Build Update, 18 October 2017: The tower crane goes up

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

I’ve come across a few images this month that show the construction site from different vantage points to the ones I take photos from so I thought I’d start this post by sharing them. The first couple were taken by a colleague during a hard hat tour in mid-September. The third image was taken by our film production company when they were setting up a camera on site at the end of September.

The images help give a better understanding of the size of the space where our extension will be built. In the third image you can also really see the progress that has been made with the reduced level dig.

The Box Construction Site 19 September 2017

The Box Construction Site 19 September 2017

The Box Construction Site 29 September 2017

The most visible change on site since our last #BuildUpdate has been the addition of a tower crane.

Tower cranes are a common fixture at most major construction sites. Rising high into the air and reaching out just as far, they’re pretty hard to miss! There’s a great deal of regeneration taking place in Plymouth at the moment so there are a few of these currently dotted around the city’s skyline. Here are a couple of images of ours. The first was taken from the bottom end of Tavistock Place. The second was taken from Chapel Lane.

Tower crane on site at The Box, October 2017

Tower crane on site at The Box, October 2017

Our tower crane measures 40 metres high and took a few days to assemble when it was delivered to site. If you’re standing in the North Hill/Drake Circus area it’s clearly visible above all the rooftops. The construction crew will use it to lift a range of heavy building materials that are needed for our extension. You can find out more in this video clip.

Thanks to Willmott Dixon for their help with making this short video. We’ll be back next month with another building and construction round up.

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Behind the Scenes, 27 September 2017: Engaging communities with creativity

by Fiona Evans, Vital Sparks Producer

It was in September four years ago when Vital Sparks was launched to help communities run their own creative projects.

The scheme is a partnership between Plymouth Culture and Plymouth City Council and is funded by Arts Council England. The idea was to use art to grow confidence and vigour in neighbourhoods that were tired of being told what they wanted. Bringing folk together to get murals painted, community gardens planted and yarn bombs knitted. Creating opportunities for people to get together and be creative.

Photograph of a Vital Sparks funded creative session

The project has always had a bursary scheme at its centre and the average grant is about £2,600. The funding is complemented by the offering of support to new fledgling projects as and when they need it, so some of my time is spent visiting projects, or calling them to see how they’re getting on. Sometimes projects don’t need any help. At other times I have been kept busy writing funding bids, press releases, risk assessments……the list goes on. I’ve also found signposting new community groups to other more established Vital Sparks funded projects to be significant as they can share their learning. This has enabled us to create a network which I think is a great idea.

Photograph of the Barne Barton Rangers Vital Sparks supported project

You’d think that giving money away would be easy but it’s surprising how much work is attached to handing out grants. I’m lucky because being based in the same building as the Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives staff means I have the benefit of working with a Business Support Team who make sure all our grants get paid. Things can get a bit complicated when groups don’t have a bank account! There are instances in the past when I’ve driven my Vital Sparks bursary recipients to the local Credit Union to set one up or had to find other ways to ensure they receive their funding.  

Every day is different with Vital Sparks. At the moment, for example, I’m lending support to a variety of projects including a growing piece of work called Lesbian Voices. Through ‘Pride In Plymouth’ Jo Lewis has recently secured a grant of £46,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I first came across Jo when she was a writer on a previous project of ours called ‘In Other Words’. She is seeking out and recording lesbian voices and histories of Plymouth and will be starting to recruit volunteers in November. Vital Sparks has provided some match funding for this exciting project and I can’t wait to see what is created.

Photograph from an Art, Craft and Laughter Vital Sparks funded workshop

The Plymouth Art Weekender has just taken place and some of our projects ran events during it. On one of the days I popped in on Art, Craft and Laughter to see how they were getting on. Set up by Debbie and Charlie Seldon they use art and craft to help tackle mental health issues…..hence the laughter. They provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to experiment and learn. They were taking part in the Art Weekender for the first time. Their feedback will be very useful when we think about encouraging more people to take part next year. 

Photograph from a Fijian craft workshop supported by Vital Sparks

I also went to the School of Creative Arts where a free Fijian workshop funded by Vital Sparks was taking place as part of a bigger cultural festival called ‘Bula’ which culminates with Fiji Day in October. It was the first time this community have run a workshop for the wider public and it was great to see so many people there.

Whilst our current projects keep me more than busy, I am also focusing on a new and exciting phase of work for 2018. The biggest news in the world of Vital Sparks is the new Mayflower Community Fund that we will be managing next year. We are finalising the details at the moment and the scheme is set to launch in January. If you’re interested in doing something in your community to mark Mayflower 400 watch this space! 

Build Update, 20 September 2017: Latest site updates

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Has a month really gone by already? How about 12 of them? Since our last #BuildUpdate we’ve reached a whole year since the Museum and Art Gallery closed so building and construction could start. Time certainly flies when you have a huge redevelopment project to deliver!

