As a wide-eyed toddler Rebecca Jewell often spent her playtime in the basement of the Natural History Museum, staring at the bones of ancient creatures.
And her zoologist parents would whisk her away from their Highgate home to exotic countries to live with the animals.
Now in a wonderful step of evolution, the Muswell Hill artist is moving into the spotlight at that same museum to be part of an exhibition celebrating the often under-recognised contribution of female illustrators to the world of science over the past 400 years. Women Artists will launch on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day and will feature Rebecca’s drawings of a Bird of Paradise and Cockatoo.
The 50-year-old, who is artist in residence at the British Museum, says: “It is difficult to become successful in that area of art and it has taken me a long, long time to make a career out of it.“
Born in Highgate, there’s no doubt she was influenced by her parents careers. Her mother Juliette Clutton-Brock worked for 30 years in the mammal section of the museum and her father often jetted off abroad to study foreign beasts.
“He would fly off to Uganda and other places like that and we even lived in Nigeria for a while and had a little zoo with a chimp. I grew up loving animals and wildlife.“
Rebecca continued her adventures as a young woman, spending a year living in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea in 1982 and says the experience still influences her heavily today.
“I lived with people who had this amazing relationship with birds and thought that by wearing the feathers they became as beautiful as the birds.“
After studying for a degree and masters in Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, she worked at the British Museum as a curator for a few years and then decided to follow her passion for art, gaining a PhD from the Royal College of Art in Natural History Illustration.
“The course doesn’t exist anymore, but we had this amazing tutor John Norris-Wood, who would bring in specimens and take us to the London Zoo. It was through that I became really passionate about working with feathers and birds and making art out of feathers.“
The drawings featured in the exhibition are ones she created during this time and have been bought by the Natural History Museum.
The artist of ten years, whose work is also part of collections at the British Museum, the British Library and the National Trust’s Chastleton House, is now focussing on pieces created by printing directly onto feathers at her workshop at the Chocolate Factory in Wood Green, using a process she has developed over the last two years.
“My interest in human and animal culture has come together in my art, “ says Rebecca, who is represented by the Rebecca Hossack Gallery in London and sells her work at the Printroom Gallery in Hampstead.
Completing the circle of life, she gets many of the feathers for her work from her mother who now lives near Cambridge and keeps doves and bantams.
“She’s been very supportive of what I do and is delighted that I’m showing my work at the Natural History Museum.“
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7, until July 2015, Details: 020 7942 5000, nhm.ac.uk/imagesofnature, rebeccajewell.com