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!

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, 23 November 2016: Ground floor gallery objects on the move

By Fiona Booth, Digital Engagement Officer

As a member of the Programmes Team, I’m not directly involved in the physical move of the Museum and Art Gallery’s collections. That’s primarily been the significant task for our Collections Team and our MA Team (front of house) with volunteers ably supporting. However, it’s been really interesting to go into the main building recently to see what’s been happening.

The first noticeable thing when you walk into our foyer – once a central meeting point for people coming in – is that it’s now a holding zone for items that were previously in galleries or storage and are now ready to leave the building for their temporary home.

I pass through the foyer when going to meetings or catching up with staff and am always struck by the amount of packing materials being held here, as well as the number of boxes that have been processed. It’s usually a hive of activity! Not being in the galleries every day, it’s really noticeable to see what has been moved each week. When I speak to staff and volunteers involved, I really start to appreciate the effort that has gone into planning the decant, let alone physically carrying it out.

Claire, Val and Tina from our MA Team are working through the World Cultures objects that were in the stores. Each object in each box is checked and paperwork completed. Before the box can leave the building, the packing within it is checked too. Some of the groundwork is in place because a World Cultures project a few years ago included storage improvements. This was long before the History Centre project became a reality however, so extra care needs to be taken if objects are packed in layers within a box, for example. Then some inventive work happens, often structuring string or tape within the box, to ensure that delicate parts of an object are protected on their journey out of the building.

Our shop and café area is now a ceramics working area and I really enjoy looking at all sorts of objects while they’re being packed here. I followed Vicky and Jane to see what’s involved in packing this collection.  Off to the basement they went with a trolley, to bring up the next lot of ceramics to be packed. This involves carefully removing the items from their shelving – as you can see, they are stored behind glass doors. They’re placed in the trolley and the trip back upstairs is carefully made to a huge workstation where the packing can begin.

For our curators, packing objects that were on display can present their own challenges. For example, some objects that were on display in our ‘Bringing the World to Plymouth’ gallery were nicely mounted and it would be a shame to repack the object differently. Other objects would have not been stored in boxes at all. These now require boxes so they can be transported offsite.  Sometimes the object won’t fit in a standard box so a new bespoke one has to be made!

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The physical move is not the only challenge. As part of the collections care process we must ensure we document the new location of all our objects once they’ve been moved. So, before each item is packed the accession number is noted on a transportation sheet. The number of the box it’s being stored in is also recorded. To assist with this process we’ve got PCs located in our galleries. This enables us to update the database as swiftly as possible. Once these details have been captured, the object moves onto be packed.

A woman holding a bowl, whilst sitting at a desk with a computer
Checking the object details on the database

I can’t imagine having to do this each time I moved house! The amount of planning this has taken is considerable – but we are now over half way through the decant with more objects out of the building than in it. This is a massive achievement for all involved.

Decant Day, 26 October 2016: A Passion for Porcelain

by Emily Goddard, Volunteer on the ‘Passion for Porcelain’ exhibition project

I joined the ‘Passion for Porcelain’ project in early July 2015, having been given the opportunity to undertake a work placement project as the final module of my MA in Heritage Management at Bath Spa University.

I decided to do this in place of a thesis to get more practical experience in the heritage sector. The chance to get involved with ‘Passion for Porcelain’ at Wheal Martyn was one that I was immediately very enthusiastic about. It meant being able to work in a museum environment and learn new skills. It was a fantastic opportunity that I didn’t want to miss out on.

When I began my research, I didn’t know much about porcelain or china clay, apart from the fact that the china clay industry was huge in Cornwall, William Cookworthy was the first to discover it and china clay is an ingredient in the porcelain paste. Luckily, I had a lot of guidance from Jo Moore, the Curator and Collections Coordinator at Wheal Martyn about the storylines and themes that needed to be explored. I was also given a lot of information from Alison Cooper, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery’s former Curator of Decorative Art, about the loan items from Plymouth.

Emily packing some of the porcelain objects in preparation for the 'Passion for Porcelain' install.
Emily packing some of the porcelain objects in preparation for the ‘Passion for Porcelain’ install.
A Plymouth Porcelain lioness nestled for packing.
A Plymouth Porcelain lioness nestled for packing.

I really enjoyed learning new things about porcelain itself, and the European discovery of how to make it. During my research, I was not only able to learn about the processes involved and how they related to the china clay industry in Cornwall, but also the history of various porcelain manufacturers and the wares they produced.

I was lucky enough to not only gain more knowledge about the subject, but also have practical experience of working with these items. I first met Lottie Clark, Curator of Art at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery in August, when she delivered the first set of loan items to Wheal Martyn. I was pleased and excited to have the opportunity to unpack these items and condition check them, seeing how collection items can be protected during transportation in situations such as this, and how different museums use and write condition reports.

Lottie was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to visit Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery to help pack and transport the remaining loan items. By this point the museum had closed to the public. I was able to see some of the decant and even be part of it, which was really exciting! I was also able to learn more new techniques for handling and packing the objects, and see even more of Plymouth’s ceramic collection.

Lottie Clark and Emily packing at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.
Lottie Clark and Emily packing at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.

The final week of installation was very hectic, but very rewarding for everyone – especially when the exhibition opened for a private view on Thursday 20 October. I learnt many things about display cases, including the fact that many of them are designed to look pretty but are not practical or easy to assemble! When everything came together, the exhibition looked really professional and better than I could have hoped for!

