© 1987
A Short History of the Margaret Mee Amazon Trust
Her life embraced art, politics, the threatened environment and a quest for a very elusive Amazon flower. Most of all all Margaret was an brilliant story-teller .
Part 1

Compiled by Tony Morrison in 1993 and completed in 1995 —   FLP = For Later Publication

By 1968 Margaret Mee was recognised as one of the leading floral artists of her time. (1*).Then after a successful exhibition in London she returned to a life in Brazil where she was admired by a small circle of friends. Some of her work found its way into private or institutional collections particularly in the USA, when she sold her gouache paintings or gave them in return for help. Later she received honours but little global acclaim

During the 1970's and early 80's Margaret was convinced that the Amazon forests were threatened to a point when many of the flowers she was sketching would eventually become extinct. She felt that her record should be preserved although as she needed to travel she sold many paintings. Some for very little money . She was well aware of dealers who made profit from her work and whenever possible she sold privately. Then in her later years she saved the finest gouache of each species for her own private collection. Margaret named this set her 'Amazon Collection'

It was Margaret's ambition to sell her 'Amazon Collection' to an institution in America or the United Kingdom where it could be maintained as a record of the Amazon flora. With memories of a deeply unhappy experience involving the Instituto Botânica de São Paulo(2*) and for other reasons, Margaret wanted to sell the collection outside Brasil and for it to remain outside Brasil. She intended to use the money to buy a small home in Britain and continue her work in Amazonia for about four or five years.

In the early 80's Margaret talked to friends in London, England, and the USA where she found interest from the Missouri Botanical Garden,USA. Negotiations began in 1984/5 and moved towards plans for an exhibition. The show was expected to attract either a corporate or private benefactor 

The value of Margaret's work was recognised in botanical and diplomatic circles in Rio de Janeiro so she was fearful that exporting her collection for sale could be opposed. An emissary from Missouri Botanical Garden, Alan Godlewski called on Margaret in Rio de Janeiro to agree terms for the exhibition and a proposed expenses paid trip for her to attend the private view. After their meeting Margaret slipped 58 gouaches inside an artist's folder and handed it to Godlewski. Most were on Fabriano paper and if kept in controlled conditions they would last for centuries.

January 1986

The Missouri Botanical Garden staged an exhibition which raised some possibilities for a sale of the entire collection for 500,000 US Dollars but the interest soon evaporated. Margaret returned to Brasil leaving the paintings in Alan Godlewski's care. Negotiations and discussions continued sporadically for a year, but the asking price was too high and the paintings were put into store at the Missouri Botanical garden. Margaret continued to talk with long-time friends about selling the collection and confided in some visitors who met her in Brasil.

Thursday 12th March 1987Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

Late in the afternoon Tony Morrison visited Margaret to talk about publishing her diaries. She explained how the Amazon Collection came to be in Missouri and her intention to find an institution where it could be kept safely. Tony was concerned because the proposed book would need to contain full page illustrations taken from her best work. 

June 1987 The Honorable Christopher McLaren whose brother was a past-President of the Royal Horticultural Society [of Great Britain] and his wife Jane were on holiday in Brasil and staying with the British Ambassador in Brasilia.During their visit they met Margaret and Christopher asked her about the final destination for the collection. "Kew I hope." she replied.[meaning the Royal Botanic Gardens , Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England - Editor].

Over her years of travelling Margaret had met several RBG Kew research botanists, and some had used her house in Rio de Janeiro as their pied a terre. On their last night in Brasil Christopher and Jane dined with Margaret and Greville in Rio. Margaret gave Christopher a list of friends in Britain including Sir George Taylor, a previous Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Sir George had been instrumental in the early 'sixties by persuading Aylmer Tryon to publish her first folio. [Flowers of the Brazilian Forests-The Tryon Gallery 1968]

Christopher McLaren undertook to see what could be arranged. On on his return to London he consulted Sir George on whose advice he wrote to the director, Professor Bell. The letter was sent on August 10th 1987 and when he did not receive a reply he wrote again. Eventually he heard from Professor Bell in December with comments about finance and suggesting that Christopher should submit a price for say one gouache , twelve or the entire collection. Christopher McLaren wrote to Margaret to discuss values. In January 1988 he informed the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew that Margaret had said she would accept 300,000 US Dollars.

But the price was still too high for a cash-starved British institution and the reality was that Margaret's work was selling in Rio for up to 5000 US Dollars per painting. [It has to be noted that some were achieving far less - Editor ]. But RBG Kew's botanists were interested in the scientific value of the collection and the Director of the Herbarium Professor [academic title] Grenville Lucas supported the idea of purchasing it. He had met Margaret in about 1983/4 during one of her visits to London when she was staying with Dr Simon Mayo, an RBG Kew research botanist  

January 1988 Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

Margaret was working with Tony Morrison compiling material for her book commisioned almost a year earlier by Nonesuch Expeditions Ltd, and sifting her notes proceeded on a daily basis in her house in Rio de Janeiro  

Wednesday January 20th. Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro

Margaret introduced Tony Morrison to Simon Mayo.

