Quex Museum in March 2010




We stayed in Margate for five days, near to David Chipperfield's building site for the Turner Contemporary, to open in 2011. The largest galleries in the South East outside London are part of an urban regeneration scheme for this down-at-heel Town. The building was intended as 'a celebration of J.M.W.Turner's fascination with light', but has done so by obliterating it for the rest of us at huge expense. Even the evocation of Tracy Emin (I never started loving her) failed to dissipate our gathering sense of gloom at the vapid encasing the vacuous.

On the map we noticed a park, house and museum at Birchington between Margate to Herne Bay. I associated Quex with aspects of Hitler Youth but was prepared to give it a try. Had they finally established a foothold in Churchill's England?

In the event Quex Museum was a delight, a surprise and contained cultural richness unparallelled in a provincial Museum. Why hadn't we heard of it before? Only when I juggled these hurried images on screen did I realise what we had experienced at Quex. It didn't seem to make much of itself in local and indeed national publicity. The website was adequate, but stronger in words than pictures.

Here at Quex was scale, spectacle and, dare one confess, content. Walking into the building, there was a clear sense of Catering and Conferences but round a corner were the major Diorama Galleries, a multi- level celebration of creatures who scramble in branches, gatherings of the fierce and the passive, elegantly spaced in peace and tranquility. Other Dioramas unfold their stories horizontally, but here was one where the assemblage of flora and fauna rose vertically, to incorporate the Giraffes and accomodate a Flying Squirrel, perpetually held in suspension.

The landscape painting was stolid and highly professional. Mr Wools, we were told, was responsible for the backgrounds and theatrical workers from the Margate theatres had created the most complex assemblage of rocks and plateaux ever assembled.

The uniting factor is the sensibility and experiences of one man, Percy Powell-Cotton, traveller, artist, writer, and benefactor who insisted on respecting those he visited and with a strong urge to share what he had learnt. This alone gives the collection a coherence that the more encyclopaedic collections assembled by committees and curators seldom achieve. By 1896 he had been on five collection trips around the world for display at Quex House, and subsequently in an exterior Pavilion and subsequent Galleries.

The Taxidermy was the responsibility of the firm of Rowland Ward who worked for other pioneers of displays of stuffed animals in accurate locations set within dioramas, such as the Rothschilds and Philippe, Duc d'Orleans.See link beneath.



Historical Victorian Taxidermy