Decant Day, 3 May 2017: News from the offsite store

by Lottie Clark, Curator of Decorative Art

Spring has finally sprung and we’ve now set up our permanent home at ‘MASS’, our offsite store!

The last few months have seen many changes at the store. We are now housing all the art collections (including fine art, decorative art, sculpture and costume), our Designated Cottonian Collection, the ethnography collection and some of our archaeology collections, plus an array of other Museum materials and equipment. We also have a dedicated team based at the store. This means we’ve been able to welcome both researchers and volunteers back to explore our collections!

We’ve had Amanda Yale, an independent Paper Conservator commissioned by the University of Plymouth, looking at our Cottonian Collection. Amanda spent a few weeks conducting a survey of all of the books within the collection as well as the archive, which has never been catalogued or put on display. Our hope is that her work will feed into a joint project with the University, one of our History Centre partners, to digitise the entire Cottonian Collection for future research and use.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve welcomed the first of our volunteers too. Jane Howlett and Celia Bean were two of the incredible team of volunteers who assisted with the decant of the Museum and Art Gallery building last year and they’ve been itching to come back and lend us a hand. Recently they’ve been re-assessing and documenting our ceramics collection in preparation for the new displays we’ll be creating for the History Centre when it opens in 2020.

Volunteer Jane Howlett lending us a hand at MASS

Madeleine Shaw, another of our volunteers, has been working with our Collections Assistants on our works on paper programme. Through this we hope to inventory and re-house all our works on paper in improved conditions in order to preserve them for even more centuries to come.

This is no mean feat: the collection encompasses prints, watercolours, drawings, sketches and even miscellany like velum manuscripts, letters and marriage certificates. It amounts to approximately 11,000 individual works which we are looking to improve both the storage and documentation information of by 2020.

Collections Assistants Jackie and Claire making progress with the works on paper programme

Luckily, one of our newest additions to MASS has more than a helping hand in this project – and many more besides. Terah Walkup joined us as our new Fine Art Curator at the beginning of April and she’s already made an incredible impact on our work with the art collections. Originally from Texas, Terah hails from Exeter and comes to us via RAMM and the Art Institute of Chicago. She’s thrown herself headfirst into the works on paper programme, has been getting up to speed with History Centre developments, given a Bite Size talk at Peninsula Arts about their ‘Thinking Tantra’ exhibition, and more. Not bad for her first month!

As well as these ongoing projects we’ve seen items from our collections go out on tour to other venues in the South West. These include ‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan, now on display in the Museum of Somerset’s ‘A Fragile Beauty’ exhibition. Over 100 pieces of Plymouth Porcelain to the Cookworthy Museum, Kingsbridge for their ‘William Cookworthy: Pioneer of Porcelain’ exhibition. All these loans were coordinated from MASS and there are more in the pipeline.

'Green Devon' by Robert Polhill Bevan from the collections of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery
‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan can currently be seen on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton

For now the work continues exploring and improving our collections here and we look forward to keeping you updated with all our discoveries in the lead up to 2020.

If you’e interested in any volunteering opportunities, either with the team here at MASS, or the wider Arts & Heritage Service, please contact our new Volunteer and Early Career Development Officer on rebecca.wikes@plymouth.gov.uk

History Centre Heroes: Antony Jinman

by Rosemary Babichev

Supreme Plymouth hero Robert Falcon Scott attempted to conquer the Antarctic by being the first to set foot there, and won fame for the boldness of his efforts to obtain this accolade for the nation, although it ended in tragedy for him and his team. In contrast Antony Jinman, the twelfth Britain to ski alone to the world’s bottommost point is campaigning against a tragedy of all humankind – climate change, having seen for himself the cold that killed Scott fatally losing its power.

Jinman was born in 1981 at Wembury. He served four years in the navy as a surveyor on a vessel named after his mentor – HMS Scott, but then had to leave due to long-term ill health. Still wanting to pursue his passion for exploration, in 2010 he organised an expedition to the North Pole that allowed school children to track progress and communicate with him using a satellite link and drones to send astonishing pictures of the ice sheets he and his team had to cross.

Photograph of polar explorer Antony Jinman walking across the ice

The schools were highly enthusiastic and frequently invited him to come and speak about his experiences afterwards, so much so that he set up a company – Education through Exhibitions CIC offering Polar Fun Days, teaching resources on the Earth’s poles, as well as courses in expedition skills and leadership aimed at executives and university science departments.

In 2011 the importance of his contribution to education on climate change was recognised by the University of the West of England, which awarded him an honorary doctorate. He is also Explorer in Residence at Plymouth University. By the end of 2016 Jinman and his team had been to over 700 schools.