Simon was working at the Rio Botanical Garden as part of a month long visit to Brasil. He had been given authority by the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew to offer £65.000 [roughly 100,000 dollars - 1988] for the 'Amazon Collection' He told Margaret that he felt regretfully that the sum did not match the amount she was asking because there were severe cash restraints in London. Margaret and Greville, who said he acted as business manager found it difficult to say ' no ' but they did. Margaret had a strong affection for ' Kew ' and was indebted for help given to her over the years but being an intensely practical person she said that the money was insufficient to fulfil her ambition.

Tony was not involved with Margaret's negative reaction to the offer though he added to her comments about the sum as even a small house near London was costing over £100,000 and prices were rising daily. He felt she would need much more and as institutional funds were clearly limited an alternative could be to raise funds by subscription from the public and industry. The collection would need to be valued and the most practical way or raising money would be via a 'Trust' which would purchase the collection and lend them to Kew for safe keeping. The' Trust' would ensure that the collection was never sold again, which although only a remote possibility was always a danger when Government funded institutions were short of cash. [Margaret Thatcher's government had just suggested that museums and galleries should turn out their cupboards and sell any spare works to raise money. It is enough to say here that Margaret Mee and Margaret Thatcher had widely different views on this and other matters -Editor- Margaret Thatcher was the British prime Minister]

Over cups of tea the idea was developed and Tony suggested that the corporate members of Canning House a centre for Latin American trade and culture in London should be persuaded to contribute. The idea of scholars and research benefiting from the Trust was mooted, and Margaret believed that a substantial part of the target figure of 500,000 US Dollars [£330,000 ] should be put towards funding students, possibly even artists making expeditions to study Amazonian flora. (3*) and (5*)

The proposed Trust would need support and Tony said he would approach Sir William Harding a retired British Ambassador to Brasil and then a Director of Lloyds Merchant Bank. [Sir William had previously taken an interest in two of Tony's South American projects, one in Peru and one in Brasil ].

Simon returned to London on February 7th after several meetings in Rio with Margaret, Greville and Tony he reported the ideas to the Kew directors. 

22nd February 1988 Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro 

Tony Morrison was working with Margaret at her home in Santa Teresa and they were nearing the completion of the first stage of editing. Annie Phillips a dynamic 'ex-pat' businesswoman who had helped Margaret and Greville through numerous crises was visiting for tea.It was at this moment that Simon telephoned from London with an increased offer from Kew of £100,000 [roughly 150,000 US Dollars or half the amount she had told Christopher she would accept] The new proposal from Kew proposed that the offer might have to be split - possibly over two years.    

In the course of a long conversation with Simon, Margaret again made it clear that the offer was kind but insufficient.She did not totally reject the offer as Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for internal financial reasons gave her a deadline of the end of February to agree their terms. Margaret said she needed time to think about it and Simon also told her that 'Kew' did not favour the idea of a Trust. Her letter, February 28th 1988 (4)

After Margaret had put down the telephone and first Annie then Tony Morrison added opinions, Annie Phillips had just bought a very small flat in London said that £100,000 had to be out of the question and there was too the matter of Greville's health. He needed to be in Britain to be sure of treatment. Tony again expressed caution referring to the[Conservative] British Government's pressure on state funded institutions to become self-supporting or even profitable.

The conclusion was unanimous. Margaret should not sell her paintings and the 'Trust' idea should be given a chance. In a further talk with Simon by 'phone she explained her reasons for declining the offer.

Monday 29th February 1988 London, England 

Professor Lucas 'phoned Christopher McLaren about the idea of a 'Trust' and on 8th March Christopher spoke to Simon Mayo. A meeting was arranged for the 18th March. Tony Morrison kept in touch with Simon who said that Professor Lucas had offered to host a meeting with Christopher. met in Grenville Lucas' office at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Friday March 18th Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Surrey, England

The Hon Christopher McLaren, Simon Mayo and Tony Morrison met in Prof. Lucasí office.The suggestion for a Trust was reviewed and the scholarship idea received a warm welcome from Prof.Lucas as it offered a positive way to give something to Brazil. [Kew's scientists enjoyed a good relationship with their Brasilian colleagues.The meeting was adjourned for lunch at the Rose and Crown a 'pub beside Kew Green.

