Thursday, 20 March 2014

Fossil casting and John Ray collages at Braintree Museum

Last Saturday, The Laboratory visited Braintree Museum to provide two workshops (a collage workshop and a fossil casting workshop), looking at the amazing work and life of John Ray. Here's how we got on....
Collage – The illustrations we used were taken from John Ray’s ‘The Ornithology of Francis Willughby’. This book was originally published in 1678 and was the first attempt to try and identify and record all the species of bird. John Ray was a local man from Black Notley who founded natural history (the study of the natural world) as a scientific subject in this country. He is therefore Braintree's local science hero! Ray’s book on birds included many pages of lovely drawings. These were to help people identify the birds, as they could match the pictures with the written descriptions. Back in the 1600s people didn’t have cameras to take photos of the birds they were trying to describe so drawings were very important! The museum owns a 1972 reprint of the book which these images were taken from. In our workshop we selected a couple of images from the book and cut out various sections of the birds. We then created our own new "species" by collaging the cut out sections together. Finally we added detail with biro pen such as land formations, flowers, trees and additional features to our birds - I wonder what John Ray would have thought of these!
Selecting images

Discussing ideas

The workshop was carried out in the education room at Braintree Museum

Starting to assemble the collage

Gluing the cut out sections down

Now where should this piece go?

Arranging all the pieces on the paper

Sketching detail onto the collgae

A strange looking bird with a feathered beak!

Adding detail with pen to the collage

We loved the detail of plant life drawn onto this collgae

A double headed owl collage

A fabulous finished collage, 4 new species not if Francis Willughby's book!
Fossil casting – Local science hero John Ray was really interested in the natural world around him. As well as trying to identify different species of birds, animals, fish, insects and reptiles he was also interested in fossils. John  Ray lived in the 1600s when most people thought fossils were not the remains of actually living creatures but were just ‘plastic models’ made by nature. This is because they thought that any species created by God could not become extinct. The potential age of the fossils also did not fit with Biblical interpretations of how old the world was. Ray was the first person in England to suggest that fossils were the remains of actual creatures, some of which must therefore now be extinct. He was a very perceptive scientist willing to challenge the beliefs and interpretations of his day. 
In our workshop we used a range of fossils, kindly donated by The Essex Field Club, these included trilobites, ammonites etc ranging from 400 millions years BC to 190 million years BC. The children all decided what fossil they wanted to use and pushed this carefully into a piece of soft clay. This took a mould of the fossil that we could use to make our cast. Once the mould was made, the children then poured in casting plaster ontop of the clay, smoothing the plaster at the top. This was then left to set before carefully peeling back the clay to reveal our newly made fossils.
Plaster poured on the top of the clay mould waiting for it to dry

Clay moulds ready for plaster casting

The fun part - pouring the plaster in!

Doodling dinosaurs whilst waiting to cast a fossil

A fossil mould and a friendly dinosaur

Scooping out the plaster

What out fossil moulds and cast looked like

A stunning statue of the man himself John Ray stands proud outside the museum

For more information on events, activities and programmes currently running at Braintree Museum have a look on their website

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