Students team up with Wigan Council to celebrate famous Leigh botanist

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Kathleen Mary DrewBaker

The work of a Leigh resident that made her the saviour of Japan’s sushi industry will be celebrated in an exhibition at Leigh Town Hall.

Leigh botanist Kathleen Mary Drew Baker is the focus of artwork created by young students from the creative education college Project Inc.

Born in Leigh, Kathleen Mary Drew Baker was a scientist who focused on seaweed and her research went on to help save the Japanese farming of Nori, seaweed often used in sushi.

To many in Japan she has become known as the ‘Mother of the Sea’ and she is remembered each year on April 14.

Students at Project Inc found her story so compelling they chose to make her the centre of a 3D mixed media piece that will be on display when Wigan Council opens its new archives facilities and exhibition space at Leigh Town Hall in June.

Joan Belnat, Art and Design teacher at Project Inc said: “It was with great pleasure that Project Inc students at Damhouse Astley were asked to create work inspired by the world-famous scientist Kathleen Mary Drew Baker.

“This has been an exciting project as Kathleen Mary Drew Baker was born in Leigh, she became famous for her scientific research based on seaweed.

“She is recognised and honoured in Japan and has a day named after her, ‘Mother of the Sea’.

“It has been a privilege to work with the archives to celebrate her special day. The students have looked at Japanism to inspire their ideas and develop work to be placed in the exhibition.

“We started by looking at Katsushika Hokusai, ‘The great wave off Kanagawa’. This starting point led us on to Koi Carp and the movement with seaweed and fish. We have used many techniques and experimented with colour and some 3D forms. We have enjoyed the project and it will be exciting to see our work in the museum.”

Project Inc’s work will be one of many major art works featured in the exhibition space at the revamped Grade II listed building when it reopens this summer.

There will also be new archive facilities open to the public that feature historic records dating back 800 years. This includes thousands of records from schools, churches, hospitals, businesses, families, estates and people.

Lesley O’Halloran, Director of Customer and Culture, said: “Leigh resident Kathleen Mary Drew Baker is commemorated each year in Japan for the amazing contributions her work made to the lives of so many.

“We are proud that when we open our new exhibition space in Leigh Town Hall we will have our own special tribute thanks to the wonderful students at Project Inc.

“It has been brilliant to see how the Borough’s history has fed into this creative art project and we can’t wait for the public to see it standing alongside all the other wonderful pieces featured in the exhibition.”

The Leigh Town Hall Archives and exhibition space is expected to open in June, depending on Covid-19 restrictions.

To find out more about the Archives project in Leigh Town Hall visit Revealing Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies Project and to explore the amazing archive collection online visit Wigan Archives.