Pictures in the Landscape returns

This week, as well as being the Derbyshire schools half-term holiday, the Discovery Days festival is being celebrated across the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. When we were asked to join in, we wanted to find a way to use the museum collections in a different setting.  We don’t have many objects that relate to the mills themselves but we do have some wonderful images of the local area.

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Cromford, taken from the Bridge. Watercolour by William Day, 1789.

 

Cromford has been attracting visitors since the 1700s, when artists came to paint the landscape and tourists came to admire the industrial innovations taking place at the mills. The images in the museum collection span the period from then until the 20th century, with the landscape reproduced in paintings, drawings, engravings and photographs.

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Engraving, published by Rock and Co, 1852

This is also a revival of a project that first took place in Dovedale in 2010 as part of the Derbyshire Literature Festival. This time round, we found 16 images of Cromford to reproduce and they have been hung along the short section of the canal from Cromford Wharf to Leawood Pumphouse, a route which is easily accessible and much used by local residents, day visitors and tourists.

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Pictures in the Landscape: Cromford, 22-30 October 2016

We hope everyone will enjoy seeing some historic views of Cromford along the canal during Discovery Days – and, if they haven’t been before, take the opportunity to visit Cromford Mills and High Peak Junction at either end to make it a real day of discovery.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery would like to thank our friends at Derbyshire Countryside Service, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and Cromford Mills for their help with all our Discovery Days events.

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All things weird and wonderful

Last weekend we changed some displays in the project space so we could show off some of the fantastic items from the Randolph Douglas collection. This was acquired by Derbyshire County Council in 1984 with help from the PRISM (preservation of industrial and scientific material) fund. The scheme is administered by Arts Council England to encourage collecting and conserving items that tell the story of the development of science, technology, industry and related fields.

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The new display in the project space at Buxton Museum

Randolph Douglas has already been written about by my colleague Ben Jones in a previous blog here, and we know from questions we are asked that he is a popular subject with our visitors. He’s particularly well-known among magicians and also for the museum he ran in Castleton, called the House of Wonders.

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Randolph Douglas took the stage name Randini. Here he is on a postcard signed Jan 1914.

 

Douglas was born in 1895 at Greenhill in north-east Derbyshire, the son of a silversmith. He was fascinated by Houdini from a young age, purchasing locks and a straitjacket as a young boy, and meeting the escapologist when he was still a teenager. Their friendship quickly evolved beyond that of star and fan into mutual admiration. Douglas even inspired Houdini’s famous upside-down escape from a straitjacket during one of the escapologists visits to the Douglas family home at Endcliffe in Sheffield.

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Douglas and Houdini outside the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, 1920

 

After being discharged from the army on medical grounds in 1916, Douglas used his experience as a steelworker and amateur locksmith to focus on making models. He also amassed a large collection of ethnographic and geological specimens, locks and chains, and local curiosities. He and his wife Hetty moved to the village of Castleton and turned half of their house into a museum to display his collection. The House of Wonders opened at Easter 1926 and visitors paid a small charge to be shown around by torchlight. After Douglas died in 1956, Hetty continued to run the museum until her death in 1978.

A House of Wonders

Poster advertising the House of Wonders c.1930

On display this summer you can see items including handaxes from the Pacific islands, a case of patented locks and keys from the 19th century, beautifully decorated Chinese card markers and water pipes, a copy of the Lord’s Prayer small enough to pass through the eye of a needle, a smuggler’s dictionary with a secret cavity and a Saxon spearhead found at Matlock. Truly wonder-full!

 

End of an Era – Stripping out the Wonders of the Peak

“You’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette”

That’s how the old saying goes, but still I must admit to having mixed feelings as I watch the strip out of the old Wonders of the Peak gallery. On one hand it’s an incredibly exciting time as the fake walls and ceilings are removed – but it’s still sad to see the old displays being dismantled.

I won’t go over old ground in explaining how and why we’ve decided to make these changes – they’ve already been summed in some of our previous posts.

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2014/06/10/design-ideas-for-the-new-gallery/

https://collectionsinthelandscape.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/wonders-of-the-peak-gallery/

The low, winding tunnels of the old gallery are actually constructed within two large rooms. More and more of the original space is being opened up each and every day. We’ve been keeping a photo diary of the progress. My intention is to publish a series of slideshows at the end of the project – to show the changes that have taken place from certain viewpoints.

Just for you, here is a sneak peek of the story so far.

Recent visitors to the museum will have discovered the Buxton Bear has moved to the Project Space. Here’s a reminder of where he used to be, and what it looks like now. The stalagmites and stalactites have also been removed. Not many people realise they were real cave formations.

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These next images show the old Georgian Room, and what you can see from the same viewpoint today.

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The Roman Displays were perhaps some of the most iconic in the old gallery. Here’s a view of the roman altars looking towards the fire exit.

