Museum On Tour, 5 July 2017: Summer’s here and autumn’s in the planning

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Our Beryl: Beryl Cook at Home
Our new Beryl Cook exhibition has been open for just over a week and we’re thrilled with how it looks. As I mentioned in last month’s #MuseumOnTour post, we’ve co-curated it with her family which has given us access to some of her earliest and quirkiest works.

The exhibition will be on display until the end of 9 September and is free to view at the Council House. We’ve got lots of events taking place over the summer which take their inspiration from the exhibition which we hope you’ll enjoy if you come along.

Advert for the Beryl Cook exhibition at Plymouth's Council House June 2017

The Cook family has produced a range of merchandise which we’re also selling in the exhibition. Lisa Coombes, one of my colleagues who works in our Business Support team, has overseen the creation of a retail area which looks great.

This is the third exhibition we’ve hosted at the Council House this year. It’s great to have a space where we can continue to run a temporary exhibition programme even though our main building is closed.

Turning part of what has always been a private building into a public space is not without its challenges – especially when the building doesn’t belong to you and is used for a variety of functions. We have been working with a number of our City Council colleagues behind the scenes to ensure everything runs as smoothly as it possibly can. We’ve also installed some extra signage on and around the Council House for members of the public who still aren’t sure where it’s located – it’s the building to the left of the Civic Centre.

Photograph of the front of the Council House Plymouth

 

We The People Are The Work
One of our main autumn/winter partnership projects is ‘We The People Are The Work’. It sees us collaborating with Peninsula Arts, Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth Arts Centre and KARST on a multi-site exhibition which will be on display from 22 September to 18 November.

‘We The People Are The Work’ has been curated by Simon Morrissey. It will feature a series of new artworks by five international artists that explore our engagement with politics and identity. Take a look at the website for more information about the project and the artists. We’ll be revealing more about this and some of our other forthcoming projects in the coming weeks!

Decant Day, 31 May 2017: Collections Roundup

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

It’s been another busy few weeks for our Collections staff so I thought I’d round up a handful of the things they’ve been working on in this post.

Plymouth – From Destruction to Construction
We recently opened an exhibition at the Council House called ‘Plymouth – From Destruction to Construction’. The exhibition has been coordinated by two of our Learning Development Officers and looks at the impact of the Blitz on Plymouth and the ambitious plan that was devised to rebuild the city afterwards.

Our Curator of Decorative Art has organised some objects from our art collection to be included in the displays including a jug, cup, teapot, bottle and ceremonial trowel. The first four of these were all smoke and heat damaged in the Blitz. The jug even has another object fused to its inside from the impact. You can see them on show in the exhibition throughout the year.

Heat damaged object from Plymouth City Council's Arts and Heritage Service's collection
An image showing the inside of the jug
Photograph of the Blitz exhibition at the Council House Plymouth, May 2017
The objects on display in the exhibition

Ropewalks
Objects from the collections across the History Centre partnership were also recently used in the research and development of a brand new series of theatrical walking tours. Our ‘Ropewalks’ explore the history of the Barbican area and have been developed in partnership with the Barbican Theatre and writer Jon Nash. The team who devised the project and script have drawn on research conducted with the Museum and Art Gallery, the Devonport Naval Heritage Centre and the South West Film and Television Archive.

Members of the team have been blogging regularly about the work they’ve been doing and you can find links to all their posts here. Tickets for performances in June and August are now on sale. Those that have taken place throughout May have had brilliant feedback from audiences.

Photograph of the cast members of Ropewalks, Plymouth - May 2017
Our ‘Ropewalks’ performers have really impressed audiences so far

Staff Away Day
Staff from most of the History Centre partners, including some of our Curators and Archivists, recently took part in an Away Day at Mount Edgcumbe.

Although there are lots of meetings taking place for the History Centre all the time it’s really rare that we all get the chance to spend the day together away from our offices. The event was an opportunity for us to discuss and share ideas about the kind of organisation we will become in the future, as well as work with people we don’t often collaborate with. One exercise where we worked in small groups of six to brainstorm ideas for exhibitions and then feed them back to everyone else was a real highlight and produced some really interesting results.

