The interest for Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), artist and founder of modern insect research, is still great. In the anniversary year 2017, the Forum International of the Nuremberg BUND Naturschutz (an institution for natural conservation), together with the Merianschule Nürnberg combined the memory of Merian with practical nature conservation. In May, they put together a small butterfly bed at the herb garden at the Nuremberg city wall. In addition to nectar plants for butterflies, they also thought of the right plants for caterpillars. For while butterflies are not picky when it comes to which plant they get their food from, their caterpillars are often highly specialized. For example, if we were to eliminate the stinging nettles that are commonly seen as weeds, such beautiful butterflies as the peacock butterfly or the small tortoiseshell would have a hard time.
The Merian-expert Mrs. Margot Lölhöffel from Nuremberg had the idea to extend this action, and so the project 'MERIANIN 2018+' was born. The concept: Maria Sibylla Merian is used as a symbolic patron for the conservation for insects and flowerbeds. Since I find this an excellent and very important topic, I asked Mrs. Lölhöffel if she was willing to answer a few questions about this project for my blog. And she was!
VN: The MERIANIN 2018+ initiative reacts to two recent events: In 2018, it was 350 years ago that Maria Sibylla Merian arrived in Nuremberg. In october 2017 we learned that the insect population in Germany had gone down by around 75%. How did you come up with the idea to combine both?
ML: Already since the beginning of the new millennium, experts have been pointing with increasing vigor to the threatening disappearance of insects. My Merianin research also included many contacts to biologists and especially to entomologists. The problem became more and more urgent and encouraged me in 2017 to an experiment during my city tours: Can participants and listeners on a historical topic address to such current issues? It turns out they were. My seeds for butterfly-friendly plants and information leaflets to conserve biodiversity from BUND Naturschutz are in great demand.
The successful cooperation between the Merianschule and the BUND Naturschutz and the inauguration of the ‘Merian flower bed’ on the Nuremberg city wall provided further food for thought to sustain the historical interest in the Merian with current efforts to protect insects.
My husband and I discussed how we could use Merian as a symbolic ‘patron’ beyond the commemoration year 2017 to new initiatives. It occurred to me that 2018 could be a special jubilee year for Nuremberg, because in 1668 - exactly 350 years ago - Johann Andreas Graff returned from Frankfurt to his hometown with his young wife Maria Sibylla and their daughter Johanna Helena. The editor of the regional half-year magazine Mauersegler from the BUND Naturschutz encouraged me to write an article, which made 'MERIANIN 2018+' a public project.
VN: The starting signal for MERIANIN 2018+ was the creation of a Merian bed by the Nuremberg Merianschule. In your brochure you introduce the Painted Lady Project for school classes. Are there (concrete) plans to work together with other schools and e.g. to create more Merian beds in school gardens?
ML: Sparkasse Nürnberg's Future Foundation provided us with funds for a three-year program with children and young adults just a few days before Christmas 2017. We want to continuously expand our contacts to schools during this period. Just today, Mr. Stefan Mümmler, our environmental educator, wrote to me that he has already arranged several dates with school classes for his Painted Lady program.
In the course of this year I will surely be able to report even more, also about activities in the children's museum.
VN: Would you tell me when and how your enthusiasm for the Merianin came about?
ML: For decades I have worked in the Office for International Relations, to give our guests from all over the world a vivid picture of our city Nuremberg. After my retirement, I continue to work as a city guide. I have long been interested in the 'female side of Nuremberg', i.e. the contribution of women to the development of our city. Women's co-operation has been indispensable in the workshops of artisan families and merchants for many centuries.
Maria Sibylla Merian is a particularly good example that even the achievements of women artists and researchers in our education-hungry and collectable city society were appreciated.
In 2013, when a small garden was to be redesigned and made accessible to the public on the grounds of the Kaiserburg, I found out - just in time - that this was the family garden of Johann Andreas Graff and his wife Maria Sibylla. I quickly found allies, e.g. the club of the 'old town friends'.
Together we were able to convince the then Bavarian Minister of Finance and current Prime Minister Markus Söder that 'Maria-Sibylla-Merian-Garten' is a more attractive and historically significant name than the originally planned 'Wedding Garden'. All the plants of the garden are based on drawings in the books that Maria Sibylla Merian has published. Even tropical plants from their trip to South America can be found in this garden.
At the same time, however, I realized that the Nuremberg period of the Merian was almost unexplored and burdened with many prejudices and misconceptions that were repeatedly written down, not only in historical novels but also in scientific literature. It has been a lot of work to find the facts in archives, libraries and museums. The result: a long, three-part essay in the Nuremberg Old Town reports on Maria Sibylla Merian and Johann Andreas Graff.
In her 300th year of death in 2017, Merian was extensively honored with exhibitions, lectures and city tours in Nuremberg. Even the great cityscape painter Johann Andreas Graff, who has been denigrated in the literature as a violent drunkard and weak loser, received his first own exhibition 316 years after his death.
VN: Mrs. Lölhöffel, many thanks for your time and dedication - to the history of Nuremberg, to the recognition of Maria Sybilla Merian and Johann Andreas Graff, and to the conservation of insects!