On 26th June my colleagues and I ventured out to Somerset House, to visit The Museum of Water by Amy Sharrocks. One of our volunteer leaders had already donated some water from Blackheath pond which she knew contained diatoms; our mission was to track it down!!
Ali, Jovita, and Rosemary at The Museum of Water
On entering the damp and slightly leaky subterranean exhibition we were met with a cornucopia of vessels from scent bottles to jam jars, plastic water bottles, and even a coconut. All numbered with labels telling their story. There was bath water from a couple’s first bath together in a heart shaped bottle, a large selection of holy water from various faiths, pond water, sea water, even frozen snow balls and ice from the Antarctic. Although some donations more hygienic than others....
As an art installation it was a very beautiful concept. Collecting not only water but also people’s memories and stories all linked to something as simple but essential to life as water. It was also interesting to find out how they were managing their ever growing collection in comparison with Thomas Comber’s diatom collection which is kept in secure, atmospherically controlled areas in custom made lockable cabinets far from the ‘clumsy public’, safe from pests and hopefully damage. All of the bottles were on open shelves and organised by common themes. When a donation is received the donor is interviewed by the museums ‘custodians’, so that their story can be recorded in their own words and voice. They are asked to fill in a label with whatever information they see fit and the bottle is assigned a number. They also digitize the collection by photographing the bottles and their labels. Hopefully none of the leaks will affect their collection but if they do there will always be a digital back up, just like the newly digitized notebooks of Thomas Comber.
After some searching we eventually found specimen no. 421 a rusty 30yr old Cow and Gate jar full of pond water, our cries of excitement drew the attention of one of the custodians who asked which bottle we had found, she immediately asked us “Do you know what diatoms are then?”so we were able to share a little of our knowledge and love of diatoms. They told us the jar had been paired with a little boy’s jar of pond water which he collected with his dad to look at under a microscope (making the invisible visible!). Showing that the staff were not only curating the physical donations, they were also collecting stories to share with the visitors.
I wonder if there are any good anecdotes connected to Thomas Combers diatom samples!
A few of the diatom doodles we left for them to remember us by!