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…..’

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

Poppies: WAVE
Now our summer programme is well and truly underway we’re finalising our autumn/winter activities as well as planning ahead for 2018.

During the latter months of 2017 our two biggest projects are both partnership initiatives. We are thrilled to be working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) who are bringing ‘Poppies: WAVE’ to the city from 23 August to 19 November. You may have already seen quite a lot of information about it in the local press and online. It will be installed on the large war memorial on the Hoe.

The iconic sculpture presented by 14-18 NOW is a sweeping arch of bright red poppy heads suspended on towering stalks. It’s one of two sculptures, by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, initially conceived as the key dramatic sculptural elements in the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. Millions of people saw it at the Tower of London in 2014, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. You can find out more about it here.

Photograph of Poppies: WAVE in Southend 2017
‘Poppies: WAVE’ has recently been installed at Barge Pier, Shoeburyness, Southend-on- Sea as part of its UK-wide tour organised by 14-18 NOW. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for 14-18 NOW).

We have been working with the CWGC over the last few months to help devise an events and engagement programme that will take place while ‘Poppies: WAVE’ is in Plymouth. Full details will be announced very soon!

In the meantime, you can watch an official video clip produced by 14-18 NOW by clicking on this image.

Photo of poppies

We The People Are The Work
Our other main autumn/winter partnership project is ‘We The People Are The Work’ and 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 in the coming weeks!

Behind the Scenes, 28 June 2017: New members of the team

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Largely thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund support the History Centre project is receiving, we have recently welcomed some new members of staff.

The roles they’ll be carrying out are quite varied and they all bring a range of skills and experience to the team. We thought you’d like to meet them and find out a little more about them.

Photograph of new Plymouth History Centre staff - June 2017
Back row from L-R: Lizzie Edwards, Stacey Turner and Nicoletta Lambertucci. Front row L-R: Rebecca Wickes, Stacey Anderson and Terah Walkup.

Lizzie Edwards: Lizzie has moved to Devon from London to join us as a Learning Development Officer (Schools). She previously worked at the British Museum as the Education Manager for the Samsung Digital Discovery Centre, where she managed a learning programme for schools and families using advanced digital technologies to engage these audiences with the Museum’s collection. Notable projects included creating a virtual reality Bronze Age experience – referenced in the DCMS’ Culture White Paper as an example of how technology can expand engagement with heritage – and developing a programme of ‘Virtual Visits’ for schools outside of London. Prior to working at the British Museum, Lizzie also worked at the National Maritime Museum, Museum of London and the Building Exploratory.

Stacey Turner: Stacey has really had to hit the ground running since she joined us a few weeks ago as our new Events and Audience Development Coordinator. She’s already helped finalise our fantastic Beryl Cook-themed summer event programme, plan our autumn/winter programme, organised two exhibition launches and worked at Local Studies Day, the Freedom Community Festival and the Contemporary Craft Festival. Stacey joins us with experience of developing and managing events at the National Marine Aquarium as well as a university in Australia.

Nicoletta Lambertucci: Nicoletta is a curator based in London and holds an MA in Philosophy and Art Theory from Goldsmiths College. She will be working with us as our Contemporary Art Curator, looking at how we can embed contemporary visual art and new commissions throughout the History Centre. Since 2011 she has worked at DRAF (David Roberts Art Foundation) – an independent contemporary art space in London. In 2016 she curated Tarantallegra at Hester, NYC and Mundus Muliebris at BASEMENT ROMA, Rome. In 2018 she will present a two-artist project at Meter, Copenhagen in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen. She is also a contributor for Cura Magazine.

Rebecca Wickes: Rebecca joined us in mid-April as our new Volunteer and Early Career Development Officer. This is a post we have never had before so we are very excited about the potential it has to enhance our service. Rebecca will be working with staff from all areas of the History Centre to develop our volunteer offer and to help recruit the volunteers we need. She has come to us from the National Trust where she previously coordinated over 300 volunteers. She also possesses substantial experience in commercial and marketing activities within a heritage setting.

