Of Corals And Collectors

Of Corals and Collectors, Kathryn Parsons

"Of Corals and Collectors" combines intricate miniature porcelain corals with found objects to tell the tales of corals living around the British Isles. These sculptures were created during a six month project with the National Centre for Craft for the exhibition "The Collectors" at the NCCD in May - June 2017....

Around a hundred years ago, a tiny piece of white coral washed up on a beach, where it was noticed by someone with a keen eye. Picking it up and delighting in its intricate beauty, a decision was made to keep it. In that moment, this small fragment of the natural world became a treasure. Gently placed in a little box for protection, eventually it found a home in the Natural History Museum, London, where it continued to be treasured and preserved.

"Hartland, Devon" Kathryn Parsons, 2017, hand modelled porcelain, found objects, vintage postcard and Bisto tin, 6.5cm tall

Kathryn was privileged to receive an invitation from a curator at the Natural History Museum, to explore the corals held in their collection and to discover their stories. Among the many wonders were fragments of white coral, an ancient coral-encrusted bottle found near an island where pirates once lived and tiny boxes of miniature star-shaped specimens. There were cup corals collected from near the Dorset coast, still attached to the rocks on which they grew, and others shaped like fluted bowls.

Of Corals and Collectors (detail), Kathryn Parsons

Kathryn also saw living coral creatures, growing in an aquarium; their vibrancy and colour were in stark contrast to the reports of coral reefs bleaching as they struggle to survive in warming seas.

"Rare Swimming Coral" Kathryn Parsons (2017) hand modelled porcelain and found shell, 5cm tall.

With these rich and poignant sources of inspiration, Kathryn has created a collection of exquisite, fictional, hand-made porcelain corals. Combining porcelain with found objects and ephemera, Kathryn weaves together tales of the fragility and beauty of corals, their intricate structures, textures and forms. Focusing on British corals, each piece is the story of a coral that was found and then stayed with its collector - valued, protected, enjoyed and displayed in that person’s home… part of a private collection added to over the years, long before corals became endangered and their collection highly restricted.

Whereas in museums everything is carefully labelled, here there are few written clues about the corals and their collectors. Instead, each piece invites us to imagine its own story of a time and a place when something precious was found… and became a treasure.

With many thanks to the Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London, and particularly Miranda Lowe, Principal Curator, and Dr Kenneth Johnson. My thanks also to Brian Eversham of BCN Wildlife Trust, and Glenys Wass of Peterborough Museum.