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Our staff Away Day was a good opportunity for everyone to share ideas

Forward Planning
For the first time ever I officially heard the words ‘Recant Programme’ in a meeting a couple of weeks ago! It only seems like yesterday that we were planning how we were going to empty the Museum and Art Gallery so building and construction work could take place. Now, our Collections staff are already starting to think about what they’ll need to do to move everything back in 2019 – as well as bring the collections from the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, South West Film and Television Archive and South West Image Bank onto site. More on this in future posts!

……….and finally
One of the most major pieces of work that our Curators and Archivists have been involved in over the last few months is the development of the designs for the new galleries that will feature in the History Centre. As I highlighted in a previous post back in March, it’s a huge piece of work.

More progress has been made on this over the last couple of months and a series of workshops have been held with Event Communications who are leading on the gallery design.

Each workshop has focused on a particular gallery, has lasted for 2-3 hours and involved management and education staff too. The sessions have been fairly intense at times as people challenge each other to ensure we end up with the very best design – but it’s a process which has also strengthened our collective vision for the project.

We should be receiving some updated visuals from Event in the next couple of weeks and we’re really looking forward to sharing them with everyone. Watch this space!

 

Museum on Tour, 12 April 2017: Thinking Tantra

by Rachael Aylmore, Plymouth University Fine Art student and Peninsula Arts Exhibition Intern

As part of the journey towards the History Centre, Peninsula Arts and staff from the Arts and Heritage Service are working together on a series of partnership exhibitions.

During my placement at Peninsula Arts I have been fortunate enough to support the installation of their current exhibition, ‘Thinking Tantra’ – ‘Tan’ being Sanskrit for stretch and ‘tra’ Sanskrit for beyond boundaries. These beautiful, bold and abstract Tantra pieces of art have been created as tools for meditation and rituals linked to Sanskrit texts.

The exhibition unfolds
Together with Polly Irish and Catrine Wallace (also Fine Art students and Peninsula Arts Interns), I have gained an understanding of the many different processes and tasks that are involved with setting up an exhibition – from prepping the space, collecting the work, curating and even publicity. Throughout the last two weeks in March before ‘Thinking Tantra’ opened, we watched it unfold in front of us and learnt all the important steps and skills (as well as people) it takes for an exhibition to come together smoothly and successfully.

Before we even get a glimpse of artwork, the Peninsula Arts Gallery must be prepped, walls taken down (or moved) and walls painted for each show. It’s important that that the gallery is in good condition for the artwork to be displayed. There are many helping hands involved in this process including technicians, gallery assistants and curators. Stripping the gallery back to its bones and starting from fresh allows the curator to view the space with new eyes and make the final decisions about the placement of works.

It’s like Christmas
Once the space is prepped and ready to go, the exciting process of removing the carefully packaged artwork from storage can begin – it’s like Christmas in March! We can then begin the all-important quality and condition check of every single piece of art.

Once the checks have been completed, one of the final parts of setting up an exhibition is of course installing the work. Although rather daunting and nerve racking the process is relatively straightforward and can be done fairly quickly once a system has been established. A lot of measuring, maths and wrongly drawn pencil marks later, the exhibition space finally starts to come alive!

Photograph of the Thinking Tantra exhibition install at Peninsula Arts in 2017

Thinking Tantra
With the exhibition installed and displayed in its full glory, you can really get a feel for the use of colours, shapes and rituals as well as the transcendental ideas behind the Tantra artwork.

Photograph of the Thinking Tantra exhibition at Peninsula Arts in 2017

I hope you’ll visit the exhibition while it’s here in the city. We are the only UK venue on the tour outside London and it will be on display until 27 May.


‘Thinking Tantra’ is a collaboration between Rebecca Heald, Drawing Room, London and Amrita Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai.

‘Thinking Tantra’ is a History Centre partnership exhibition.

Reflecting on Cornish life – Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin

The following has been written by Rachel Wright, volunteer on the ‘In the Frame’ project who has researched Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin.

As just one of a series of portraits of Jack Clemo in a variety of mediums, this oil painting represents the marriage of two cornerstones of Cornish cultural history.  Following his attendance at London’s St. Martins School of Art, Lionel Miskin made Cornwall his permanent residence. Miskin and his family first moved to Mevagissey, and then on to Falmouth in the 1960s. Here he became head of Falmouth School of Art’s Art History and Complimentary Studies department. This appointment demonstrates his high esteem in the Cornish artistic community. Miskin’s style was at times avant-garde and represented an interesting departure from the contemporary regional scene.

Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin (PLYMG.ZO.2004.CH.3). Image Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) © Artist's estate
Portrait of Jack Clemo by Lionel Miskin (PLYMG.ZO.2004.CH.3). Image Plymouth City Council (Arts & Heritage) © Artist’s estate

 

Depicted here, poised at a writing desk, Jack Clemo was crucial in shaping Anglo-Cornish literature of the present day. Unlike previous authors, Clemo constructed a vision of Cornwall familiar to most of the Cornish community. Clemo’s work concentrated largely on the industrial landscape of Cornwall as opposed to the coast where many local residents could not afford to live. Clemo’s literary career is believed to have begun in 1948 with the publication of his first novel Wilding Graft, despite his active role in the Cornish literary scene for several years prior.  He was a regular contributor to the Cornish Review, a magazine first published in 1949 which ran until 1952, and offered the very best of Cornish writing on all aspects of the arts.  This acted as an early and important outlet for his talent and provided a snapshot of creative activity in Cornwall.  In 1970, Clemo was awarded the Cornish Gorseth bardship, despite his general distrust of Cornish Revivalist culture. His writing principally focussed on working-class culture and provided an introspective reflection on the harshness of life in post-industrial Cornwall. This was greatly informed by personal experience.

This portrait of Clemo demonstrates an interesting blend of past and contemporary artistic traditions.  Although the style of the painting is not typical of post-war works, the subject matter is in keeping with artistic attempts to represent social and economic adversity through social realism.

Through the window behind the sitter, Miskin has illustrated the mining industry and china clay mines typical of industrial Cornwall and a central theme in Clemo’s own literary works. The contrast in colours between the dark and cruel mining world compared to the warmer shades inside the house could be demonstrative of the poet’s attitude to the harsh realities of the collapsing mining industry in comparison to the working class home created by his mother, Eveline Clemo (featured in another of Miskin’s portraits The Poet’s Mother’). This is further exemplified by the collection of homely objects on the desk and the mismatched fabrics of the make-do attitude of the Cornish working classes and a single mother struggling on the poverty line.

The subject himself is facing away from the artist and seems almost unaware and disinterested in his surroundings. This could be a response to Clemo’s alienation from the industrial workforce and working class community due to his poor health, which had inhibited him his entire life. Clemo attended Trethosa Village School but was largely self-educated due to his deteriorating condition. Throughout childhood he suffered from intermittent blindness before permanently losing his sight aged 39. As a young adult this was coupled with permanent deafness. This meant that although Clemo’s upbringing was considered to be stereotypically Cornish and would greatly influence his writing, he was largely excluded from the pursuits of the rest of the community.

In the Frame conservation work

By Alison Cooper, Curator of Decorative Art

As we draw closer to the opening of the ‘In the Frame’ exhibition and as the final selection of works for the show has been made, we are now looking at the conservation work required for the exhibition. Each work has undergone a brief assessment so that we know which are fine to be displayed as they are, which works need some treatment and which items need more specialist treatment.

As the aim of this exhibition is to display a number of works not often seen – some of which have not been on display for many years – there is quite a lot of preparation work to be done to get them ready in time.

Our conservator Neil and a volunteer clean one of our works
Our conservator Neil and a volunteer clean one of our works

Some of the Portrait Volunteers who have been researching the paintings have come in to help us prepare. The main tasks are to clean the glazing and the frames. The frames are carefully brushed to remove surface dust before they are enzyme cleaned to get rid of the more ingrained dirt.

One of our volunteers cleaning the frame 'Madam B'
One of our volunteers cleaning the frame of ‘Madam B’

With the guidance of our Senior Conservator, our volunteers have been working on the frames of a Self Portrait by Plymouth artist James Northcote (1746-1831) and Madam B by Devon artist Francis Hodge (1883-1949).

We’ll be continuing to clean and prepare works ahead of the exhibition opening in December.

Stories from the Stores – your thoughts…

by Rachel Smith, Curator of Social History and World Cultures

I think it’s fair to say that a blog update is long overdue. However, I am very happy to be able to share you with some of the things that we learned from our exhibition last summer. Thank you very much to anyone who visited the exhibition and especially to those of you that took the time to come along to a focus group, fill in a questionnaire or take part in our Treasure or Trash interactive. We have learned a great deal and are now able to use what we have learned to improve the Social History collection.

