Author Archives: Belinda Dillon

Visiting Cornwall’s Museums the Green Way

Through the Professional Pathways programme at the University of Exeter, intern Nick Collins spent a week in June with Cornwall Museums Partnership…

For many people, working in a museum might sound like a dream job. I was one of those people (and indeed I still am), but in June I was lucky enough to find the only job that is even better – working across several museums, for the wonderful Cornwall Museums Partnership (CMP). My name is Nick Collins and I was with CMP for an all-too-brief secondment from the University of Exeter as part of their Professional Pathways programme. I visited museums and galleries across the county, and below I’m going to share my thoughts on the amazing exhibitions they were running. There’s another theme I’d also like to share. I’ve been trying to show how we can be greener in our museum visits, and help to reduce congestion on Cornwall’s roads, which were as busy as ever this summer. I travelled to all of these exhibitions using nothing more than public transport and my trusty steed (a bicycle, not a horse). But more on that in a moment…

On Monday, I started at Penlee House to see Munnings in Cornwall, an exhibition taking regulars there from the familiar territory of the early Newlyn School into the perhaps less familiar territory of the later Newlyn School, whilst also introducing new visitors to the beauty and humanity of this school of painting. It is that humanity which really shone through in this exhibition – perhaps ironically, given that its principle subject, Alfred Munnings, is best-known for painting horses. But, whatever the paintings show, we have to remember that it was people who made them, and this exhibition told those people’s stories with touching sensitivity. Often, the glimpses we get of artists’ lives are startlingly intimate. Munnings’ painting coat, palette and brushes were there, as were examples of his letters and sketchbooks and his beautiful poem to Jessica Heath. Harold Knight’s portrait of Munnings dominated the entrance to the exhibition, portraying only a few hints of the alleged tension between the two. It is one of three portraits of Munnings, another being a self-deprecating, caricatured self-portrait. Munnings’ contemporaries dominated the next two rooms, with Harold and Laura Knight, Samuel John “Lamorna” Birch, Frank Gascoigne Heath and Charles W. Simpson particularly prominent. They gave us a wonderful insight into the world of the Newlyn School’s less-famous later stages.

Come Tuesday, we made the longest trip of the week, all the way up to Bodmin (yes, by public transport!) to Cornwall’s Regimental Museum. Music was a great morale raiser; the army has known it for centuries – a story told with great insight and originality by CRM’s Citizen Curators, in their exhibition Music, Morale and the Military. There were some fantastic objects, including the D Day dodgers’ banjo, carried by soldiers in Italy in the Second World War in ironic reference to the derogatory nickname forced on them; and a Light Infantry Drum, which tied in very well to the rest of the museum and the superb videos which allowed former members of that regiment to tell its story in their own words. The real highlights, though, were the playable 1920s piano and the new recording of the DCLI Boys Marching Song (a local song probably not heard in almost 100 years), both of which made the exhibition a fantastic place to stay for a while and enjoy the atmosphere. The exhibition was created by the Citizen Curators, a group of five volunteers who put it together over a period of several months. The programme will be running again with new volunteers from October 2019 to April 2020 across several museums in Cornwall. Have a look at this blog post for much more information on that.

The spirit of community curation was alive and well in Falmouth Art Gallery’s exhibition Stuff and Nonsense, which I saw on the Wednesday. There were several pieces of community-curated art, plus the chance for every single person who walked through the door to contribute, with visitors being asked to upload photos of their own “shrines” in response to those created for the exhibition, and also to leave their own found objects alongside those in the exhibition.

The Nonsense half of this exhibition was brilliantly uplifting, featuring illustrations from Quentin Blake, Tony Ross and Edward Lear. There was even a woodblock used in the illustration of Alice in Wonderland, alongside Lewis Carrol’s diary, a real highlight. Several fantastic automata also found their way into the exhibition. The library, housed in the same building, featured more, including an enormous example based on Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast books.

Uplifting Nonsense

To return to the transport theme, Thursday presented an unusual challenge. Many people would see Portcurno Telegraph Museum as inaccessible by public transport, but there is in fact a bus which stops right outside it. Admittedly, the unusual challenge I mentioned was the fact that said bus broke down in St Buryan on the return journey, but I’m sure that doesn’t happen often… If the owner of St Buryan Caterers, who very kindly gave me a lift back to Penzance, is reading, thanks once again!

