Carving out history for #LibrariesDay | Library and Archives

This is the first of a series of new blogs focusing on external researchers who use the Library and Archive collections, to give them the opportunity to talk about their work and the role that our collections have played in their research. A perfect way to celebrate National #LibrariesDay! Our first post in the series is from student Zoe Barnett, who describes the importance of her access to our resources for her research into stone carving.

I remember visiting the Museum as a small child and being as fascinated with the outside of the building as I was with its contents. Now, 20 years later, I’m in my final year at the City and Guilds of London Art School, studying Architectural Stone Carving and I have to admit my interest in the ornamentation has grown dramatically!

Photo of a page in the archives showing drawings of fish species that would later be recreated as terracotta tiles
An example of the original Waterhouse drawings of the animals that adorn the walls of the Museum

During my second year at college I developed an interest in the terracotta animals that decorate the building. As part of a drawing project I spent time studying them, and I especially liked the panels on the large gate pillars on Cromwell Road. My drawing tutor introduced me to a reference book about the drawings for the terracotta models and I discovered the architect, Alfred Waterhouse, made them all.

More excitingly his original drawings were stored in the Library at the Natural History Museum. The very obliging staff arranged for my tutor and me to visit and see them. To a drawing nerd like me this was a very special experience; to be holding such beautiful original drawings in my hands was simply fantastic.

However, as a stone carver a question was bothering me – why did Waterhouse choose to cast them in terracotta rather than carved in stone? This is the topic of my third year thesis! Being a rather more creative person than academic, the thought of writing a thesis does not fill me with joy. However, I can now say that I have thoroughly enjoyed researching this topic.

The resources in the Library have been fantastic – with a warm and friendly atmosphere the staff have always been very approachable and helpful, making it a very nice place to study. The most exciting part for me was on my last visit.

I arranged to use the Library and requested a couple of books, but also asked if there was any other material which the librarians thought might help. When I arrived the most enormous book was sitting on the table in front of me.

Photo showing a large book of press cuttings on a table, with a Waterhouse sketch on a stand and Zoe taking notes and drawing in her sketchbook
Zoe working from press cuttings and with the original Alfred Waterhouse material held in the Library

The volume contained clippings since the early 1800s, from newspaper articles and magazines relevant to the Museum, all of which had been lovingly cut out and stuck in. This book in particular was a fantastic source for me, as it allowed me to read reviews and discover how the new Museum building was received at the time.

Photo showing a carving of a crouching eagle with wings half raised
One of Zoe’s carvings. Photograph © Zoe Barnett

With my final year at college rapidly marching on I don’t think I’ll quite have enough time to carve a replica panel in stone using one of Waterhouse’s drawings, which was my initial hope, but I have been making terracotta models and it will certainly be something I shall pursue once I finish!

Zoe Barnett
City and Guilds of London Art School

Learn more about Zoe’s work on her website and follow Zoe on Twitter: @Zoehitsrocks

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