G is for Giraffe

POSTED ON: 29/05/2017

G is for Giraffe

G is for Giraffe, as we all know from children’s books. Here in Suffolk we have a surprising number of the world’s tallest terrestrial animals – alive, dead, and eponymously.  And on 21st June, as well as enjoying Suffolk Day and the Summer Solstice, we have another reason to celebrate. It’s World Giraffe Day, chosen because it is the longest day of the year.

Perhaps the most longstanding member of the species Giraffa cameleopardis in Suffolk is the 5.2 metre high giraffe which has been in Ipswich Museum in the High Street since 1909. It arrived from Somaliland via a taxidermist in London and a train to Ipswich. And if you’re wondering how on earth a giraffe travels on a train, see the fascinating account at www.friendsofipswichmuseums.org.uk/giraffe    

If you grew up in Ipswich and were taken on school visits you will know that the Museum is stuffed full of exotic curiosities – including the woolly mammoth, resident since the 1990s, and Rosie the rhino who achieved international fame when her horn was sawn off by intruders in 2011.  

What you may not be aware of is the extent of the Museum’s archives – and it was here that Suffolk artist Jonathan D Boast was inspired to create a print which has ended up in Ipswich’s newest short stay accommodation, The Giraffe House.

Jonathan was selected as artist in residence at the Ipswich Art Gallery during its exhibition earlier this year of works by Eduardo Paolozzi, entitled General Dynamic F.U.N. When he came to create Ipswich, Iconic, O.N.E. – the first of a series of prints alongside Paolozzi’s - he searched through the vast collections and incorporated that giraffe and other items in the archives, including fossils, an image of Bobby Robson, and a test card. “As a child, I had gazed up at the giraffe in its glass cage but could never see into its eyes. As an artist, I could put that right: I turned the giraffe upside down.”

For Cathy Shelbourne, owner of the newly opened short stay accommodation The Giraffe House in Ipswich, it was ideal. “I was looking for local artworks to adorn the walls and was visiting the Art Gallery’s exhibition when I met Jonathan. I had also visited the Museum as a child, so I was thrilled to have such a personal link. And Jonathan kindly changed the test card (see photo) from the BBC to that of Anglia Television, for whom I worked in Norwich for ten years!”

Why The Giraffe House? Simple. “Because it looks like a giraffe might live there!” Although as yet a giraffe hasn’t taken up residence – “I’m working on it. My brother has sculpted a life-size giraffe which is nibbling the trees in his garden in Suffolk and is now home to a family of blackbirds. But he has resisted my invitation to create another one.” In the meantime, guests in The Giraffe House can amuse themselves by spotting the giraffe-patterned tiles, hanging their coats and keys on the giraffe hooks, or even sleeping with three cool giraffes sporting sunglasses.

Cuddling a giraffe may not be an obvious link, but many organisations have adopted and adapted the giraffe to make themselves and their message more appealing. The Jolly Giraffe eye test scheme has been taken up by optometrists in Suffolk. The Giraffe World Kitchen chain www.giraffe.net has 49 outlets in the UK – including a restaurant in Bury St Edmunds.

But if you prefer to watch real live giraffes being fed rather than you or your offspring, head to Africa Alive! near Lowestoft, where the keepers hold out tasty twigs and leaves for the well-behaved giraffes to wrap their amazing dark blue 45cm-long tongues around. Apparently the pigments that colour the tongues help to prevent sunburn (probably not a problem in Suffolk). And at Colchester Zoo (OK, it’s in Essex), you can feed them yourself, which is truly thrilling! In 2013, the Zoo celebrated their 50th anniversary with a herd of specially-commissioned giraffes and beautifully-painted life-size giraffes.

Does anybody have one for sale to a good home? The Giraffe House would love to know!

For more information contact:

Ipswich Museum, High Street, Ipswich www.cimuseums.org.uk – now open from 11am–5pm on Sundays

Ipswich Museum Alphabet by Derek Chambers studio@derekchambers.org.uk. Copies of the book are printed to order

The Giraffe House, Ipswich’s newest short stay accommodation, provides a stylish base – and plenty of giraffes – for leisure and business visitors www.thegiraffehouse.co.uk

Jonathan D Boast www.facebook.com/studioboast

Giraffe restaurant, Bury St Edmunds www.giraffe.net/locations/bury-st-edmunds  

Africa Alive! Kessingland, near Lowestoft www.africa-alive.co.uk and Banham Zoo in south Norfolk www.banhamzoo.co.uk, both part of the Zoological Society of East Anglia

Colchester Zoo www.colchester-zoo.com

The Girl and the Giraffe is a puppet performance, part of Pulse, the 10-day festival at the New Wolsey theatre, curated by China Plate. The only opportunity to see them in Ipswich is on Sunday 4th June. www.wolseytheatre.co.uk/shows/pulse17-the-girl-and-the-giraffe

World Giraffe Day: www.giraffeconservation.org/world-giraffe-day and www.facebook.com/worldgiraffeday/

Photo captions

G is for Giraffe print by Derek Chambers of the giraffe in Ipswich Museum

Making your mark: the zinc plates and original wood type used by Derek Chambers for his print G is for Giraffe in his book Ipswich Museum Alphabet

Ipswich, Iconic, O.N.E., print by Jonathan D Boast during his residency at Ipswich Art Gallery, using material from the Ipswich Museum archives and experiences from childhood. The giraffe can also be seen, in its glass case, in another print in the series: Kirby, Gippeswic, 1.S.T

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