The escape stairs from the Second World War bunker at Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

The Telegraph Museum itself is today perhaps more relevant than it’s ever been – as we live through our own communications revolution, it becomes ever more important to understand previous ones. At Porthcurno that story is told not only in terms of the technology (which is covered superbly through working objects and demonstrations) but the people who used and made it, whose lives are shown through their photos and possessions. The highlight is the spectacular Second World War bunker, filled with hundreds of artefacts, many of which are still working. The photo here is the escape stairs, a tunnel leading from the bunker all the way to the surface and beautiful views of the valley.

I finished the week at Royal Cornwall Museum for their exhibition Eye to the Skyexhibition, which told the story of John Couch Adams, who predicted the discovery of Neptune, through Manga. It is an incredible story, and a highly innovative way of telling it. The Manga sat alongside more traditional museum objects, including a large celestial globe and the astonishingly-restored portrait of Adams, which has been transformed from quite literally having a hole in the unfortunate astronomer’s forehead to as good as new. Bringing both of these approaches together created something far better than either style could have achieved alone.

So what did I learn during my week? A lot. More than I can really say. I’ve been lucky enough to work in museums before and if this experience has been an exception it’s because it’s been even better than those other times. Museums tell us stories, entertain us and make us think, but never has it been clearer to me that they can also change lives. From the Citizen Curators who put on such wonderful exhibitions, some of whom have gone on to continued involvement in the heritage sector, to the home-educated children who I saw taking part in a workshop in Falmouth, I have come to understand that museums are about more than probably most people realise. They harness history and the arts as a positive force for the present, and it has been an honour to see how much difference that can make.

I would like to thank the University of Exeter for their part in organising this placement and for the stimulating and enlightening training I took part in. Most of all, I can’t thank the people at CMP and all of the museums in the partnership enough. I hope to see you all again sometime.

 

South West Federation Conference 2019: ‘Inspiring Audiences: Home and Away’

Imogene Dudley, a PhD student in the History Department at the University of Exeter, tells us about her experience of attending the South West Fed conference in July…

Thanks to the generosity of the South-West Federation of Museums and Art Galleries, myself and several other students from the University of Exeter got the chance to attend their recent conference, hosted by Cornerstone Heritage at the University of Plymouth on 4-5 July. The theme of the conference was ‘Inspiring Audiences: Home and Away’.

The train journey from Exeter to Plymouth, along the beautiful South Devon coast, inspired an excited, holiday feeling in my small group of Exeter students before we had even arrived at the conference. We are all postgraduate students in the Humanities and had applied for the free tickets as we want a career in the heritage sector. We hoped that the talks would give us a more detailed and specific insight into the industry, and that by networking with delegates we might gain some useful contacts. At the very least, it would be an interesting couple of days. We were not disappointed!

The conference began with a keynote from Stephen Bird, Head of Heritage Services at Bath and North East Somerset Council, who is responsible for tourist attractions including the world-famous Roman Baths. He spoke about the importance of meeting the needs of both local audiences and international tourists, and told us about new developments in accessibility and education at the attraction. The first day also saw talks regarding the tensions between protecting and preserving Stonehenge, finding new ways to engage the community with church spaces, and the challenges involved with curating the Mayflower 400 exhibition (due to open in Plymouth in 2020), as well as a workshop on how to use audience research to improve engagement and development with heritage sites.

After a rejuvenating night’s sleep, we were all ready to learn more about the heritage sector on our second day at the conference. We listened to another fascinating keynote, this time by Victoria Rogers on the building of the Cardiff Museum from scratch and the involvement of the community, and talks on how to use work experience to engage disadvantaged youth with the heritage and arts sector, the story of the new Kresen Kernow archives in Cornwall, and how Castle Drogo has kept its audiences interested during important renovation work. We also heard from Cornerstone Heritage about how it has been uncovering the LGBT history of Powderham Castle and integrating it into public tours in an understanding and empathetic way.

All in all, it was an extremely interesting and stimulating two days. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the South-West Federation for providing free tickets to Exeter students, as without this I would have been unable to attend. The formal talks and the informal networking that is involved in conference attendance gave me a valuable insight into the heritage industry and gave me the inspiration and confidence to apply for jobs in the sector.

Student-led archaeological survey seeks to uncover the history of Old Forde House in Newton Abbot

A new archaeological study by a team of University of Exeter students could reveal more about one of the county’s oldest buildings – Old Forde House in Newton Abbot.