In 2014 just over one hundred years after Scott’s expedition, Jinman set off for the Antarctic. Using skis and the advantages of modern lightweight camping gear he was able to forgo Scott’s ill advised dog bearers and pulled everything he needed himself on a sled weighing 120 kilos, crossing the 730 miles of snow and ice alone.

Photograph of polar explorer Antony Jinman reaching the South Pole

As he slid through the perpetual sunlight of the southernmost summer in temperatures of -30˚ he maintained contact with children from 63 schools in the UK and elsewhere answering questions, discussing issues and most importantly, describing everything around him – each minute of his waking day allowing them to be with him virtually, sharing in the heroism and real-life engagement with the science of his own survival and that of the planet. For Plymouth University he tested his memory to investigate its effectiveness in extreme conditions for research into dementia.

Jinman’s next plan is to climb Mount Everest by 2018, and while he will belong to a constantly growing group of adventurers who have already done so, few if any will have achieved so much to fire the imaginations of those who will be responsible for protecting the fierce beauty of the Earth’s extremities, so they remain part of the complex system sustaining life on earth.

Museum On Tour, 15 February 2017: Maker Memories #1

The Maker Memories project logo

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

We’ve started highlighting some of the major community projects and initiatives we’re working on this year while our building is closed for the development of the History Centre.

We’ve already blogged about the collections we’ve loaned out to a range of venues and started to share information about the walking tours project we’re working in partnership with the Barbican Theatre on.

Today we thought it would be good to talk about a very timely project that’s taking place in South East Cornwall.

‘Maker Memories’ is a volunteer-led community project designed to capture the rich and diverse heritage of Maker Camp on the Rame Peninsula. It’s led by volunteers from the Maker and Rame Community Interest Company. We’re working in partnership with them and lending our support. Our work is being led by Tony Davey, one of our Learning Development Officers.

An aerial photograph of Maker Camp in South East Cornwall

A former military base located in between the villages of Cremyll and Kingsand, Maker Camp has had many uses over the past 200 years.

From the 1920s to the early 1980s many people attended the camp thanks to a scheme established by the MP Nancy Astor and her Virginia House Settlement for ‘deprived city children’. It resulted in thousands of children (mainly from Plymouth) having their first, and sometimes only childhood holiday at Maker.

Black and white photograph of Maker Camp

More recent accounts include stories from hundreds of musicians who have played at The Random Arms and Energy Room on the site, festival goers from the former Maker Sunshine Festival, a number of artists who have had studios at the camp, holidaymakers who have camped in the fields overlooking the sea and people who have used it as their wedding venue.

A black and white photograph of a group of people having a picnic at Maker Camp, S E Cornwall

Through the project we’re hoping to capture as many of these rich and varied stories that still exist in peoples’ living memory as possible.

Our aim is to support the Maker and Rame Community Interest Company preserve the rich social history of Maker Camp from a time when it thrived right though to the present day. The project will feature in a community gallery space in the History Centre once it’s opened in 2020.

As the months progress we’ll be capturing oral accounts from those who’ve spent time at the camp over the years and hosting a series of events where people can drop in to share their memories, letters, pictures, videos and other memorabilia.

If you’d like to get involved you can find the project on Flickr and Facebook. Other social media channels are also being established and a website is under development.

You can also email info@makermemories.org with anything you’d like to share.

Logo lock up for the Maker Memories project

Decant Day, 8 February 2017: Bows, arrows, axes and spears

By Steve Conway, Decant Officer

As you know we have finished the decant of the Museum and Art Gallery building, which is now in the process of being turned into a construction site. The final few weeks towards the end of last year were extremely busy. Now we have all the objects safely moved to our offsite store, I thought I’d take a few minutes to highlight one of the final tasks we dealt with and never got time to cover on the blog before Christmas.

This particular task involved emptying the weapons from the ethnography, or world cultures store in the basement of the Museum. Not the sort of thing you do every day!

The weapons come from all over the world and include bows, arrows axes, clubs and spears. Some of the spears are quite sharp and measure up to 3 metres in length. This makes them quite awkward and unwieldy to move.

As a result, we were faced with the slightly unusual challenge of needing to devise a safe transport solution that wouldn’t just protect the objects, but the team of people who were handling them too.

Our solution was to re-use our large transit-frames which are usually meant for transporting large oil paintings. As you can see from the image below, we added strong polypropylene mesh to the frames and then tied the weapons to it with soft cotton tape.

