Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coelacanths and dodos

Whenever I return to my home town of East London, I try to fit in a visit to the museum, which made such an impression on me as a child, what with its many claims to fame. Another favourite haunt I haul my family along to is Queen's Park Zoo, set among tall indigenous forest between the CBD and the Buffalo River. Anyway, here are a few items from the museum and elsewhere.

I think this drawing is of a model of a dodo, since no actual dodo body exists anymore. However, the EL museum does claim to have the only existing dodo egg!

Of course the museum's main claim to fame is "old four legs", the "living fossil", or more accurately, the world's first coelacanth, which was discovered by the museum's curator back in 1938. My future wife Robyn and I happened to visit the revamped museum on December 22, 1988, not realising it was the 50th anniversary of the great event. A special party was being held in honour of Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer. They were selling special envelopes (sadly without special stamps) to mark the occasion. This is one, though elsewhere I have one actually signed by the great, late, Ms Latimer, who was at the bash, along with then mayor Donald Card.

Inside the envelope was the story of the discovery. The museum was a treasure trove for kids - still is, I guess. I loved the place where you could view bees in their hive. This hive has been going, I guess, for over 50 years, which must be a record. Another exhibit I loved, which has since disappeared, was of a stuffed Jimmy the Crow. Jimmy was a feature of the zoo during the 1960s, where he would issue the war cry for the local rugby team: Bordah! I jotted down some notes from a plaque next to that exhibit. Apparently the zoo keeper at the time was CE Reid. The plaque said Jimmy would bark like a dog and crow like a rooster. He would sham death, lying inert on the ground, then jump up and laugh heartily. Sadly both Reid and Jimmy (who was 18 years old) died on the same, day: May 10, 1966.

A great thing about museums is you get to see outlandish fish species. I think this one was drawn at the Port Elizabeth Museum, now incorporated into a thing called Bayworld, which last year, for the first time since the early 1960s, was without any captive dolphins.

Attached to the PE museum is its legendary snake park. In decades past, the shows given by the snake-handlers would draw huge crowds. Anyway, there are other reptiles in the place, including this fellow. I would also take my sons to the Tropical House, but this has since been converted into some other use. At one stage it hosted tropical birds and alligators.

Another resident at the snake park section was this turtle, or terrapin, or whatever.

This appears to be my eldest son, Luke, aged about 12, during one of those visits.

And this is him and his boet, Doug, with belly boards, at Humewood Beach.

And this is a dog, I guess.

During the latter part of the 1990s and the whole of the first decade of the 2000s, I would take myself off in the mornings (I subbed at night) to review various art shows in the city. One was in an old settler cottage in Cuyler Street, Central, PE, run by Tossie Theron. Nearby, as I waited for the gallery to open, I sketched this ornate chimney on a house in Bird Street. Not sure who the guy in the sky was.

At the King George VI Art Gallery (since renamed the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum) I came across renowned SA sculptor Jacques Fuller.

This is a drawing I did of a carving I made way back in 1977, which somehow has survived, despite its fragile nature.

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