Could you identify a barn owl? Or perhaps spot an ash tree? The Lost Words is a new exhibition at The Foundling Museum, based on a unique collaborative project between award-winning author Robert Macfarlane, and acclaimed artist and author Jackie Morris, that hopes to reconnect us with the natural world.
The exhibition includes a new series of poems and accompanying illustrations that conjure the beauty of nature, in response to Macfarlane and Morris’s belief that nature is in retreat from our children’s stories and imaginations.
In 2002 the results of a Cambridge University survey, published in Science, found that British schoolchildren were able to identify Pokémon far more accurately than species of common UK wildlife. In a 2008 National Trust survey, only a third of primary age children could identify a magpie, though nine out of ten could name a Dalek. A later Wildlife Trust survey focused on adults, found that a third of participants were unable to identify a barn owl, three-quarters unable to identify an ash tree, and two-thirds feeling that they had “lost touch with nature”.
This exhibition summons this vanishing wildness back into existence in a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke.
Macfarlane has created twenty acrostic poems or ‘spells’ focused on common nature words that are fading from use as the species themselves decline, while Morris, inspired by her lifelong passion for Britain’s landscapes and wildlife, has painted beautiful, iridescent watercolours that capture rst the absence of the plant or creature within its habitat and then its return. Together, these works take viewers on a journey in which the familiar is magical once more.
The exhibition is accompanied by The Lost Words: A Spell Book, a beautifully illustrated hardback book, published by Hamish Hamilton, which captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages. The Lost Words runs from 19 January until 6 May 2018 at London's Foundling Museum.
Main image: Jackie Morris, Otter, 2017 © Jackie Morris