More in Raw Materials: Plastics

Raw Materials: Plastics

Nunnery Gallery

17 May - 25 August

Raw Materials: Plastics is the third in a series of exhibitions at the Nunnery Gallery, which delves into the history of the local River Lea through the ‘raw materials’ paved the way for the area’s extensive and important industrial development.

In Hackney Wick, 1865, Victorian inventor Alexander Parkes created Parkesine – a precursor to celluloid – looking to mimic rare and endangered natural materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell. Parkesine led to the development of the Ivoride Works in Homerton in the late 1860s and eventually to the establishment of the industrially successful British Xylonite Company, which included the eponymous Halex brand in Hale End, Walthamstow.

The exhibition includes the earliest Victorian plastics made by Parkes in the 1860s; surprisingly ornate pieces inlaid with mother of pearl and precious metals, coloured with brilliant blues and greens through recently invented dyes. An early billiard ball illustrates the game changer Parkes’ invention provided in replacing ivory, the material previously used to make the balls of this common game. The British Xylonite Company then went on to produce Europe’s supply of ping pong balls.

New commissions from resident designer/maker Peter Marigold and resident artist Frances Scott accompany the historic displays. Marigold responds to the early mould-making techniques of inventor – and artist – Parkes, by making his own wooden moulds and using them to work with ‘FormCard’, Marigold’s own brand of compostable bio-plastic. Scott exhibits a new film, PHX [X is for Xylonite], which draws upon photogrammetry, as well as laser scanning techniques offered through project partner UCL, in order to develop and animate 3D images of early plastic objects. These are collaged with hand-processed 16mm film footage captured in the laboratories at UCL, and of a recent demolition on the site of the original Parkesine factory in Hackney Wick.


181 Bow Road, E3 2SJ

First Thursday: Alexander Parkes and Parkesine



Hear the story of east London’s plastic inventor, Alexander Parkes, with Susan Mossman, plastics and Parkes expert.

Alexander Parkes developed Parkesine, the first semi-synthetic plastic. He exhibited items made of this new material at the International Exhibition in London in 1862 and received much acclaim. Parkesine was later to be renamed Xylonite, Ivoride and then finally Celluloid. Parkes’ eponymous material paved the way for the development of what we now know as the plastics industry.

Getting to: Nunnery Gallery

The gallery is a 4 minute walk from Bow Church station and 8 minutes from Bow Road station. Alternatively, Bromley by Bow station is an 11 minute walk and Pudding Mill Lane station is 13 minutes walk.

Buses: The 205, 25, 425 and 488 stop close by on Bow Road, at Bow Church station.

Please contact Transport for London for detailed travel advice

first thursdays nunnery gallery MaryBarnes@TheNunnery-Install16

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