Old Forde House is grade 1 listed and currently home to Teignbridge District Council. The original house was built in the mid-16th century and added to later. King Charles I stayed at the house overnight in 1625 on his way to Plymouth. In 1646 during the Civil War, Forde House gave shelter to Oliver Cromwell and Colonel Fairfax. William of Orange stayed at the house in 1688 on the way to his coronation in London having landed in Brixham a few days earlier.

In January, the team used state-of-the-art equipment to try to discover previously unknown buildings or structures buried underground beneath the house and in the grounds. It was also an opportunity for members of the public to get involved with the research process. The team was led by third-year student Dan Brock, who gives us an update…

Following a successful week of data collection at the beginning of January, we are in the process of analysing and writing up the results of the survey of the grounds of Old Forde House. This process is expected to be completed in late April, with the full findings to be made publicly available through Teignbridge District Council in May. The fieldwork succeeded in providing a group of students and members of the public with the opportunity to learn and develop geophysical survey skills.

An open day on Friday 11th January attracted over 50 members of the public, amongst them local historians, aspiring archaeologists and prospective students. During the day, people were able to chat with members on the team about all things archaeology and even got the opportunity to try out some of the techniques that the team was using. Further, the survey attracted the attention of several local media outlets, including BBC Radio Devon and Devon Live.

Though the data has yet to be analysed in detail, initial observations indicate that there are extensive archaeological features within the grounds, but that these have been severely impacted by modern landscaping over many years. As a result, many of the original features of the grounds have been obscured, destroyed, or buried to the point of being undetectable with the techniques employed during this survey.

Despite this, a number of structural remains were detected in the immediate vicinity of the house. The most notable of these features appears to be an elaborate knot garden which is likely to date to the early 17th century. The dating and phasing of the various features around the house are not yet clear, however research and further analysis of the data should clarify the various phases of development that the house and grounds went through.

This survey would not have been possible without the fantastic group of students and volunteers who gave their time to collect the data or the staff of Teignbridge District Council who were incredibly accommodating and should be recognised for their contribution to this survey.

The City Museum – preserving the heritage of Exeter City Football Club

The main achievement of the HLF-funded Exeter City Football Club Museum project has been the creation of a sport heritage museum at St James Park, home to Exeter City Football Club (2019). The project, a collaboration between Exeter University and Exeter City Football Trust and Club, is led by Gabriella Giannachi, an expert in performance art and new media documentation and preservation in the museum context. Gabriella wanted to utilise research methodologies developed with Tate, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, LIMA and RAMM, and adapt them in the context of sport heritage. Will Barrett, a researcher at Exeter University, has been the project co-ordinator, and Club and Trust Directors Martin Weiler, Paul Farley and Elaine Davies have acted as members of the project management team that regularly meets to discuss progress and assess the stream of donations the Club has been receiving since announcing it would set up a museum to look after its heritage. Since 2016, over 30 undergraduate Exeter University student volunteers, experts in conservation, art and design, heritage, and photography, as well as a large number of fan volunteers, have contributed to the project.

The setting up of a museum is the culmination of a five-year collaboration which started in 2013. At that time, Gabriella was working with Tate and RAMM to create platforms that would allow people to encounter their collections outside of the museum. Gabriella wanted to test the Timetrails platform she developed with Will, 1010 Media and RAMM in a different context. Tom Cadbury, Assistant Curator for Antiquities at RAMM, pointed out that the Club had a lot of heritage and introduced them to Paul who was already at that time looking after the heritage there. With some seed funding from HEIF, a number of trails about the Club were created and tested, and they soon realised that what they really wanted was to collect, digitise, preserve and share the heritage at the club to unearth its rich and valuable history.

A pilot website called The Grecian Archive was developed to this extent by the Digital Humanities Lab at the University. The popularity of the site soon encouraged the team to bid to the Arts and Humanities research Council (AHRC) for being part of the Being Human Festival in 2016 to employ the professional football photographer and FIFA consultant Peter Robinson, who then documented the Old Grandstand, which was about to be demolished. At the same time, they also bid to HLF so that they could start to catalogue the heritage and crowdsource missing elements in the Club’s history through a series of heritage gathering events. These led to the documentation of more than 80 fans’ and players’ memories about the Club’s heritage, looking specifically at the Old Grandstand. These interviews led to the production of two long films, a set of 3D scans (also produced by the Lab), three trails, and, through a subsequent HLF award, three medium-length films, two temporary exhibitions and six permanent exhibitions. The latter include the recently launched Legends Wall, running along the jungle path; A Chronology and Hall of Fame in the brand new Stagecoach Adam Stansfield stand; and a bespoke museum room, which has a number of displays and is very popular on tours. A film shot by the HLF South West Development Officer capturing this amazing story will be launched soon.