The 'Passion for Porcelain' private view at Wheal Martyn on 20 October 2016.
The ‘Passion for Porcelain’ private view.

Overall, my experience of working with both Wheal Martyn and Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has been an overwhelmingly a positive one. I have learned so much about exhibitions and collections and have been given many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere.

‘Passion for Porcelain’ has been a wonderful project to be a part of, and has hopefully forged strong links between Plymouth and Wheal Martyn. It means Wheal Martyn have a new temporary exhibition with many beautiful items from Plymouth’s collection, widening audiences and giving visitors a new experience. It means Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery can display a significant part of their decorative art collection while their building is closed for redevelopment.

‘Passion for Porcelain’ is on display now and is free to view. Visit the Wheal Martyn website for details of opening days and times.

See more images from the private view at Wheal Martyn here.

The early times of Reynolds at Plymouth Dock

By Celia Bean, project volunteer

Before he was 20 Joshua Reynolds had declared that if he did not prove himself to be the best painter of the age by the time he reached 30 he never would.  So we can assume that when he returned to Plympton St Maurice in 1743 after prematurely finishing his apprenticeship with Thomas Hudson in London he would have had this ambition in mind.  His decision to work in the up and coming area of Plymouth Dock (later Devonport) was the first step in this plan.

My involvement with the research for PCMAG’s planned exhibition is to research Reynold’s time at Plymouth Dock between 1743 and 1749, so I am looking at what the area was like at that time, who Joshua painted whilst he was there and the influences that he had.

On 3 January 1744, Joshua’s father, Samuel, wrote to his friend Charles Cutcliffe who had been instrumental in arranging Joshua’s apprenticeship to Thomas Hudson, saying that his son had started painting in Plymouth Dock and had painted 20 portraits, including that of ‘the greatest man in the place, the commissioner of the dockyard’ and that he had 10 more commissions lined up.  The commissioner at that time was Philip Vanbrugh, younger brother of Sir John Vanbrugh (d 1726) who designed Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard.

The Town Clerk of Plymouth Walter Kendall, an important member of local society not only wanted his portrait painted, but also that of his wife and five of his family.  The Kendall’s family home was at Pelyn, Cornwall where they would have mixed with the local gentry and they were in a position to spread the word about the young painter.

Later that year Joshua returned to London as he and Thomas Hudson had patched up their quarrel and were on good terms.  Joshua’s father wrote that ‘Joshua by his master’s means is introduced into a club composed of the most famous men in their profession’.  This club met at Old Slaughter’s Coffee House in St Martin’s Lane and the clientele comprised mainly artists and connoisseurs who had an interest in old-master prints and drawings. An ideal place for an ambitious young painter not only to learn from the company of like-minded people, but also to do some valuable networking.

Reynolds returned home around the time of his father’s death on Christmas day 1745.  His mother Theophila moved to Torrington, where she lived with her eldest daughter, Mary, until her own death and Reynolds and his two unmarried sisters, Fanny and Elizabeth took a house in Fore Street, Plymouth Dock. The sisters opened a millinery shop on the ground floor and Joshua had a studio on the floor above.

Around this time Reynolds painted portraits of his sister Frances (known as Fanny) Reynolds and a posthumous portrait of his father Rev Samuel Reynolds, as well as his own self-portrait (recently acquired by PCMAG).  Perhaps he displayed these in the shop window to advertise his skill.

Plymouth Dock was the site of the most modern and technologically advanced Naval port in Europe and a new modern town grew up around it.  It was an area of well-planned streets that were wide and imposing and paved with what appeared to be marble. It was probably limestone from the local quarries, which with its veined appearance would shine like marble when wet or worn. This town was still very small when Reynolds and his sisters arrived, consisting of about seven streets concentrated around the dockyard entrance.  The main one was Fore Street where Joshua and his sisters had settled and it was along this street that all those having business in the dockyard, be they naval or civilian, had to pass.  An astute location for an ambitious young man, as this was an area on the up and a useful place for Joshua to do some networking amongst the naval officers, who at that time were either aristocrats or gentry – the very people who would consider having their portrait painted.

He was fortunate that through his father Samuel he was acquainted with some of the local aristocracy such as the Parkers of Borringdon (later of Saltram) and the Edgcumbe family of Mount Edgcumbe and it is perhaps in these residences that he was able to examine paintings of merit.  He was particularly taken with the works of a Devon artist William Gandy of Exeter (d 1729) and in his early works Reynolds copied some of Gandy’s method, especially in regard to painting the head.  Reynolds also took note of Gandy’s observation that “a picture ought to have a richness in its texture, as if the colours had been composed of cream or cheese, and the reverse to a hard and husky or dry manner.”

Although he continued to travel to London, his principal patrons at that time were from the West Country, not only The Parkers and the Edgcumbes, but notably Richard Eliot, MP for St Germans and Liskeard.

With the contacts and commissions he was starting to get whilst living in Plymouth Dock, Reynolds was beginning to hone his skills towards becoming the best painter of the age.


Bibliography

Leslie, C.R. and Taylor, Tom, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., London, 1865

Northcote, James. The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., London, 1818

Cotton, William. Sir Joshua Reynolds and his Works, Gleanings from his diary, unpublished manuscripts, and from other sources  (ed. J. Burnet), London 1856

Robinson, Chris, A History of Devonport, Plymouth, 2010

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.