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.

20170515_144750
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!

 

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

Decant Day, 5 April 2017: A New Scanner for SWFTA

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer
with thanks to James Gibbs at SWFTA for his great and informative Facebook posts!

This week a piece of equipment arrived at the South West Film and Television Archive (SWFTA) that has been long-awaited – a brand new scanner. On the surface of it, this might not seem like major news, but it will make a really big difference to the work that takes place at SWFTA and will also have an important legacy for the History Centre.

SWFTA has been using a Rank Cintel MKIII scanner for some time. In fact, it’s provided around 30 years of faithful service to the archive and, prior to that, BBC Bristol. Even last week it was busy being put through its paces as all of these were run through it for various projects, including the ongoing development of the gallery designs for the History Centre.

Part of the collections at the South West Film and Television Archive, Plymouth.
The Rank Cintel MKIII has certainly been kept busy recently!

Although this scanner will now go into ‘semi-retirement’, SWFTA will continue to use it and it will eventually go on public display in one of the galleries at the History Centre.

SWFTA had a bit of preparation to do in the early part of March before they could take delivery of their new addition…..

Photograph of SWFTA's old scanner being moved in preparation for the delivery of a new one.
Making way for the new delivery…..

When the scanner arrived on 27 March all the way from Italy, it turned up in a 350kg crate! A team of 6 from Kirtley Removals made sure it was safely delivered to Plymouth. They previously worked with the History Centre when the City Museum and Art Gallery was being decanted last year and made the heavy lifting look easy…..

Delivery of a new scanner at the South West Film and Television Archive, Plymouth

The Kirtley Removals team did a great job of looking after the scanner on the last leg of its journey

The new scanner is a CIR D-Archiver, described in the industry as a ‘complete tool for the restoration and archival process’ and ‘an all-in-one solution for film archival’.

It’s different to the Rank Cintel MKIII because it scans every single frame of film as a separate image file.

The D-Archiver can scan in and export a variety of different file types. SWFTA will most likely be scanning RAW files and then exporting them as Digital Picture Exchange or DPX files.

DPX is usually the chosen format for still frames in storage worldwide. The files will be big which presents us with storage challenges, but the major positive is that they will be the best quality copies possible. This is great news for the History Centre. The better preserved the SWFTA collection is, the greater the potential for using it to enhance our visitor experience and providing the public with access to it.

SWFTA staff and volunteers had their first day of training on the scanner this week. The day involved a bit of unpacking, a bit of assembly and a bit of scanning. All in all it was a good and productive day at the archive – as you can see from the slideshow below.

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As this post hopefully outlines, the delivery of the new scanner marks the start of an exciting time for the staff, volunteers and film collection at SWFTA. For a further reminder about the archive and its role in the History Centre partnership take a look at the ‘Meet the Team’ feature we produced last year.

Museum On Tour, 15 March 2017: Plymouth After Dark #1

by Tony Davey, Learning Development Officer (Communities)

I’ve been busy with colleagues from our Programmes Team over the last few weeks planning ‘Plymouth After Dark’, a new exciting community project from the City Council’s Arts and Heritage Service.

Darts players in a Plymouth pub, 1950sThe project will spend the next four years examining, recording and documenting life in the city when the lights go down, from both an historic and contemporary viewpoint. We’ve been talking with a range of potential partners, from Public Health to Devon and Cornwall Police.

We’re currently developing a range of initiatives and events to suit all ages and all tastes. The project will culminate with a major exhibition in the new History Centre in 2021, as well as create a brand new permanent collection for the city.

Men playing dominoes in a Plymouth pub, 1950sWe’re officially launching the project with a series of events looking at ‘going out’ in Plymouth, whether that’s dancing the night away at an all-nighter, shaking your head to a live band performance or enjoying a quiet drink with friends at your local.

The first major event from the project will be ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ on Friday 12 May at the New Continental Hotel. The evening will be a chance to relive the sounds that shaped the decade, with a 2 hour set from one of the country’s leading tribute bands, The Revolvers.