Stacey Anderson: Our new Media Archivist has worked in a number of heritage organisations in the region including the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, Cornwall Record Office and the Courtney Library at the Royal Cornwall Museum. She was the founding Archivist for the South West Image Bank and, most recently, the Executive Archive Director for the South West Film and Television Archive. Stacey is a Registered Member of the Archives and Records Association (ARA), an active Committee Member of the Film Sound and Photography Section of the ARA and a member of the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA). A passionate advocate for our region’s film and photographic heritage, Stacey leads the gallery team working on the History Centre’s ‘Media Lab’. She will also be helping to shape our digital preservation strategy which will ensure the long-term management of our media collections.

Terah Walkup: Our new Fine Art Curator (maternity cover) has previously worked as a research associate at the Art Institute of Chicago where she coordinated exhibitions and assisted with the re-installation and re-design of the museum’s ancient art collection. In Chicago, she also ran public museum programmes and gave popular lectures on the history of art. Terah brings a keen interest in the eighteenth century to her role so is really excited to be working with the History Centre’s wealth of paintings, prints and drawings. Since moving to the South West over a year ago, she has volunteered at cultural institutions in the area, including Exeter Cathedral and the RAMM, as well as learning the proper way to put jam and cream on a scone!

History Centre Heroes: James Rich Steers

Only the fishes see a shipbuilder’s finest ideas once his vessel has slipped into the sea. It is the precise shape of the hull, the swell and curve of the timbers that give the ideal compromise between stability and speed.

The secrets of ship design were known only to their makers two centuries ago, and the mystery made the names of the fastest ships into legends and a huge source of national pride. Such a ship was the racing schooner America, first winner of the oldest trophy in international sport and the biggest prize in sailing, the America’s Cup in 1851.

Affectionately known as the ‘Auld Mug’, the America’s Cup is currently taking place in Bermuda. It’s the 35th time it’s been contested. This campaign is being sailed in high performance catamarans. Teams from Sweden, Japan, Great Britain and France have already been knocked out of the competition. The final showdown from 17-27 June will take place between defenders Oracle Team USA and challengers Emirates Team New Zealand.

But did you know that the America, the yacht that started it all, was designed by a New York company co-owned by a man from Plymouth?

Portrait_of_J._Rich_Steers 1896 New York Herald Tribune Obituary
Portrait of James Rich Steers from his 1896 obituary in the New York Herald Tribune

James Rich Steers (1808-1896), born in Devonport in 1808, was the son of a naval engineer called Henry who was employed in the construction department of the Royal Navy Dockyards. The family emigrated to the USA in 1817 where they continued to work in the shipping business.

James helped his father salvage cargo from a sunken British cruiser in New York Harbour, then worked on a steamer before becoming a shipbuilder. He and his younger brother George (1819-1856) became famous for building the fastest pilot boats: light but seaworthy craft that raced out from harbour in all weathers to reach the big ships and offer their services to bring into port safely.

James Rich Steers' younger brother and business partner George Steers
James Rich Steers’ younger brother and business partner George Steers

In 1850 they set up their own firm George and James R. Steers Inc. and had their own shipyard.

Confident their revolutionary hull design (a concave clipper-bow with the beam at midships) was second to none in the new world the Steers’ decided to try it in the old, taking the America across the Atlantic to Great Britain’s ‘World’s Fair’.

When the boat appeared in the Solent in July for the Royal Regatta it had already gained such a reputation there was some difficulty finding competitors. After an informal race when the winner was disputed, the America did not have another chance to compete until the final day when she joined the Royal Yacht Squadron’s £100 Cup for the first boat to sail round the Isle of Wight.

The famous Schooner yacht, America
The famous Schooner yacht, America

Fifteen yachts waited at the start at ten o’clock on the morning of 22 August 1851. Initially handicapped by trouble with the anchor, the America quickly reached the leading pack, making fifth place after half an hour. When the race was nearly over, her pilot decided to risk sailing landward of a lightship on some shoals named the Nab Rocks, shortening the distance and winning her first place – 18 minutes ahead of her nearest rival. When Queen Victoria asked who came second, she was told, ‘There is no second your Majesty.’

