Behind The Scenes, 30 August 2017: A trip to the offsite store

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

I went to our offsite store for the first time recently and was given a tour by our Registrar Nicki Thomas. I took a few snaps while she was showing me around which I thought I would share with you in this week’s post.

Our works are stored over two floors. On one floor we have our Cottonian Collection, objects from our world cultures collection and, as shown in the photo below, crated works of art and some items that have recently returned to us from Buckland Abbey where they have been on loan.

We also have some enormous rolled canvases. This one is called ‘The Release of St Peter’. The frame, which as you can imagine is also huge, is stored separately. Storing large-scale items in this way is a much more practical solution.

When we were decanting the Museum last year our curators talked a lot about how the process was enabling them to learn more about the collections, verify and update our documentation and highlight areas that need to be prioritised for research. Nicki echoed this while she was showing me around.

This part of the store also contains some pieces of sculpture………

……….and our costume collection, all of which would have been frozen to minimise the likelihood of any bugs or pests in the fabrics, and then gone through a period of defrosting before being placed into storage.

On the other floor we have more art, some archaeology and more world cultures. We also have other resources and equipment. This floor is warmer and staff monitor the environment at all times to ensure everything is being stored in the most appropriate conditions. There are also workstation areas for staff and prep areas where works of art can be unwrapped or wrapped if needs be.

This wonderful artwork shown in one of the prep areas is ‘Kilchurn Castle’ by JMW Turner. It’s due to go on loan to the Scottish Portrait Gallery soon. They will be touring it and a number of other works by Turner to Japan. It’s likely that we’ll have a small number of additional loans going out to international venues in the near future. We’ll fill you in on these in a future post!

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Build Update, 23 August 2017: More progress on site

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Since our last #BuildUpdate the demolition of the post-war extension at the back of the former Central Library has been completed.

Photograph of the demolition work at The Box construction site, August 2017

With the building cleared you can really see the extent of the site for the first time – take a look at our web cam shot from 9 August below. A reduced level dig which will create the level surface needed for construction work, and piling which will provide the structural support needed for construction work, are both now underway. Don’t forget, you can keep a regular eye on the footage from our web cam via our website.

Photograph from The Box web cam, 9 August 2017

Another way to stay up to date with progress is by coming along to our Hard Hat Tours. We have now unveiled a new series of dates and times for the rest of the year. The tours have proven to be really popular so far, so if you want to come along it’s best to book your place as quickly as possible. Find out more from the what’s on section of our website.

You can also get an insight into what happens on one of our Hard Hat Tours in this video clip. A big thanks to our construction and regeneration specialists Willmott Dixon for their cooperation with making the video and for running the tours. Just click on the arrow to watch the video now (running time 1 minute 51 seconds).

Other developments this month include the completion of the scaffolding to the North Hill elevation of the former Museum and Art Gallery building. The scaffold ‘shrink wrap’ is also now in place and will protect the fabric of the building.

Photograph of the scaffold shrink wrap at The Box, Plymouth - August 2017

Those of you who use Regent Street and Tavistock Place will have noticed that scaffolding to part of the exterior of St Luke’s Church is also now in place. It’s been another productive month!

Photograph of scaffolding to the rear of the St Luke's Church building at The Box, Plymouth - 16 August 2017

That’s all for this round up. We’ll have another #BuildUpdate for you in September that highlights yet more progress on site……….

Plymouth History Heroes: Beryl Cook OBE

With the ‘Our Beryl’ exhibition currently on display at the Council House and receiving brilliant feedback from everyone who visits it, we just had to feature Beryl Cook OBE (1926-2008) as this month’s History Hero!

Photograph of Beryl Cook OBE

Born Beryl Frances Lansley in Egham, Surrey in 1926, she would go on to produce an array of artworks full of larger than life characters that ‘ranged from stout lady bowlers goosing each other to middle-aged men in bikinis being serviced by Miss Whiplash.’ Many of her paintings feature scenes and locations from Plymouth. 

Her work is instantly recognisable and highlights the fascination she had with people. Throughout her career she made no apology for the playfulness of her work: “What excites me is the joy, the animation, the pleasure in life,” she once told the Guardian.

“Beryl took great interest in people and loved to see them performing and enjoying themselves,” says her son John Cook. “From nightlife of all varieties, to the more innocent pursuits of line dancing and sunbathing, a diverse spectrum of human activity can be found in her paintings.”

Despite her strong sense of fun and popularity, Beryl was quite reserved and actually found fame hard to deal with: “She loved to imagine herself as an extrovert though,” says John. “She often painted herself in various guises such as on a motorbike, in a shiny corset, as a cheerleader or even dancing the tango.”

'John and Beryl Do the Tango' by Beryl Cook. Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com

Our exhibition has been co-curated with Beryl’s family and they have a fantastic website where you can find out even more about her.