We had hoped to get 350 completed questionnaires by the end of the exhibition, but due to the hard work of the gallery volunteers and the willingness of visitors to participate we managed to collect 432. Here are some of the interesting points that we learned:

  • 86% found the exhibition interesting
  • 85.5% liked the way it was displayed
  • 58% thought there was the right amount of interpretation while 39% said not enough
  • 85% said it made them want to visit a museum store
  • 49% said objects should be connected to Plymouth
  • In general visitors thought we ought to collect more toys, sports equipment and clothing
  • Favourite objects: pram, weapons, ovens, radios

Five focus groups were run by our Evaluation Consultant. Each group was asked what they liked about the exhibition and what they would like to see us collect more of in the future.

Young people liked that many artefacts had Plymouth stories and they liked that objects were grouped by type so that you could see a timeline of some items. They would like us to collect more domestic items, items made in Plymouth and gadgets, especially games consoles.

Retired people appreciated the minimal interpretation and the opportunity to think for themselves. They also liked that most items were in living memory. They would like us to collect objects relating to childcare and motherhood, hobbies and especially related to shopping.

Friends of PCMAG enjoyed the chance for visitors to talk to staff and the element of nostalgia – they thought it was fun to see every day items. They would like us to collect more objects related to local employers and transport, and especially kitchen equipment.

Traditional Crafts Group liked the feeling of being backstage. They were drawn to objects that reminded them of people, places or their own childhood.They want us to collect more packaging, domestic items, toys, and especially items connected to changing fashions.

Plymouth workers liked that the objects were themed, and also said it felt like a treasure hunt for children because you have to find things for yourself.They would like us to collect more objects related to Plymouth manufacturers, toys, farm equipment, and especially items to represent a 1950s Plymouth home.

Of 114 forms completed in the gallery a large majority were suggesting items of treasure. The most popular items were the prams, the ‘big gun’ (World War I anti-tank gun) and the doll’s house. The JFK’s disco sign, the barber’s chair and the Bush televisions were also well-liked. There were very few recommendations for trash: the plough was the only object to get more than one vote and that was because it stood out as a rural life object in amongst a mostly urban collection. Suggestions for what we ought to collect, or should have more of included technology (such as computers and phones), sports equipment (such as golf clubs and football kit) and toys and childhood related objects (such as school days and teddy bears).

I’ve just given a quick overview of the feedback we received, so as you can see we learned a great deal. We already refer to this feedback when we get offered objects for the Social History collection and it will be useful when we undertake reviews of different part of the collection. But the fun part will be to begin collecting some of the objects that you told us were missing from the collection.

Tea at the Cottonian a Success!

What a success our first event of Young Explainers 2013 has been! On Friday the 11th of October we hosted an event at the Museum named ‘Tea at the Cottonian’; there were special guests including the Lord Mayor of Plymouth, Vivien Pengelley, Peter Smith, the deputy leader of Plymouth City Council as well as Monika Kinley OBE, who attended. The event was an opportunity to re-air the collection to the public whilst exposing the Young Explainers new gallery labels and guides.

The event started with Dr. Jenny Graham, Associate Professor in Art History at PlymouthUniversity, playing a mixture of 18th century music on the grand piano from the museum balcony, which was a beautiful start.

We laid out a selection of cakes and tea to fall in with the refreshments that the Mayor and Mayoress put on at the original opening of the collection. The designated ‘Cottonian Collection’ is an engaging assortment of works collected over a number of generations, made up of a variety of disciplines and deep in its own history. Through the event there was a welcome speech conducted by myself (Victoria Smith) as well as a short history of the collection.

Following this we invited the guests to split into three groups so that they could circle around the gallery to listen to small talks on the sculptures and oils as well as the theme of mythology in the collection.

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[Pictured above, l-r: Katie Palmer, Luke Pitcher, Xia Yu, Victoria Smith, Cllr Peter Smith, Lord Mayor Vivien Pengelly, Ellie Barker, Natalie Butler, Liv Davies, Kristin Annus, Katy Neusten]

We had a lot of great feedback and all who attended and helped out had a marvelous time.

Pictures were taken by photography student Lewis Mulrennan-Cook. To view the Tea at the Cottonian photos, please click here.

To view his photography page, please click here.