Statue of fossil hunter Mary Anning to be erected after campaign

A statue to Mary Anning, a fossil hunter and palaeontologist once “lost to history” but now considered a significant female force in science, is finally to be erected after a crowdfunding campaign by a teenage girl.

Caroline Davies www.theguardian.com 

Evie Swire, 13, was nine years old when she first heard of Anning, who was born into a humble family in 1799 near Evie’s Lyme Regis home in Dorset. The schoolgirl was outraged to discover there was no statue.

Now, despite setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic, Evie’s campaign has raised £70,000 – enough to commission the statue. It is hoped it can be unveiled in Lyme Regis in May 2022 on the anniversary of Anning’s birthday.

Anning grew up hunting for fossils in the nearby cliffs to sell to supplement her family’s meagre income. She was responsible for many pioneering finds, including one of the first ichthyosaurus skeletons, and became immensely knowledgable in the then emerging field of palaeontology.

But her finds were often credited to the male collectors to whom she sold her fossils. Her disappointment and frustration was evident in one surviving letter in which she wrote: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.” She died aged 47.

Evie launched the “Mary Anning Rocks” campaign with her mother, Anya Pearson. Its patrons include Sir David Attenborough, the academic and broadcaster Prof Alice Roberts and the novelist Tracy Chevalier. The actor Kate Winslet, who stars in Ammonite, a film about Anning, has also pledged support.

The sculptor Denise Dutton, whose recent works have included the Land Girls monument at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, and the suffragette Annie Kenney in Oldham, has been commissioned.

Drawing inspiration from designs submitted by local schoolchildren in Lyme Regis, she has produced preliminary sketches that show Anning striding with her dog, Tray.

“I think it looks really good. It just looks like her from the one picture that we have of her,” said Evie.

Even though Anning was excluded from organisations such as the Geological Society, “it didn’t stop her. She still carried on, even when it became really hard for her,” Evie added. “She was a very important person, but she was lost in history.”

Evie’s mother said that despite the pandemic, which delayed the launch of the crowdfunder, £70,000 of the £100,000 target had been raised, enough to go ahead with the statue. The remaining £30,000, which they will continue to fundraise for, is to cover installation and legal costs.

The statue would be placed somewhere along the town’s sea defence wall, “so she will be looking out towards Black Ven where she did all her fossil hunting”, Pearson said.

“She’s been created so she’s interactive, so there’s no pedestal or podium. She’s on the floor with everyone, so people can put fossils in her basket. Lots of children leave fossils at her grave. So the idea is we put her out on the walk down to the fossil beach and children will start putting fossils into her little basket.”

The campaign has 30,000 followers across social media. “We call them the Anning army, and it really does feel like an army of people who are all equally up in arms that this absolutely incredible woman – working-class, self-educated – has been woefully forgotten,” said Pearson.

Anning is now part of the national curriculum and many children have donated Christmas and pocket money, she added.

Dutton said Anning was “absolutely fascinating” as a subject. Only one painting of her exists, where she is in her Sunday best.

“She was never credited for her discoveries. She sold specimens to male scientists who claimed credit,” said Dutton. She is meticulously researching what Anning would have worn to go fossil hunting and is taking advice from the V&A Museum in London.

What does she want the statue to convey? “Determination, because among everything else, the determination that she had to carry on, to go out – and she went out at the end of storms when it was very dangerous – so there must have been a pig-headedness about her to do that. So, that excitement and that determination,” said Dutton.