A photograph of a transit frame with weapons attached to it for transportation
A transit-frame re-deployed for transporting the weapons

This was a fairly time consuming task as we only had three transit-frames available to use. This meant we had to unpack each frame as soon as it arrived at the offsite store and move the weapons onto extra mesh that we’d installed there. This quickly freed up the transit-frame so we could use it to transport another group of weapons.

Now the work is done and they’re all on display at the store the effect is really impressive – as you can see from these images below!

A photograph of a series of world cultures weapons on temporary racking
An image of the weapons in their new (temporary) home at the offsite store
A photograph of weapons and bark cloths from Plymouth Museum's world cultures collection in temporary storage
A different view of some of the weapons along with some rolled bark cloths from our world cultures collection
A photograph of long ethno weapons in temporary storage
More weapons in storage – you can see how the length and shape of some of these might make them difficult to pack and move

History Centre Heroes: Jamie Lawson

Jamie Lawson was born in St Budeaux in 1975. He went to school in Plymouth and continued to be based here for much of the time afterwards, but shot to the heights of pop celebrity in 2015 with the single ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’. This was an appropriate title given that he was already in his late thirties and though an established singer songwriter, had not necessarily seemed destined for stardom.

The song was a very much in the tradition of English folk ballads, telling of a romance ending shockingly in death by cancer, so his success can be seen as a testament to the value of genuinely meaningful content in pop music. His is a dream realised through sincerity as much as ambition, and is all the more deserving of respect for that.

By the time of his first great hit Lawson had performed at local venues for more than twenty years, including the B-Bar in the Barbican Theatre and The Hub; so close to the Pavilions, known for its gigs by nationally renowned bands. He had already completed two albums of his songs: Last Night Stars (2006) and Pull of the Moon (2010), the second achieving some success in New Zealand.

A photograph of Plymouth-born singer Jamie Lawson

His third album came out in Ireland in 2011 where his music’s simple-hearted directness met with widespread appreciation. It reached eleventh position in the Irish charts. The song that was to become so famous was its title track: its hard-hitting lyrics, starting out as a cloyingly perfect tale of romance, marriage and parenthood twisting sharply near the end when the idyll is interrupted.

Its potential mass appeal was noticed by Ed Sheeran while they were both performing on London’s folk circuit. Sheeran, a now internationally established singer in his own right, was moving into production and on the lookout for music compatible with his own work to release under his new label – The Gingerbread Man.

A photograph of Ed Sheeran and Jamie Lawson

Sheeran’s folk rock deals with the life cycle and serious social issues (for example prostitution in ‘The A Team’, 2011), and he has said Lawson’s hit inspired his song about the death of a relative (‘Affire Love’, 2014). Never was a friend so well repaid. Their success perhaps shows a growing need for authenticity in UK culture.

Lawson’s third album became The Gingerbread Man’s first release on 3 April 2015. It rose through the charts. ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ eventually reaching sixth place in the singles charts, third in Australia and taking the album to the top of the UK charts by the end of October the same year. He is the first musician Plymouth born and bred ever to achieve this.

His name now appears alongside such international stars as Elton John – in Hyde Park, summer 2016, and at a festival also featuring Paul McCartney in the Netherlands. He is a role model for children at his former schools, Barn Barton Primary and Tamarside Community College, and for all struggling musicians, writing out their lives in music, and singing to small gatherings of faithful fans in pubs and clubs of the South West. His song has turned a neutral phrase into a cultural meme, and even spawned a game of improvised rhyming on Radio 1, just showing you never know what fortune awaits you.

Watch a clip of Jamie performing at the Museum’s 2010 ‘Gig in the Gallery’ event.

Written by Rosemary Babichev.

Museum On Tour, 18 January 2017: Collections on loan across the region and beyond

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Over the past few months we’ve used a lot of our blog posts to highlight the decant of the Museum and Art Gallery. Now that process is coming to an end we’ll be sharing information about some of the other work we’re doing as a result of the History Centre.

A big area of work for a number of our staff is our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme – the programme of exhibitions, events, partnership initiatives and community engagement projects we’re undertaking in offsite locations while our building is closed.

One element of this involves our collections, selected highlights from which either have or will be going on loan.

Photograph of a Plymouth Porcelain lion on display at Wheal Martyn, St AustellThese include items from our historically significant Plymouth Porcelain collection which can currently be seen in an exhibition called ‘Passion for Porcelain – Elegant Charm from China Clay’ at the Wheal Martyn Heritage Centre near St Austell.

