany and Coastal Flora and Fauna. This acknowledges her significant contribution to the understanding of seaweeds and other non flowering plants, known as cryptogams, and fauna is included because of her study of shells, and she found at least two that were previously unknown.
The gate to Garryvurcha churchyard is unlocked during the day, and you can go in and see the plaque.