The next America’s Cup took place in 1870 and the USA retained its title. Indeed, it would continue to do so for the next 132 years, defending it twenty four times until 1983 when it was taken by Australia II. Since then the USA has won the Cup in 1987, 1988, 1992, 2010 and 2013. New Zealand won it in 1995 and 2000. Switzerland were victorious in 2003 and 2007.

Steers retired in 1857, the year after his brother George died unexpectedly just as he was about to secure a major contract to design a boat for the Tsar of Russia. He became involved in local politics and remained so until his death. He was a rich man and he passed his business to his son Henry who continued the family tradition, building a number of boats for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.

by Rosemary Babichev and Jo Clarke

 

 

Museum On Tour, 8 June 2017: Ropewalks #8 – Getting our message across

by Sheila Snellgrove, Project Producer and Sara Norrish, Project Director

How do you turn 70 pages of extraordinary writing into a walking tour with a difference? Well, I think we’ve just done it with ‘Ropewalks’.

Our theatrical walking tour takes a look at the underbelly of our city and the lesser-known tales of some of its inhabitants. History is written by the victors we know, but this tale scripted by writer Jon Nash takes some of the invisible people and puts them front and centre.

Ropewalks performance on Plymouth's Barbican June 2017 From fisherwoman and abolitionists to the starving inside our walls during the civil war, ‘Ropewalks’ traces the steps of the untraceable and celebrates their extraordinary stories. We hope it also charges audiences with excitement and enquiry about our hidden city. The Blitz may have decimated our physical spaces but this walk offers you a glimpse into the beating heart of those who call themselves Plymothians, past and present.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the tremendous audience response so far. ‘Ropewalks’ started on 20 May and to date we’ve had 14 performances – all of which have been brilliantly received and more or less sold out.

The three characters who lead people around the waterfront are all women. In days gone by the females of our city had to be tough while they were left to hold the fort by the men who went to sea; battling, fishing, trading or exploring the world. When Count Magalotti visited Plymouth in 1669 he remarked that he could only see women and boys!

All our audiences so far have told us how much they’ve enjoyed the experience and they’d love to see more like this in Plymouth – what a wonderful start to a pilot project! Looking specifically at the words they’ve used to describe the performance is really interesting. ‘History’, ‘Fun’ and ‘Very’ (as in very interesting, very good, very funny) appear in half the responses, so we’re clearly getting our message across. We wanted to tell history in a new and very exciting way and it seems people agree we’ve achieved that.

Some of my favourite comments have been: “Fantastic, funny, enjoyable and informative”; “Very professional, very funny, very PLYMOUTH! Well done and thank you”; “Very informative and entertaining, smiled the whole way around” and “So different and very entertaining”. I was thrilled that my elderly neighbour hobbled her way around and loved it as much as one of my friend’s little six year old and 13-year old – that proves to me that the performances have something for everyone.

‘Ropewalks’ is now taking a short break and will begin again in time for the summer holidays on 6 August when we’ll deliver another 16 performances on Wednesdays and Sundays. Two of these have already sold out so if you want to come along don’t leave it too late to book your tickets!

Visit our ‘Ropewalks’ project page for more background information and links.

Museum On Tour, 7 June 2017: New exhibitions and events

by Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer

Summer was always a fun time at the Museum and Art Gallery before we closed. We would make sure we had exhibitions on display that were of interest to local residents and tourists. Our holiday workshop programme brought many families into the building and gave children lots of opportunities to be creative.

Thankfully as a result of our ‘Museum On Tour’ programme it’s business as usual this year, even though we’re having to use a range of offsite locations instead.

Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.comOne of the major elements of this is the exhibition of work by much-loved artist Beryl Cook that we’re staging at the Council House from 24 June to 9 September. Cook lived in Plymouth for many years and we have three works by her in our permanent collections.