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And above it all, hidden for over 25 years, THIS ceiling.

THAT ceiling

Visit us in the Project Space to find out more about the new gallery design or our exciting digital plans. The new gallery, Wonders of the Peak: A Journey through Time and Place, is currently scheduled for a ‘soft opening’ in April 2017, so make a note in next year’s diary and come along to see the exhibits!

 

 

The BIG Project Update – 2016!

It’s been almost a year since we announced that our Stage 2 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund had been successful. We were faced with the both the joy and the horror of having to actually do the extensive list of work and activities that we’d set out in the bid!

After a slow start doing all the necessary recruiting, planning and procuring, things are really starting to gather pace. So it’s the perfect time to update all of our friends, partners and followers about where we’re at.

As some of you might know, the project has two goals – the refurbishment of the Wonders of the Peak gallery, and the extension of museum content online and into the landscape.

1. Wonders of the Peak

The old gallery is now officially closed and is currently being decanted into the Project Space. This means the collections are undergoing a rigorous process of condition checking, photography and packing.

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Empty cases? Acid-free tissue? The gallery decant has begun!

Meanwhile we’re working with our partners and designers to agree the concept design for the all-new Wonders of the Peak. Curators are also getting in touch with partner museums and institutions about some star loan objects. In some cases this means bringing Derbyshire objects home for first time since their discovery.

As the gallery work progresses you can visit and talk us in the Project Space, which is now open, but there’s more on that below…

2. Digital Access

In the project bid we imagined two types of digital access. ‘Pocket Wonders’ were phone and tablet friendly and could be accessed from the landscape. ‘Armchair Wonders’ would be accessed from home, and give more depth and detail to the collections.

Working with our digital designer, it’s clear that our online solution will be much more flexible than the two choices outlined above. The ‘digital experience’ will be an intuitive website that gives you different levels and types of content based the your situation and preferences. For example, where are you? What type of device are you using? How much internet connectivity do you have? Have you visited before and, if so, what have you already told us interests you?

From this, and similar information, you will be able to find out about the collections you are interested in, and plan your own journey into the Derbyshire landscape.

This solution will offer both the ‘Pocket Wonder’ and ‘Armchair Wonder’ concepts we’d originally imagined, but also offer a whole ranges of experiences in between.

And yes, there will be downloadable content. If you’ve ever tried to use a mobile phone in Dovedale then you’ll know why this is so important…

But the online news doesn’t stop there. We’re also going to be launching and testing an online catalogue for our website. So everyone from the curious web surfer to academic researchers can search an ever-increasing collections database. As we iron out the creases, more and more data from our museum documentation  database (Modes) will be available to search online, or be downloaded and used as open data (under a Creative Commons BY-NC license).

The Project Space

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The Project Space in all its glory.

Finally, we can’t wait to welcome you to the Project Space, an area where visitors can see some of our amazing collections, find out more about the project, and meet the team face-to-face. We’re really interested to hear your views on a range of subjects and to get your feedback on the work we’re doing.

The Project Space will open to the public on 16 February, with free half-term family activities all week. It will be open until September 2017 – hosting a range of activities for you to join in with. Keep in touch with us through our Facebook or Twitter for more information, or sign up to our mailing list.

Who’s Who

In the last 12 months we have recruited staff and volunteers and a team of specialists to help deliver the project. We are pleased to be working with:

Project Managers – Rex Proctor & Partners

Gallery Designers – Redman Design

Digital Designer – Ben Bedwell (Digital Economy Consultants Ltd, in partnership with the University of Nottingham Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub)

Copy Editor – Pete Brown

Project Evaluators – Innovate Educate

Marketing Plan – Jen Francis

Workshop Facilitator – Gordon Maclellan (Creeping Toad)

Artists in Residence – Kidology

Education Specialist – currently recruiting

HLF Monitor – Janince Bowman

HLF Mentor – Fiona Marshall

…as well as our many partners and supporters.

 

 

 

 

Stone Age Bling

Imagine if a loved one, or friend, picked up a stone and asked you to make from it a piece of jewellery which they could hang around their neck. And, that the only tools available to you to make this would be other similar stones, a selection of animal bones, water, and wood. How would you go about it? How would you shape and smooth the stone? How would you go about creating a hole with which to put the neck lace through without, accidentally, breaking the whole piece?  In an age when the wheel was only just being invented ( believed to be in, either,  Ukraine or Iraq — the jury is still out on that one –) it must have been quite a labour intensive, frustrating, and time consuming task to create what, essentially, is a non essential, luxury item. That person would have to be pretty special!

