Heritage of Nature

Over five weeks, in early 2022, we worked with Royal Society for Blind Children on our Heritage of Nature project.

The project, inspired by Charles Darwin’s home, Down House, explored Charles Darwin, his discoveries, and his lasting influence on how we view the natural world.

We looked at how Charles Darwin has influenced our connection to nature through time, and the project culminated in art work inspired by nature and Down House’s gardens.

painting using found flowers and pigments at Down House

Down House in Kent was Charles Darwin’s family home for 40 years until his death in 1882. As well as raising his children there with his wife Emma, Down House was the site of Darwin’s groundbreaking discoveries and revelations. Darwin conducted experiments in the gardens, wrote ‘Origin of Species’ in his study, and walked the famous ‘sandwalk’ route daily, thinking and rethinking his theory of evolution.

Our project began and ended at Down House so that we could learn more about Charles Darwin in his own home and feel connected to his history. On our first visit, we had a sensory tour of the house with audio cues and tactile props to help us envisage the rooms and their atmosphere clearly. One of the highlights was learning that Darwin kept a pot of worms on the piano in the living room to see if they reacted to the vibrations of the music when it played! (They didn’t).

We also tried writing with quills (learning how repetitive it was to keep having to dip the quills back in ink), tasted Darwin’s favourite foods (he loved a ginger cake), and sat in a replica of Darwin’s study chair, where he spent most of his days writing.

Over the course of the project, we looked at other ways in which our connection to nature has been explored. We worked closely with Poppy, an arts and crafts facilitator, who taught us about the different ways art has been at the centre of our historic admiration and fascination with the natural world.

Image of a person using a rolling pin to press a shell and other natural objects into clay

Next, Poppy taught us about William Morris and Anselm Kiefer, two artists who have been inspired by nature and we created our own paints from natural organic matter – coffee, turmeric, berries, clay, soil… and painted our first foundation layer onto the blank canvas. Whilst painting, we listened to different classical music pieces that were written in the Victorian era and reflected the weather and seasons of the year. We noted how different pieces made us feel.

We also visited the Science Museum to experience their Our Future Planet exhibition, which explores nature-based solutions to climate change. This got us thinking about how our relationship to nature will change in future and what Darwin would think of the way we treat our planet today.

For the final week of our project, we visited Down House again, this time to explore the gardens and finish our artwork.

We learnt about the exotic plants in the greenhouse; the sustainability initiatives that are so important for biodiversity and conserving the garden, and Darwin’s experiments.

Using wildflower seeds collected from around the gardens, we also made seed bombs in the greenhouse laboratory so that we could take a little of Down House back home with us and help promote biodiversity by planting them in our gardens / green spaces around where we live.

We finished off our artwork using twigs, flowers, seeds and grass from the garden, and etched some words from the poems we wrote on to the canvas. Our inspiration for the artwork was the wildflowers that surround the Down House gardens, buzzing with life in the summer months.

This artwork will be displayed in the Discovery Suite at Down House, for the public and other education groups to engage with.