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Published April 30th 2014
Now for something completely different
The Museum of Economic Botany - Built in the Greek Revival Style
The stately Museum of Economic Botany is an attractive Greek revival building located in Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. Modelled on the museum of the same name in Kew (England), there were once many museums of this type in the British Empire - now only three remain world wide.
This grand gothic building with its intricately stencilled timber ceilings still retains much of the original decor and fittings from when it was first opened in 1881 by Dr Richard Schomburgk, director of the Botanic Gardens. It is listed on several registers including the State and National Trust registers, and many consider the building to be a work of art.
The original focus of the Museum of Economic Botany was largely practical as the name suggests. It was intended to provide a reference collection of useful fruits and plants which would help the colony of South Australia to grow and become more prosperous. Much of the original collection is still on display in the original display cases at the museum, including a collection of models of fruit and fungi made from papier mache.
Each fruit on display is a hand made and hand painted work of art made in the 19th century in Germany, and after being hidden in storage for some 50 years the 360 fruit are again on show to the public.
While the fruit collection may only have a curiosity value to some of us, people associated with the production of food and wine can find an intense interest and curiosity in this unique display. Read noted wine writer Philip White's blog for an enjoyable account why.
Surprisingly the original museum collection acknowledged and explored Indigenous people's innovation with plant materials also, displaying aboriginal plant products, tapa cloths, timbers and fibres.
With the sponsorship of South Australian company Santos, the Museum of Economic Botany has also acquired a dual purpose as an art gallery. The current exhibition Urpflanze Street Plants is part of the 2014 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Dark Heart.
Also hidden at one end of the museum is a quite extraordinary art work reminiscent to me of a piece from the Archer's Arcadia exhibition - an exotic cabinet of curiosities created by Adelaide artist Fiona Hall. Its botanical themed multimedia display is a quirky contrast to the antique appearance of the cabinet which contains it.
The Adelaide Botanic Gardens are a work of art in their own right, and somehow it seems appropriate that the Museum of Economic Botany houses a very different kind of art. See the official page for the museum here for more information about the museum.