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!

Advertisements

Decant Day, 21 December 2016: Light at the end of the tunnel

by Fiona Booth, Digital Engagement Officer

Since my last update in early December so much work has been undertaken with the Museum decant. We can now finally say that all the collections that needed to be out the building and moved to our offsite store have gone! Huge congratulations are in order for all the staff and volunteers who have made this happen. We’ve talked about it a lot on this blog over the last few months, but the amount of work that everyone has had to do should not be underestimated.

I had another look around the galleries recently to see what progress had been made in the last few weeks. It was a chance to see all manner of things being packed or moved – from Scott of the Antarctic’s Skis, to Ancient Egyptian objects, to ship models.

By the time I looked around most of the objects from our Bringing the World to Plymouth gallery had been decanted. There were a few really interesting objects from our stores still being packed however. These included weapons which had been in storage and which were being prepared for transfer. These are fastened to racking (as you can see in the photograph below). They will stay on this racking for the duration of the project which reduces the need to handle them.

Weapons secured to racking

When I photographed in our Plymouth: Port and Place gallery in October, preparatory work was being undertaken by staff before the objects could be moved. Now, lots of empty crates and boxes awaited and many objects were already packed. Compare the two photographs here which were taken about a month apart.

On this particular day, one of our really large ship models was being packed into its crate. The model was manoeuvred into the crate by three of our staff, which was a challenge given its size! The crate even has a door so that it can be accessed. In the photo you can see Ian from our MA Team reaching through to secure the object. Later on in the day, I returned to the gallery and many more ship models had been packed away, placed in front of the large model as you can see below.

Through to the Uncovered gallery, Fiona Pitt (Curator of Archaeology) had already moved a significant amount of objects into storage. Only some of the heavier items were left (some you can see up high in the gallery). With a lot of objects out of this gallery, she was using the opportunity to check through and update some of the documentation.

Meanwhile, our Uncovered gallery was being used to decant the objects from the Ancient Egypt gallery. Jordan (pictured below) is currently studying Archaeology at Exeter University so he’s been getting some first-hand experience of packing objects. As you can imagine, these are very delicate and need some care to make sure that they are stored safely. Jordan was doing a thorough job and explained how he had to pack these items. First, he placed a layer of plastazote in the bottom of the box. After drawing round the objects on a second layer, he cut out the shapes and checked the accuracy to hold the objects securely in place. The larger the object, the more support is needed.

After placing the objects into the middle layer, Jordan put padding around them. He then put a final layer of plastazote on top. Once the lid was on the box, he would label it, put a fragile sticker on it and complete any required paperwork. After this the object would be ready to be moved.

Carrying this out for each object takes considerable effort and time and staff and volunteers have worked for months, repeating this process every day to decant both the galleries and the stores. It’s been a successful few months and I think it’s safe to say that staff are now looking forward to a well-earned Christmas break!

Decant Day, 11th May 2016: 100th Box!

By Lottie Clark, Decant Curator

We recently hit the first of many milestones during our Museum decant – we packed our 100th box from the Ceramic collection!

Usually the packing volunteers are working in our Decorative Art Store, deep in the basement of the Museum. So when it came to our 100th box they had a bit of a treat as we were decanting the collections from one of our balcony cases in the Atrium Gallery.

A display case with ceramic objects
The balcony case as it was, before we started packing

While most of our display cases will be emptied of their collections after the Museum closes on 3rd September, this case will soon be home to a rather exciting installation from artist Holly Davey.

So in order to get it emptied we set up our packing tables on the balcony and got to work. Our loyal volunteers Celia Bean and Jane Howlett assisted Curator of Decorative Art, Alison Cooper, in carefully removing the objects from their case ready to pack. We were sure to note down every object’s accession number and its movement slip. These are used to document the objects on our digital system so we constantly know their whereabouts.

The box was then carefully prepared with plenty of acid-free tissue, to pad the objects and create a protective barrier, and then each item was ensconced in tissue puffs to keep it safe from movement and damage. It’s vital that objects are never covered so they are never wrapped up in tissue paper but individually ‘padded’ around instead. The balcony case contained a wonderful selection of the Museum’s rarest tin-glazed earthenware pieces. Earthenware is not fired at the higher temperatures of other ceramics, like porcelain, and is therefore coarser and more porous than these other forms. Having a ‘crumblier’ texture it is more prone to damage so needs to be treated more delicately, especially when it comes to packing.

Three jars in a box with tissue paper
We also packed these Apothecary jars

Arguably, these objects needed greater special attention as the three 17th Century salt cellars contained within the box included one of our most prized ceramic pieces – an Armorial Salt emblazoned with the combined Coat of Arms of Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria. This not only dates the cellar between 1625 and 1669 but its royal provenance makes the cellar one of only three in existence worldwide! It went on display in 2013 and the Plymouth Herald ran an accompanying article.

With this special piece packed carefully in our milestone box, I secured the lid and applied the accompanying label.

While this box begins its journey to our offsite store the balcony case now stands emptied of objects, labels and mounts awaiting its intriguing installation…

An empty display case
The empty balcony case

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.

Tea at the Cottonian a Success!

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

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

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

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

10311451086_6f1d0b3ea7_z

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

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

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

To view his photography page, please click here.