What’s so special about this exhibition is that we have co-curated it with Beryl’s family. They were the most important thing in her life. As well as providing us with access to some of her earliest and quirkiest works, working in collaboration with them has given us a range of personal insights into her and the people she loved the most.

The exhibition will be divided up into a series of different themes including fame, family and friends and fantasy. There will be a special range of merchandise available to purchase – a new experiment for us at the Council House.

The exhibition has also given us lots of inspiration for events and we’ll have a host of talks, tours and family activities on offer. You can find out more about all of these from the what’s on section of our website. It’s great to have an exhibition that we can generate so many ideas from.

Image copyright John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com
Image © John Cook 2017. www.ourberylcook.com

This work shown above is one of the paintings that will feature in the exhibition. Many people local to Plymouth will recognise the location as the famous Elvira’s cafe in Stonehouse! A man sits at one table drinking a large mug of tea while a dog watches its owner eating a sausage sandwich at another. The woman behind the counter who is serving a customer with a piece of cake is Teresa, Beryl’s daughter-in-law. Teresa will join our exhibition curator Hilary Bracegirdle for a lunchtime talk next month during which she will share her memories and stories.


Another exciting development for us over the summer are our ‘Out and About’ events. Staff and volunteers will be taking a series of themed activities to local community festivals across the city and beyond over the next few months. We began with a successful event at the Freedom Community Festival last weekend and will also be at:

  • Contemporary Craft Festival, Bovey Tracey: 9-11 June
  • Armed Forces Day, Plymouth Hoe: 24 June
  • St Levan Fair, Plymouth: 15 July
  • Love Parks Week, Whitleigh Hub, Plymouth: 20 July
  • Plymouth Play Day: 2 August – a venue for this will be confirmed soon
  • Devonport Park Festival, Plymouth: 20 August

If you’re planning to attend any of these events make sure you come and say hello to us on our stand. Here are some images from the Freedom Community Festival to close today’s post. People made banners and badges highlighting the things that are important to them. Thanks very much to everyone who came along and got stuck in!

Museum On Tour, 1 June 2017: Ropewalks #7 – Creating the Costumes

by Hannah McArthur, Costume Designer and Maker

I’m a recent graduate from Plymouth College of Art where I studied Costume Production and Associated Crafts. I’m ready to set out on my career as a freelance costume designer/maker and the ‘Ropewalks’ project has enabled me to take the first step on this path as well as work locally.

I have a passion for creating elaborate costumes that capture the imagination of others. ‘Ropewalks’ was the perfect opportunity for me to go all out with my elaborate designs!

I wanted to harness the colours and atmosphere of the Barbican so have used the rich shades you often see on the fishing boats in the harbour as well as inspiration from our local maritime heritage. My design process began with a range of mood boards that I put together, filled with images of the history of the Barbican, the boats and their colourful nets.

DSC_0326

Whilst creating these costumes, I met Mariana from ‘The Ocean Corner’. Mariana collects ocean debris for creative workshops and transforms vintage fashion into beautiful works of art. This was the inspiration for the headpieces I made to accompany the costumes.

I wanted to create a visual spectacle with the three Barbican women who are the main characters in ‘Ropewalks’. They are meant to be timeless and have so many stories to share. I wanted to create an image of three women who think they are invisible, when in fact they are quite the opposite with their colours, shapes, tales and all round kookiness!

I was around for the first weekend of performances in late May and was able to observe the reactions that the general public had as these three women and their audiences went walking down the Barbican’s cobbled streets. People were intrigued. What’s going on? What on earth are they wearing? That’s exactly the reaction I was hoping for!

I feel honoured to be a part of this new and exciting project. It has boosted my confidence and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with established professionals. I hope that the tours capture peoples’ imagination and help them learn new things about the Barbican in a fun and memorable way.

See more images of Hannah’s brilliant costumes on our photostream.