Neolithic Perforated Stone Pendant. 9 cm x 4 cm

This stone pendant was found at Chrome Hill, Derbyshire and dates back to around 3,500 BC during the late Neolithic Period (Stone Age). The Neolithic period was the age when large stone circles  such as Stonehenge and dolmens like the Bodowyr Dolmen in Wales were first constructed. Although Chrome Hill has no neolithic monuments it is believed to be an important site for both the Neolithic and Bronze age peoples as a possible place of ritual. It is known for its unusual, natural features where the hill resembles a giant, ridge backed, exoskeleton, bulging out of the land beneath the enveloping blanket of the Derbyshire countryside. It is also reported that a remarkable split sunset can be observed at certain angles over Chrome when standing on Chrome’s nearby sister – Parkhouse Hill – during Solstice.

Whether the jewellery piece was the ancient equivalent of a wedding ring or, perhaps, worn by warrior women and men as a battle talisman, or merely used for trade, we can never know. But, like a Rothko painting it confronts us with courage and boldness while within its simplicity lies a much deeper meaning. A meaning that we may never fully grasp in our modern society.

Time to Take Two

Last weekend Take Two opened, a new exhibition displaying paintings and drawings from the Derbyshire County Council collection. This show explores relationships between some of the pictures at the museum, by looking at two works by the same artist or images of the same view by two different artists.

Buxton Montage by Zoe Badger (2010)

Buxton Montage by Zoe Badger (2010), winner of the Derbyshire Open Friends Purchase Prize

I joined the team at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery this summer and have spent the last 6 weeks planning the exhibition. I’ve been helped on this journey by brilliant art student and artist in the making Rachel Hesketh, who has assisted with everything and anything including locating pictures in the store, choosing works for display, researching information about artists and taking photographs. The exhibition hang was a real team effort as we carried paintings from store to gallery, agonised over the lay out and resized labels.

Part of the Old Bath, Matlock Bath by Mary Mitford c.1770

Part of the Old Bath, Matlock Bath by Mary Mitford (c.1770)

One of the remits for Take Two was that the work was ‘made in Derbyshire’ and it has been wonderful to have the opportunity to show some paintings that won’t have been seen for a while alongside some more recent acquisitions. Also on display are two works by Sheffield artist, Eddy Dreadnought, completed as part of his residency at Tarmac Lafarge’s Tunstead Quarry in summer 2014, which complement some of the industrial paintings from the museum collection.

The Peak by Gwen Tarbuck (2000) Winner of the Derbyshire Open Friends Purchase Prize.

The Peak by Gwen A Tarbuck (2000), winner of the Derbyshire Open Friends Purchase Prize

Look out for a few other treasures including a copy of Ebenezer Rhodes’ Peak Scenery, or the Derbyshire Tourist (1818-1823) – illustrated by F L Chantrey, whose engraving of Castle Rock is also on show – and husband and wife artistic duo, Samuel and Ann Rayner, whose lithograph and engraving on Ashford Black Marble are displayed side by side.

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Matlock Bath, engraving on Ashford Black Marble by Ann Rayner (c1840)

I hope this exhibition inspires you to get out and about around Derbyshire and the Peak District, and look forward to sharing more with you soon. Take Two is showing at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery until Saturday 7 November 2015.

The Bateman Connection

So far Collections in the Landscape has already been active in exploring and interpreting some of the prehistoric monuments of Derbyshire. You can see the results for yourself by visiting The Mysterious Arbor Low.

Of course, we’re not the first to investigate these landscapes. People have been amazed by these mysterious monuments for hundreds of years, culminating in rise of the ‘Barrow Diggers’. We are walking in the footsteps of these 19th-century pioneers and in Derbyshire, no-one was more prolific than Thomas Bateman (1821-1861).

Illustration of Bateman's museum at Lomberdale Hall, Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration of Bateman’s museum at Lomberdale Hall, Wikimedia Commons.

In his short lifetime Bateman excavated over 72 barrows. His second book, Ten Years Diggings in Celtic and Saxon Grave Hills in the Counties of Derby, Stafford and York, is an impressive and detailed record of his activites.

Bateman amassed a large collection at his home, Lomberdale Hall. On his death, Bateman’s son sold these materials and many were acquired the Sheffield City Museum. This collection is still held by Museums Sheffield, with whom we’ve been pleased to work with as part of the project, it’s great that the Bateman legacy connects our institutions.

Tickets Please! - The object to the bottom right of the flints is a 'Bateman Ticket'. Deposited in the Five Wells tumulus in 1846 by Thomas Bateman. Now on display at the museum.

Tickets Please! – The object to the bottom right of the flints is a ‘Bateman Ticket’. Deposited in the Five Wells tumulus in 1846 by Thomas Bateman. Now on display at the museum.

We looking forward to continuing this partnership in the future, and to take the concept of Collections in the Landscape to other prehistoric sites. Where will Bateman take us next?

You can see an amazing, hand-written original copy of ‘Ten Years Digging…’ at Museum Sheffield’s upcoming exhibition, Drawing the Line.