Visit the Arty Facts page to see a timeline which highlights key moments in her life – including her marriage to John Cook in 1948, her first exhibition at Plymouth Arts Centre in 1975 and receiving her OBE in 1995. Her ‘Girls on the Town’ painting was featured on a 1st class postage stamp the same year!

Photograph of the Great British postage stamp featuring 'Girls on the Town' by Beryl Cook, 1995

On the website you can also see a selection of family photos and take a look at some of the obituaries that were published when she sadly passed away in 2008.

You can also read a great personal account written by her son John. His biography covers her early life, marriage, time in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), return to the UK, move to Plymouth in 1968 and artistic career.

Happy reading and don’t forget, the ‘Our Beryl: Beryl Cook at Home’ exhibition runs until the end of Saturday 9 September and is free to visit. Find out more about it here.

 

 

 

 

Museum On Tour, 9 August 2017: In at the deep end!

by Stacey Turner, Events and Audience Development Coordinator

Nothing quite makes you learn like jumping into the deep end. That has been my mantra since starting as the Events and Audience Development Coordinator for Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives in late April 2017.

Local Studies Day, the first event in the city-wide Plymouth History Festival programme, was my initiation. Since then I have been lucky enough to have worked on some awesome projects, from exhibition previews through to launching The Box at Drake Circus. Not bad for the first twelve weeks in a new job!

My first event was the 2017 Local Studies Day which kicked off the Plymouth History Festival

I have quickly learned that for an event to be successful we must all be working as one team. We release a new exhibitions and events programme each season and each department has a crucial role in the process. From initial concepts and ideas with the Programmes and Collections Teams to procurement and bookings with the Business Support Team (affectionately known as BuST), support from Front of House and advertising and social media support from Marketing.

It all adds up to a wide-ranging events and activities programme that we are currently calling our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme. Every 3 months we launch a new series of, on average 30+ activities that aim to engage with all our audiences in different ways.

Our autumn/winter programme will be released shortly and the team have come up with some cracking events for the rest of 2017.

Out and about at a recent community event

We’re one of the partners for ‘We The People Are The Work’, a multi-site visual arts project with an exhibition that will be based across 5 sites in Plymouth, including the Council House. Opening to coincide with the start of the Plymouth Art Weekender (22–24 September), internationally renowned artists from Britain, France, Canada and Mexico will present their work to the public. Over 40 events will run at the various sites until mid-November. The perfect antidote to the days that will soon be drawing in and the lack of Love Island, Poldark and Game of Thrones……….

We’ll also have lots of other events and activities happening between now and Christmas – details of which will shortly go live on our website. I hope to see you soon at one or more of them!

Behind The Scenes, 3 August 2017: Working together to create a splash

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

By now hopefully those of you who follow us will know that we have launched a new name and brand for what was previously known as the Plymouth History Centre (working title). As a marketeer I can’t tell you how great it is to now be working with a definitive title and visual identity for this exciting project and to finally be able to ditch those brackets!

The Box logo - July 2017

Our launch took the form of a teaser campaign and ‘top secret’ volunteer call out in the local press and social media, followed by a reveal on our promotional leaflets, construction site hoardings and website on 22 July. This was backed up with some great press coverage and two fantastic performances in the Drake Circus shopping mall. The performances were commissioned from the Barbican Theatre and featured a number of local performers, choreographers, artists and musicians.

Our new name has generated a great deal of debate which we really welcome. There are a number of reasons why we chose it. These are outlined in our official press release which I’d encourage anyone who would like to understand more about the development process we’ve been through and the rationale behind the brand to read.

Photograph of the front of The Box leaflet - July 2017

I’ve been involved in a number of branding projects and launch events during my career and they all bring their own set of unique challenges with them – especially when there’s a great deal of interest and expectation in the project or organisation they represent. There are three things that really stand out for me about this particular launh.

The first thing is the great teamwork that took place. Getting ready for the launch required a number of people with a wide range of skills to collaborate. Along with myself it involved contributions from colleagues in public art, events and audience development, digital engagement, volunteer coordination and business support. We also had to engage with a range of suppliers from graphic design, web development, film and video production, to photography, public relations, merchandising, printing – even air filling for balloons!

The second thing was the amount of help we received. We had a lovely group of enthusiastic volunteers assisting us throughout the day. We were also lucky enough to benefit from a great deal of support and cooperation from the local media as well as the team who manage Drake Circus and the mall’s retailers, especially Marks and Spencer and Yo Sushi. We are very grateful to everyone.

The third thing was the quality of the performances devised and directed by the Barbican Theatre which were pieces of global contemporary dance combined with street theatre, rap and folk music.

