Joanne B. Kaar: Paper Wrappers and Herbarium Sheets

25 Oct 2011 in Highland, Showcase, Visual Arts & Crafts

Caithness Horizons, Thurso, until 11 December 2011

DURING my recent visit to Caithness Horizons I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the opening of Paper Wrappers and Herbarium Sheets, an exhibition by Joanne B. Kaar to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of Robert Dick, Baker and Botanist of Thurso 1811-1866, writes Rebecca Davis.

JOANNE has continued to work as a volunteer with the Caithness Horizons Curator and Centre Manager since the grand re-opening of the Museum, and her initial 5-week residency in December 2008 was to re-interpret and preserve the Museum’s Robert Dick Herbarium.

This exhibition both celebrates the bicentenary of Robert Dick’s birth and the culmination of three years of Joanne’s own work.

Joanne B. Kaar's Paper Wrappers and Herbarium Sheets

Joanne B. Kaar's Paper Wrappers and Herbarium Sheets

Robert trained as a journeyman baker, locating to Thurso in 1830 where his father was living to set up his own bakery. Here he worked tirelessly until his death in 1866. He was somewhat of a recluse, who had few friends other than his beloved sister.

Throughout his time in Caithness he also developed an obsession with the plants, molluscs, fossils and insects of the area. Becoming a renowned self-taught botanist, geologist and naturalist within the field, on his death he had amassed an herbarium of about 200 folios of mosses, ferns and flowering plants “almost unique in its completeness,” which is now stored, with some of his fossils, in Caithness Horizons.

It is both the life and the character of the man, as well as the contents of the Herbarium which Joanne explores through this exhibition.

Displayed in a wonderfully bright gallery space, the work varied from digital botanical prints on handmade paper to authentic loafs of bread on a baker’s bench and line ink drawings.

As with Robert Dick, Joanne’s work is prolific. Her botanical prints reaching into the Cafe exhibition space. Many of them feature local plants, which friends at the private view were identifying from their favourite local walks or growing near their homes. Dunnet Head was in fact one of Robert’s own favourite places to walk and collect plants.

As well as pieces of art, these works serve a conservation purpose. Each of the prints is created from an original Herbarium artefact which Joanne has scanned and then ‘cleaned’ using Photoshop. She then prints the final images onto paper handmade by herself from waste from Scalpay Linen.

These final prints serve to preserve the Herbarium for future years as well as allowing Joanne to interpret and display the Collection for new audiences.

My favoured pieces were those whose surfaces had been more worked into, giving added depth and interest to the piece. Using overlaid imagery, stitching and a Japanese persimmon wash technique on the paper, gave the work added interest, especially with Joanne’s added explanation of the technique.

Joanne’s passion for her subject is evident in the scale and breath of work on display within this exhibition. With the added historical context Joanne has really succeeded in bringing the life and obsessions of a local man together in this exhibition, for visitors to absorb, explore, and ponder.

Dick was unrecognised by his local community until his death, despite his renown within the scientific arena. It seems just that his work should be celebrated in this way, and Joanne does real justice to the Herbarium as well as enabling new and future audiences to appreciate this wonderful Collection.

Rebecca Davis is the Audience Development Officer for Craft Scotland.

© Rebecca Davis, 2011.