Cutting edge research meets botanical art in a new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
The exhibition Inspiring Kew offers a historical perspective about how scientists at Kew have inspired artists. The exhibition features botanical paintings from the 17th century, as well as artwork by contemporary artists Rachel Pedder-Smith and Laurence Hill.
Laurence Hill takes a systematic photographic approach to botanical art. Hill’s life-size presentation of the genus Fritillaria is not only beautiful to look at, it is a lesson in biodiversity. Titled Fritillaria: A Family Portrait, the composite image he created is composed of 80 Fritillaria and provides “insight into the biodiversity of life” (Hill, 2014). His digital photographic image stretches across 5 panels and is 10 meters long and 1.4 meters high (~33 ft. x 4.5 ft.). Specimens in the image are arranged according to the molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus as described by Peter D. Day, Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, and Laura J. Kelly (2014).
In the color booklet accompanying his exhibit, Hill describes his collaboration with Dr. Ilia Leitch and her research team at Jodrell Laboratory. He also presents a dendrogram explaining the taxonomic relationships between Fritillaria species and includes a replica of the 10 meter-long image now on view in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (the fold-out image is 1/10 the size of the original). This booklet can be purchased at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery for £2.50. It can also be purchased from Laurence Hill for £2.50 plus shipping (convert currency). Transactions will be processed through PayPal. To order the booklet from the artist, please contact Laurence Hill.
Laurence recently presented the first of two gallery talks about his work. His next gallery talk will be on November 5, 2014 at 2 pm. Seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve a seat, please contact the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.
About Laurence Hill
Laurence Hill manages Fritillaria Icones, a searchable photographic database assisting with the identification, research and conservation of Fritillaria. This very informative database is an Open Access Web-based resource.
Laurence maintains a living collection of Fritillaria and has worked on Fritillaria Icones for many years. He graciously took the time to discuss his project and what educators will find at Fritillaria Icones.
Over several years I have been building a living collection which I systematically photograph and post online. This new dataset provides a supplement to other taxonomic resources, e-vouchers for published work and insight for many other botanical disciplines.
My living collection of Fritillaria, a genus of about 160 taxa, has over 700 accessions which are photographed at four stages through their annual cycle:
- The bulb just after root growth has starts
- The whole plant and a dissected flower at dehiscence of the anthers
- The capsule just before seed dispersal showing it both whole and dissected
- The seed just after germination
These images are dated, scale bars added and then formatted into PDF’s with accession details. Each PDF is put online with the URL incorporating the accession number and not the species name. This acts as a form of DOI or universal identifier so in the event of any taxonomic revision the image specimen set will continue to be associated with any reference.
These image sets can be used for species identification, delineation and classification but they also show:
- Root structure
- Period of growth
- Photosynthesis period
- Flowering point relative to other species
- Mode and tempo of bulb renewal
- Vegetative growth
- Reproductive output
- Seed type
Most herbarium specimens record a plant in flower and botanical illustrations prioritise the parts thought to be taxonomically important by the consensus of the day. I have chosen these four time points with Fritillaria to record a wide set of non-prioritised data. As photographs the information they carry is constantly open to re-interpretation. As a record of a botanical collection they have a phenotypic value and also service the interests of disciplines. Many of my accessions have been sampled for genetic research, both DNA sequencing and genome size, and these PDFs act as e-vouchers both for published work and online databases.
By combining images and textural information including synonyms and common names plus appropriate embedded metadata, the images on Fritillaria Icones have an enhanced visibility to internet search engines. Information, no matter how valuable, that lacks visibility will be underutilized.
My project is an example of how living collections in botanical gardens should be systematically recorded with photographic protocols established for genera or families. Databases need to move beyond random single images to embrace a more structured approach using horticulturists specifically trained to record the plants in their care. This would be an additional resource both to the taxonomic community but also to physiologist, genetics’ and non-traditional uses of taxonomic information.
The information found in Laurence’s beautiful and informative database is available for educational use and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Day, Peter D. and Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, Laura J. Kelly. 2014. Evolutionary relationships in the medicinally important genus Fritillaria L. (Liliaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 80:11-19
Hill, Laurence. 2014. Fritillaria: A Family Portrait.