Curious ‘choruses’ of walking boxes wove their way around the shopping mall before aerial dancers and performers gathered to open and unwrap a series of objects. Our new strapline, ‘Where the greatest explorer is you’ was referenced, with Polynesian-influenced moves inspired by our world cultures collections, and the discovery of a character representing the female mountaineer Gertrude Benham in a packing case. Huge thanks and congratulations to the directors, choreographers, designers, artists, performers and musicians involved.

As our CEO Paul Brookes said: “Like our architecture, ‘The Box’ as our title is a brave, contemporary move. As the launch performances from the Barbican Theatre team showed, although at first glance it may appear simple it actually holds a multitude of meanings. The performances also illustrated how Plymouth’s cultural sector can work with the businesses and facilities within the city centre to showcase the artistic journey we are all on together.”

Greg Lumley, Drake Circus Centre Director said: “A massive congratulations to The Box team. It looks like it will be an exciting and welcome addition to the city. The Drake Circus team look forward to working with The Box to ensure we continue to create a compelling visitor offer that positively impacts the local economy.”

I’ll leave you with the links to our official launch video and the images from the performances. Until next time…..

Main performance images:

10

Curious chorus images:

16

Official launch video:

Build Update, 19 July 2017: Onwards and upwards

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

We’re mid-way through July already and there’s plenty more progress on site.

Watch the web cam footage from last month for an overview of what happened in June.

The mechanical demolition work that started in the middle of June continues. Here are some quick shots that show you how progress is being made.

Photograph of demolition work at the Plymouth History Centre - June 2017

The work to remove the non-Listed portion of the former Central Library is crucial to the development of the History Centre. Once it’s gone it will create the space needed to construct what we affectionately refer to as our ‘box in the sky’.

Photograph of demolition work at the Plymouth History Centre site on 3 July 2017

This is the extension where the collections from the South West Image Bank, South West Film and Television Archive and Plymouth and West Devon Record Office will be stored.

At the moment all three archives are in need of a new home and are being stored in locations around the city that are no longer fit for purpose. The archives are extremely important and require specialist environmental conditions to ensure that what’s contained within is preserved to as high a standard as possible. Creating the new extension will enable us to achieve these things – plus it will look great and will provide a wonderful focal point for the History Centre as a whole, completely transforming Tavistock Place.

Visual of the Plymouth History Centre extension

Those of you who walk or drive up and down North Hill will have noticed how the scaffolding scheme is nearly covering the entire Museum and Art Gallery building now. Here’s an image from about 10 days ago showing how far the scaffolders have progressed.

Scaffolding on the former Museum and Art Gallery in Plymouth, 3 July 2017

I’ll close this post with a link to our April to June 2017 Progress Report video – a testament to just how much has been achieved in the last three months, both on site and elsewhere.

History Centre Heroes: Benjamin Robert Haydon

Plymouth-born Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) was an historical painter, teacher and writer who had a stormy life and career.

Intensely ambitious, he was the only son of another Benjamin Robert Haydon, a prosperous printer, stationer and publisher, and his wife Mary, the daughter of the Reverend Benjamin Cobley, rector of Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge.

Haydon showed a love for study at an early age which was encouraged by his mother. He went to Plympton Grammar School where one of our other famous artists, Sir Joshua Reynolds had also received his education.

In May 1804 Haydon left home full of energy and hope and went to London where he studied at the Royal Academy Schools.

His ambition was to become the greatest historical painter England had ever known and he produced a series of huge canvases featuring biblical and classical subjects. Unfortunately these were out of favour with the public at the time. Haydon was unwilling to compromise his ideals and suffered a series of bankruptcies and imprisonments. Throughout his career he also had many disagreements with his peers and patrons.

The Maid of Saragossa – one of Haydon’s history paintings. Image © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

One of his works entitled ‘Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem’ took him six years to complete during which he refused other work and was effectively without an income. His preference for working on a vast scale was also hampered by an eye defect that apparently enabled him to see only one part of a canvas at a time.

Aside from the difficulties he had with his painting, he was actually a very talented writer who produced a number of diaries, pamphlets, journals and an autobiography.

Overcome by his debts and disappointments Haydon committed suicide on 22 June 1846, shooting himself and then cutting his throat when the bullet failed.

He would have been in his mid-30s when this portrait from our collections by Scottish artist William Nicholson RSA (1781-1844) was painted around 1820.

Portrait of Haydon by William Nicholson RSA (1781-1844), circa 1820. Image © Plymouth City Council (Arts and Heritage).

His tragic end made him a victim of his own ambition just as much as of the changing tastes of the time.

But, his love for his art was a passion he was never afraid to hide and one critic commented that: ‘His great monument…..is the massive collection of…..writings he left behind…..which give fascinating insights into the contemporary artistic scene…..’