Before getting on your dancing shoes, local historian Chris Robinson will present a brand new talk, ‘Going Out in 60s Plymouth’. We’ll also be bringing along our Photobooth for you to strike your best 60s pose in. There’ll be a free 60s inspired drink on entry, as well as 60s inspired nibbles on your table. It’s sure to be a fun filled night.

Sounds of the Sixties event flyer, March 2017

There is a serious side to the night as well – honestly! We’re really keen to collect people’s stories from their nights out in the city and we hope this event will help bring the memories flooding back. Myself and other colleagues will be on hand to talk to people and arrange suitable times for their memories to be recorded. People can also bring in any memorabilia they have for us to look at.

I’m very excited about the project as I believe it will provide lots of opportunities for many different people to participate, and put the spotlight on a part of peoples’ lives and the city’s heritage that isn’t always considered – after all we spend around a third of our lives in darkness…..

Decant Day, 8 March 2017: Working round the clock

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Since the decant of the Museum building came to an end our curatorial staff have found themselves with another huge mountain to climb – this time with the development of the content for the permanent galleries that will feature in the History Centre.

It’s been a punishing few weeks for them as they’ve pulled together all the details that our designers Event Communications need.

One of the people I share an office with is our Collections Manager, Louisa Blight. It’s been a real eye-opener for me to witness the level of information that she and her team have produced in order to move the gallery development on to its next phase.

Louisa and her team of Curators and Archivists have been ably assisted in this process by Alice Cooper, our History Centre Project Coordinator.

Two women looking intently at a computer screen in an office
Louisa and Alice working hard in the office.

Together they’ve all been working round the clock making decisions about what will go on the walls and in display cases, and ensuring they’ve got photographs, correct information and dimensions for the relevant objects and works of art.

They’ve also had to consider how all the stories and facts associated with the objects flow through each gallery space in a coherent way to help create the brilliant visitor experience we’re aiming for.

As you can imagine, there have been a lot of questions, discussions, too-ing and fro-ing and hard work – and there’s plenty more to come!

We’ll be sharing their latest thinking with our consultation groups over the next few weeks. We’re then expecting Event Communications to produce a new set of designs for the galleries in May. This will be another milestone achieved for the project.

As well as this huge piece of work a raft of other things have been happening too.

For starters, there’s the general care, maintenance and security of the collections that are now at our offsite store to deal with, and the filling out of funding applications for new acquisitions.

A number of our Curators and Archivists regularly write articles for the feature we have in the Plymouth Herald’s ‘Looking Back’ supplement each Tuesday.

Examples of Plymouth Museum's editorial feature in the Plymouth Herald's 'Looking Back' supplement
Examples of the editorial feature in the Plymouth Herald that many of our Curators and Archivists contribute to.

Some of them are involved in the development of the offsite exhibitions we’re running while our building is closed, including the ‘Britain in the Fifties: Design and Aspiration’ exhibition that will open at the Council House later this month.

Our natural history curator is busy pulling together a new ‘Wild About Plymouth’ programme. WAP – as we like to call it for short – offers a nature or science-based event for families every month. Unbelievably, it’s now in its tenth year!

A boy on a beach
Our Natural History Curator leads our ‘Wild About Plymouth’ programme, which is now in its tenth year.

Our city and maritime heritage curator has been involved in helping to get a number of Plymouth’s historical plaques installed or refurbished at a range of locations. In fact, 2016-17 has been Plymouth’s most prolific year for new, replacement or refurbished plaques for nearly two decades.

Our decorative art curator has been also busy organising a big loan of Plymouth Porcelain for the Cookworthy Museum in Kingsbridge. Over 100 items have gone to them for the next two years – many of which will be seen in a new exhibition that opens at the end of March called ‘William Cookworthy – Pioneer of Porcelain’.

A Plymouth Porcelain Sphinx from Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery's decorative art collection
One of the many Plymouth Porcelain objects that are going on loan to the Cookworthy Museum in Kingsbridge for the next two years.

I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface here – but hopefully this gives you an indication of just how hard our curatorial team are working.

It will all be worth it when the History Centre opens in 2020 and working towards such an ambitious goal is a great thing for any organisation – but right now it’s very much a case of everyone rolling up their sleeves and pushing on through. Anyone for a cup of tea?

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