Just in case you didn’t see our social media posts on 3 September, here’s a throwback to the images from our fun-filled ‘Wrap Party’. Click on the picture below to see the full album……….

IMG_5381

……….and here’s the video that marked the occasion too. In some ways it feels like we’ve been closed for longer, in other ways it feels like it was only yesterday.

On site, progress continues to be made with the piling works that I mentioned in our August post. We’re expecting the delivery of a crane soon as well. This will take a few days to put up but once it’s ready things should shift up yet another gear. I’ll have more information about this next month. Ourselves and our building contractors Willmott Dixon are also in the process of getting two large banners produced to go on the front of the scaffolding on North Hill. I’ll have more on this next month too.

Scaffolding has continued to go up around St Luke’s Church and the protective shrink wrap has also been installed.

Photograph of the construction shrink wrap around St Luke's Church, Plymouth September 2017 Photograph of the construction shrink wrap around St Luke's Church, Plymouth September 2017

Works are also ongoing inside St Luke’s to protect the pews that are staying and to level out the ground.

Photograph of the inside of St Luke's Church August 2017

Our programme of Hard Hat Tours continues with great feedback and attendance. There are only a few places left on the 2pm tour next Friday (29 September). Spaces on the tours on 27 October and 24 November are also up for grabs – don’t leave it too late to book!

Photograph of a group of people on a hard hat tour at The Box, Plymouth

Here’s the latest footage from the construction site web cam:

I started this post with an anniversary and I’m going to finish with one too. It’s a slightly belated mention, but Willmott Dixon recently celebrated their Devon Office’s first anniversary – congratulations to them.

Thanks for reading. There’ll be more updates from the site next month.

Plymouth History Heroes: Robert Borlase Smart

Robert Borlase Smart was born in Kingsbridge, Devon in 1881.

During his early life he attended Plymouth School of Art and Plymouth College of Art. From 1900-01 he attended the Royal College of Art, training as a teacher.

From 1903-1913 he lived in Plymouth and worked as an art critic for the Western Morning News.

In 1913 he moved to St Ives to study seascape painting under the Anglo-Swedish painter Julius Olsson, only for the First World War to temporarily interrupt his plans.

Robert Borlase Smart standing by his work 'Munitions'
Robert Borlase Smart (1881-1947)

At the outbreak of the War, Smart joined the Artist’s Rifles as a volunteer. In 1915 he was employed to make technical drawings for the Machine Gun Training Centre. Then, in July 1916, he saw active service and was stationed on the Somme.

It was a brief posting as he was recalled to Britain in the September to join the Machine Gun Corps. Despite this, the experience had a profound effect on him and he produced almost 40 war drawings – many of which featured scenes from his time in France. Some were purchased by the Imperial War Museum while others are in the collections here in Plymouth.

Smart’s short time at the front meant he had to work mostly from memory, sometimes aided by photographs. This did not diminish the quality of his work however. Like the examples shown in this post, his drawings are subtle yet powerful and clearly show the impact of the conflict.

Morning Hymn of Hate by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
‘The Morning Hymn of Hate’ by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
Grandmother prepares to distribute her cough lozenges by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
‘Grandmother Prepares to Distribute her Cough Lozenges’ by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)

In August 1917, Smart applied to become an Officer in the Indian Army. On his application he referred to himself as an artist, a specialist in instruction diagrams for Cavalry, Infantry and Machine Gun Training and a camouflage expert.

Given both his teaching and art qualifications, Smart found his niche as an instructor, particularly relating to camouflage, and he was very well-regarded. In fact, his application to the Indian Army was rejected because he could not be spared!

Lifelong friend, fellow WWI veteran and artist Leonard Fuller described him as someone who should be noted for his ‘boundless enthusiasm, his forthrightness and his helpfulness. These three things governed his life.’

Shell swept road north of Arras by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)
A shell swept road north of Arras by Borlase Smart © Plymouth City Council (Museums Galleries Archives)

In autumn 1917, Smart married nineteen year old Irene Godson in Surrey. She was the sister of a friend who had been killed in action. They settled in St Ives. With the exception of 1926 when they lived in Salcombe, he remained there until his death from a heart attack in 1947. During his post-war years he immersed himself in the life of St Ives and contributed greatly to its artistic community.

Today he is usually described as a coastal artist but he also produced a series of highly accomplished industrial and architectural drawings. In addition, his works from the First World War endure as a first-hand record of an artist and soldier’s experience.

You can find out more about Borlase Smart’s life and work on his official website.

As part of our ‘Plymouth Remembers’ programme you can hear a talk by one of our curators about Borlase Smart on 8 November. Find out all the details here.

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!

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.