Together for Heritage – with the University of Exeter

The South West Fed is an independent membership organisation that aims to:

  • Demonstrate the strength and breadth of heritage in the South West;
  • Connect people together for the benefit of organisations and their audiences;
  • Inspire those working in and for heritage in the South West to deliver to the highest standards.

Our annual conference is one of the opportunities we create to deliver on these aims. For the last three years, we’ve been fortunate to be hosted by, and work in partnership with, the University of Exeter, where the facilities allow us to deliver a conference that raises the bar and meets our aspiration to be the leading heritage sector event in the region. The sun shining each time we’ve been there helps too!

We strive to hit a sweet spot with our conference, which is serving a regional sector where 30% of museums are entirely volunteer run. To hit that spot, we want delegates to be both inspired and to take away practical examples to help their organisations or practice. We also want to ensure that the opportunities to network are relaxed and varied, with a range of delegates from students to senior professionals.

2018 was the first year we’ve put out a call for papers, and we were delighted with the variety of responses to the theme of ‘Visits and Collections’. A stand-out element was the contribution from students and researchers such as Rosalind Mearns (on dress up installations) or Dr Andrew Rudd and curator Holly Morgenroth (on the Cresswell collection at RAMM, which brilliantly complemented presentations from those working on the frontline, such as keynote Helen Bonser Wilton, CEO of the Mary Rose Trust, or the trials and tribulations of delivering a family-friendly museum by Aerospace Bristol.

Break-out rooms were used to get hands-on in workshops, including how to pack a crisp courtesy of Wiltshire Council Conservation and Museum Advisory Service!

The networking opportunities were buzzing with delegates’ conversations about what had inspired them, surrounded by our valued corporate members’ trade stands and a display about the Cresswell collection.

Next year, we continue our collaboration with the University by holding the conference at the Penryn campus, in partnership with Cornwall Museums Partnership. The theme is ‘Inspiring Audiences Home and Away’ – and if that inspires you to think about submitting a paper, then look out for the call in November this year!

Written by Anna Bryant, MA, AMA

Anna has worked in and for museums of all shapes and sizes across curatorial, interpretation, audience development and marketing roles during the last 18 years.  She was Chair of the South West Fed from 2016-18 and currently works for Volunteer Makers.

www.swfed.org.uk

@SWFed @AnnaBryantSW

Creativity and Stewardship in Changing Landscapes

Mid-Cornwall’s china clay country has seen many changes over the last several hundred years, and it continues to change along with the clay industry and the surrounding communities. In dynamic landscapes like this, planning for the future while respecting the past and offering opportunities for community engagement can be challenging.

In early May, a diverse group of people gathered for a workshop at the Wheal Martyn Museum in St Austell to talk about the role of the Arts in landscape management and development activity in places like the china clay area. Artists, industry representatives, curators, academics, heritage practitioners, land managers and others spent three days talking about how creative perspectives can help reframe problems as possibilities, and suggest new forms of stewardship for transitional places.

Workshop participants continued their discussions in the field on visits to the Sky Tip, Littlejohns Pit and Blackpool Pit. Sean Simpson, Imerys Business Development Coordinator, and Chris Varcoe, who is working with Eco-Bos on the West Carclaze development, led the field trip and offered their inside perspective on some of the challenges and opportunities presented by the post-operational china clay landscape. Chris said: “Eco-Bos were delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the wide-ranging and thought-provoking discussions that took place during the workshop, and to have the opportunity to share with the group its innovative proposals for the West Carclaze Garden Village.”

Workshop participants at Littlejohns Pit, Cornwall

The workshop was linked to the Heritage Futures research project, a four-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Professor Caitlin DeSilvey, of the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, is leading research into heritage and transformation. Sites beyond Cornwall include a rewilding project in Portugal and the ex-military site of Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast. Participants in the May workshop included Heritage Futures project partners from Portugal, as well as other international participants from Ireland and the United States.

Jo Moore, Wheal Martyn Museum curator, commented: “There was a real buzz from the group over the few days and everyone I spoke to clearly found them stimulating and really enjoyable.” The group produced a set of draft principles, which integrated perspectives from industry, heritage and creative practice.  For more information about the Heritage Futures project and the workshop outcomes, please contact Caitlin DeSilvey, .