Research into plants cultivated and collected during the time of WW1 and the interwar years has led me to look at plants that have helped heal in the battlefield. One such plant is Sphagnum moss.
In preparation for my second Masters Exposition in May I mapped potential Sphagnum moss locations (1) in the Northeast and information from other parts of Scotland.
Sphagnum moss, was collected from local moss bogs, thoroughly cleaned and dried and used as a packing for bandages and wound dressings for the troops in WW1.
While researching the moss areas I came upon a photograph of a community collecting moss in Orkney (2), and a poem “The Kindly Sphagnum Moss” by Mrs A.M. Smith (3) and some plant materials.
The Kindly Sphagnum Moss (2)
The doctors and the nurses
Look North with eager eyes,
And call on us to send them
The dressing that they prize
No other is its equal…
In modest bulk it goes,
Until it meets the gaping wound
Where the red life blood flows,
Then spreading, swelling in its might
It checks the fatal loss,
And kills the germ, and heals the hurt-
The kindly Sphagnum Moss
The artefacts (bottled plant materials) to display have been collected to show some of the plants that were of great use throughout this era. Some listed below.
The research I have touched upon looks into the food, the medicines, the cloth and the dye for that cloth. My botanical artworks in response will utilise natural linen (Flax) or jute (Hemp) canvas as a surface and using the colour that the individual plants produces, I will use this colour for some of the ground work on the paintings for each plant.
The map will be further populated through the course of my Masters with locations places where other plants were collected or grown. From gardens and allotments to bogs and hillsides and the seashore.
(1) Map of Aberdeen and surrounding areas, this is a collection of screenshots taken from maps on the National Library Scotland archive website, It has been montaged from made up from various historic maps that would have been available at that time during WW1.
(2)Poem written by Mrs AM Smith (1917). A member of the Edinburgh War Dressings Supply organisation.
(3)Photo of a community from Westray, Orkney Collecting Sphagnum Moss in time of WWI
National Library Scotland archive. https://maps.nls.uk . Dates accessed March - April 2018
Jute and its Substitutes. (1914). Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 62(3217), 761-762. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41341668 Date accessed 23rd Jan 2018
Flax as a Paying Crop. (1914). Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 62(3231), 991-991. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41341779 Date accessed 24th Jan 2018
Whatmough, W. (1914). The Cultivation and Collection of Medicinal Plants In England. Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, 62(3232), 995-1003. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41341785 Date accessed 21st Jan 2018
Ayres P. Article: (2013) Wound dressing in World War I - The Kindly Sphagnum Moss
http://atom.rbge.info (Archives reference: RBGEd #42) Date accessed 20
Remembering Wartime Westray: a project with Emily Glass. (19 May 2016) https://bristoldoctoralcollege.blogs.ilrt.org/files/2016/05/Image-8-Sphagnum-Moss-collection.jpg Date accessed 14th Mar 2018
Fiona Swapp lives and works in Aberdeen. She has over 30 years experience as a graphic designer and botanical artist.
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