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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 24, 2009

Old Capitol Museum exhibit explores Mother Nature and women writers

British women writers tackled a wide range of subjects with their pens in the 18th and 19th centuries, from animal rights and feminism to children's stories and science fiction. A new exhibition at the Old Capitol Museum offers a glimpse into the lives and work of 10 of these extraordinary authors through an unusual connective lens: Mother Nature.

The exhibition, "'Fresh Threads of Connection': Mother Nature and British Women Writers," opens at the Old Capitol Museum's Hanson Family Humanities Gallery on Saturday, March 7, with a free, public reception with tea and cakes from 1 to 3 p.m. The exhibition runs through July 26.

Nature and women were often connected in 18th and 19th century Britain, said exhibition curator Bridget Draxler, a University of Iowa graduate student pursuing her doctorate in 18th century British literature.

"At this time, developments in science and philosophy -- from Enlightenment definitions of natural law to Darwinian theories of natural selection to philosophical reflections on the sublime and the beautiful -- challenged popular perceptions of both what it meant to be 'natural' and what it meant to be a woman," she said. "The exhibition's focus on nature provides a way to see the common thread through these 10 women's writing and find connections that we might otherwise miss."

"Fresh Threads of Connection," which takes its title from George Eliot's novel "Middlemarch," is presented in conjunction with the 2009 Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Women Writers Conference. Draxler worked with the group of conference organizers to choose the initial list of authors for the exhibit and narrowed it with the help of Pamela White, director of the Pentacrest Museums.

"We were eager to find authors who both addressed the pressing issues of their time and are still relevant today," Draxler said.

Included in the exhibit are both familiar names, such as Beatrix Potter, author of beloved children's tales about the mischievous Peter Rabbit, and less familiar ones, such as Margaret Cavendish, whose book "The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing World," is both a proto-feminist text and one of the earliest examples of the science-fiction genre. Other authors featured include Mary Shelley ("Frankenstien"), Jane Austen ("Pride and Prejudice"), Anna Sewell ("Black Beauty"), and Charlotte Brontë ("Jane Eyre").

To draw visitors into the time period, the Old Capitol Museum staff has transformed the Hanson Family Humanities Gallery into a Victorian-era parlor, complete with period furniture and a mantelpiece, said Kathrine Moermond, Old Capitol Museum education and outreach coordinator.

"Visitors can discover the lives of these women through portraits, period landscapes, and by viewing rare books written by these women," Moermond said. "They may also learn about them by reading interesting stories about their lives and fresh, unexpected connections through nature."

Old Capitol Museum is particularly appropriate venue for such an exhibit, Draxler said, as the building presents a model for how she would like visitors to consider the women in the exhibition.

"The Old Capitol Museum not only offers a trip back in time, but is also very vibrant and relevant today," she said. "We hope viewers to this exhibit can connect these women to the present and the past in that same way."

The Old Capitol Museum has partnered with Usher's Ferry of Cedar Rapids, the Iowa City Public Library, and the Coralville Public Library to present a series of programs surrounding the exhibition. Programs organized by the museum include:

--2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 29, at Old Capitol Museum: "Frankenstein's Monster Madness at the Museum!".

--2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 4, Ushers Ferry, 5925 Seminole Valley Trail NE, Cedar Rapids: "Beatrix Potter & Friends" (children's program).

--7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 4, Old Capitol Museum: "Celebrating Victorian Women's Lives:  An Evening of Music and Recitations."

--2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 11, Old Capitol Museum: "Beatrix Potter & Friends" (children's program).

--7 p.m. Saturday, April 11, Old Capitol Museum: "Beatrix Potter & Friends Go Green" (adult program).

--7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, May 9, and Sunday, May 10, Old Capitol Museum: "Emma."

All events are free and open to the public. For more information on the Old Capitol Museum and a full listing of additional programs at the Iowa City Public Library and the Cedar Rapids Public Library, visit

Sponsors and supporters of the exhibit included the University of Iowa Museum of Art, Ushers Ferry of Cedar Rapids, the Iowa City Public Library, the Cedar Rapids Public Library, the 2009 British Women Writers Conference, Claim to Frame, and Technigraphics of Iowa City.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Kathrine Moermond, Pentacrest Museums, 319-335-0548,; George McCrory, University News Services, 319-384-0012,; Writer: Maggie Anderson