The exhibition, which is on display until the summer focuses on the important role Cornwall played in the development of British porcelain. It also explores the ground-breaking discovery made by William Cookworthy in the 1700s in making true hard-paste porcelain. Devon-born Cookworthy was a chemist who had an apothecary on Notte Street, Plymouth. He went on to set up England’s first-ever porcelain factory in the Sutton Harbour area of the city.

finding-prehistory-at-princetown1Archaeological treasures from the Museum’s collections can also now be viewed in an exhibition called ‘Finding Prehistory’, on display at Dartmoor National Park’s award-winning visitor centre in Princetown.

The exhibition, which will remain on display until the end of 2018, includes stone tools, ceramic urns and flint implements from the Bronze Age and shines a light on the lives of the people who lived on Dartmoor thousands of years ago.

Other collections ‘On Tour’ include an Egyptian statuette of a seated goddess with the head of a lioness in ‘Animal Mummies Revealed’ at Liverpool’s World Museum until 26 February. The exhibition explores the background and practices associated with ancient Egyptian animal mummies, which were prepared in their millions as votive offerings to the gods.

‘Green Devon’ by Robert Polhill Bevan can be seen on display at the Museum of Somerset, Taunton from 25 March to 8 July. This popular painting is included in an exhibition about the Camden Town Group – an Edwardian artists’ collective that became famous for their realistic works of everyday life.

Photograph of a yellow Plymouth Porcelain butter tub from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery's collectionsMore than 100 Plymouth Porcelain items will then go on display at Kingsbridge Museum from 27 March to 28 October in a new exhibition called ‘William Cookworthy: Pioneer of Porcelain’.

Loaning our collections to other venues while our building is closed is great for us in more ways than one. It’s providing access to some of our most important and best-loved objects and works of art. It’s also enabling us to develop and work in partnership with a range of different organisations – partnerships which we hope to continue in the future.

Decant Day, 14 January 2017: An emotional milestone

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

We’ve had a short break from blogging while staff take a well deserved Christmas holiday and then have a couple of weeks to get back into the swing of things – but we’d like to wish you all a belated Happy New Year!

We’re feeling a bit nostalgic at the moment and for a very good reason. Last year as the months ticked by we reached and passed a number of different milestones with the History Centre project. It’s only the middle of January and here with are with yet another one. For many of us it’s a significant and quite emotional one……….

From Monday 16 January 2017 this building, the Central Library, St Luke’s Church and the section of Tavistock Place that sits in between them will start to become a construction site. Changes will soon become more visible on the outside rather than just the inside. It will certainly be a while until we can come back into the building without having to wear hard hats!

When we do return it will be to assist with the fit out of our new galleries and exhibition spaces and to get organised for our launch. By that point, everything will have changed. This is it. Nothing here is ever going to be the same again.

Since staff came back to work this month there’s been a ‘final push’ to clear the building as much as possible. All our collection objects were safely moved before Christmas but we still had furniture, cases, resources and equipment to deal with.

We also had people. The handover of the building means that a number of staff, namely our front of house team, business support team and art department have lost their offices. This has necessitated a shuffle around and re-organisation of many of the offices and people in our Annexe building in order to ensure everyone has somewhere to work.

We’ve written a lot about the decant over the past few months and hopefully our posts have given you an insight into the huge amount of work that’s been undertaken. We started packing behind the scenes quite early in 2016, but as soon our closing party on 3 September was over, our foyer quickly became a ‘departure lounge’ for our collections……….

foyer-collage

From contemporary commissions, to paintings and prints, to natural history specimens and much, much more, cases throughout the building were emptied of their contents which were then packed, wrapped, documented and moved to our offsite store……….

A photograph of a large case on the Museum balcony being emptiedA photograph showing the art gallery being packed up

Cases that were once full of objects and specimens quickly became empty……….

natural-history-collage

The decant has seen us deal with porcupines, aardvarks, works of art, Scott of the Antarctic’s skis, pickled marine creatures, Ancient Egyptian mummy coffins and everything in between……….

random-collage

…..so now we move into another new phase. While construction work gets underway our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme is growing and evolving. Later this month we begin hosting exhibitions at the Council House in Plymouth’s city centre. We’re recruiting for some new staff who should all be in post by late spring. Briefs for a series of artistic commissions are being developed, and a number of new community projects are getting off the ground. We’ll be blogging about all of these in the coming months.

Our ultimate aim with the History Centre is to create a visitor experience that highlights and provides greater access to Plymouth’s collections, builds on the reputation we’ve established for exhibitions, commissions and events, and acts as the driving force for a step change in the city’s cultural and heritage offer.

As you might guess, this means we still have a massive amount of work to do! It’s exciting and scary all at the same time. When we do hand the building over it will be the end of an era – but as the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw once said: progress is impossible without change.