D’Arcy Wentworth Thomspon – The Man Behind the Museum
A multi-disciplined man with a passion for nature
Dundee artist Suzanne Scott, A.K.A Whimsical Lush, has recently designed 10 bronze plaques commemorating a whole host of Dundonians, whose lives have significantly impacted both their respective fields of expertise and the city. The plaques have since been installed in the new Discovery Walk waterfront, set into the paved area of the Green Space. One man in particular stood out for our very own Paul Wallace, who’s company (Trinity Arts ~ iartsupplies) championed D’Arcy Thomson’s plaque. Here we find out a little more about the famous biologist, and how Suzanne was influenced by his work in creating his plaque.
Born in Edinburgh in 1860 to Irish parents, D’Arcy Thomspon was schooled at the Edinburgh Academy and studied medicine and zoology at the University of Edinburgh and Cambridge respectively. He became the first Professor of Biology at the University of Dundee at the age of only 24, staying in the role for over 32 years.
Known as a ‘pioneer’ of Life Sciences, Thompson was known as an interdisciplinary thinker. He was well versed in maths and classics, and translated German texts on biology on the side to earn money whilst at University. He displayed an obvious passion for nature in all of its fascinating, mysterious guises, and was dedicated to preserving and conserving wildlife, lobbying for legislation to be introduced that protected endangered species. In 1917, he authored ‘On Growth and Form’, which demonstrated the links between the growth of organisms and their forms and mathematical principles. He wrote extensively on ideas surrounding ‘Morphogenisis’, the pattern formation in plants and animals, and ‘phyllotaxis’, the botanical study of leaf formation. It is said that his work even influenced eminent thinkers such as Alan Turing and Claude Lévi –Strauss, and artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Jackson Pollock.
Suzanne Scott took great interest in his drawings, which are available to see in the D’Arcy Thompson Museum, in the University of Dundee’s campus. Both a space for teaching and research, as well as housing many different species of animals and plants, the museum is open regularly to the public on Friday throughout the summer vacation, so be sure to make a trip out there! Suzanne immersed herself in a method of researching his botanical studies, in a manner appropriate to Thompson himself. Through dedicated and meticulous studies, the artist successfully managed to convery the intricacies and subtleties of these exquisite forms. She picked out particularly organic and delicate creatures, such as the jellyfish, and picked out bulkier shapes, such as the rock roses, in order to balance out her compositions, allowing for a flowing arrangement of shapes and lines.
D’Arcy Thompson was also on the committee of the Dundee Private Hospital for Women, and also a founding member of the Dundee Social Union. He was knighted in 1937, and won the Darwin Medal in 1946. After he left his post at the University of Dundee, he spent another 31 years at the University of St Andrews as Chair of Natural History. He died in 1948 aged 88, survived by his wife and three children.
Amongst the other Dundonians celebrated in Suzanne’s plaques are Mary Ann Baxter, Professor Margaret Fairlie, Dr James Riley and R.D Low, all of whom have made progressive scientific, medical or cultural discoveries. The commemorations fit accordingly with Dundee’s motto, ‘One City, Many Discoveries’, and form an integral part of the the up and coming new waterfront development area. Imbedded into the fabric of our city, they call to us to know our past, understand our present and inspire us in the future.