Arising from the meeting Simon Mayo received Prof Lucas' approval to spend his time with Kew backing to act as secretary/ coordinator. Tony offered to write to Sir William (5) and talk with other potential supporters. Christopher was to look into legal matters. An exhibition of Margaret's work would be arranged by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to coincide with the launch of the book of Margaret's diaries and paintings, due for publication that autumn. Tony had already been in touch with Dr.John Hemming a long-time friend. Margaret was to be offered a lecture date at the Royal Geographical Society. Tony wrote again referring to the proposed 'Trust'.]

The next step was to convene a meeting at Canning House, London in June. By this time Professor Bell would be retired and Prof. Lucas would be acting Director pending the arrival of Professor Ghillean Prance, the Director designate. [Ghillean Prance had an long experience of Amazonian botany.] Simon Mayo and Tony Morrison collaborated closely to draw together the people who were to become the founding committee.

Friday June 3rd 1988 Canning House, Belgrave Square London , England

Present around a table - clockwise in order of seating

Sir William Harding (chairman )

Tony Morrison

The Hon. David Bigham (The Tryon Gallery)

Grenville Ll Lucas (RBG Kew)

Dr Raymond Harley (RBG Kew)

Dr John Hemming,

Marion Morrison,

Lady Harding,

The Hon. Christopher McLaren,

Sally Duchess of Westminster,

The Earl of Dartmouth,

Dr.Simon Mayo (RBG Kew).


At the foundation meeting, Sally Duchess of Westminster who had accompanied the 'Moonflower' party added her approval to the Trust proposal and Sir William asked all present to state their interests.After the idea had been discussed for a couple of hours Sir William suggested that the Committee should be formed from everyone present. A show of hands signalled unanimous agreement.

Prof. Lucas on behalf of Kew offered to mount an exhibition for the autumn and to publish an illustrated catalogue to the 'Collection' (6) John Hemming confirmed that The Royal Geographical Society had offered a lecture date to Margaret for 9th November[1988]. Tony and Marion Morrison promised that the book would be ready on time and Margaret Mee's proposed visit to the USA would be funded by Nonesuch Expeditions. Also, as Tony had been in touch with Missouri Botanical Garden they were asked to consider how the 'Amazon Collection' could be moved from the USA to London.

Prof. Lucas also suggested that the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew could provide the Secretariat for the Trust at least until it became financially independent and possibly contribute as much as £100,000.00 towards the purchase price of 'the Amazon Collection'collection [at that time 58 paintings - two were added later.]

Simon Mayo was asked if he would continue as Secretary and he began the daunting task of drawing together the numerous ends of the Trust enterprise.

Christopher McLaren became Deputy Chairman and general adviser on legal matters. Tony Morrison became chairman of the Finance sub-Committee [because of his Directorship with Nonesuch Expeditions it was felt it would be inappropriate for him to have a position with the legal Trust structure].

Soon after the meeting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office made a donation of £3000.00 'seed' money [a starting fund] and the 'Trust' began to take shape.

THE MARGARET MEE AMAZON TRUST was the name given to a 'company limited by guarantee' incorporated [legally established]a short while before Margaret's death in late 1988.
A 'Company Limited by Guarantee' is a non-commercial Company with Directors - in this case one from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and two from the Founding Committee. By British Law the Company exists to raise money without taxation as long the proceeds are used for charitable puposes. The Company is not permitted to 'trade'. Accounts have to be submitted annually to the Charity Commissioners, London England. The accounts are available for anyone to see

The objectives

To advance the education of people in Great Britain and elsewhere with reference to the botany, ecology and related matters of Brazilian Amazonia.

To purchase the 'Amazon Collection' and the archival material produced and assembled by Margaret [including her sketchbooks]. Once purchased the collection was to be deposited in a place where students could have access.

To raise money to pay for students ' particularly but not exclusively from South America to study in Great Britain or elsewhere'.

Plans for the Trust developed rapidly. Simon Mayo master- minded the administration and Tony Morrison prepared the publicity.

References [FLP]

1) Review by Wilfrid Blunt. Royal Horticultural Society, 1969

2) Personal communication.

3) Memo from Simon Mayo, RBG Kew, 10th February 1988.

4) Letter from Margaret to Christopher McLaren 28th February 1998.

5) Letter from Tony Morrison to Sir William Harding 5th April 1988

6) Margaret Mee's Amazon- by Dr Simon Mayo ISBN 0 947643 13 3 [The definitive guide to the Amazon Collection.].

7) Letter from Margaret to a friend in London, July 1988 Referring to the Trust she wrote ' It is really fantastic , it will enable Brazilian students and botanists to study in Kew, or I imagine in English universities or in the Amazon. For me this is one of the highlights and hanging on to my paintings has proved worthwhile.'

The full story can be found in the minutes of the Trust compiled by Simon Mayo until he resumed his research in mid-1990. Simon was succeeded by Martin Pendred and when he 'retired', by Michael Daly an ex-British ambassador

                CONTINUE TO PART TWO

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