Ethel King: Hand colouring artist

Ethel King (1879 - 1939) was a much-underated artist and illustrator who worked at the Australian Museum in the 1920s and 1930s.

King's exquisite, delicate and detailed art was integral in bringing to life many Australian Museum specimens, exhibits and educational resources and much of her fine handiwork can be seen in many of the hand coloured lantern slides held by the Australian Museum.

Lantern slides are positive images of a document, photograph, specimen or illustration in a book encased in a glass slide.

One of the Museum's popular educational activities in the early 20th century was the lecture program that used the wondrous then new "immersive technology" of lantern slide projection to educate and entertain large enraptured audiences. It began in 1909 and continued until the mid 1950s.

Our photographic image vocabulary of the early 1900s was (for the most part) monochromatic, black and white, yet our scientific image vocabulary meant there was a strong desire to illustrate these lectures with colour. To address this need some lantern slides were hand coloured. It was a fiddly and painstaking process so hand colouring was reserved for only a selection of the lantern slide collection. Of the 10,000 recently digitised Australian Museum lantern slides, 527 of them are hand coloured. Ethel King must have been busy during her time at the Museum because according to the lantern slide register 120 of these coloured slides were done by her.

One delightful lantern slide grouping from a 1927 lecture titled "Wildlife Preservation" tells a threefold story. That is - it showcases work by talented and overlooked illustrator Ethel King; it gives us an example of the important role of the Museum's lecture program in fulfilling its aspirations to extend into new roles as science communicators and educators; and it shows us a charming early example of the Museum as an advocate for the preservation of the natural world.

Explore images from the 'Wildlife Preservation' lecture

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