Photographs in the Landscape part two

In my last blog, I wrote about the challenges of taking high-quality photographs of museum objects. Glazed paintings are particularly problematic as they reflect, especially when using a flash. I was keen to see what solution professional photographer Nick Lockett would come up with. The answer was a giant pair of black curtains! With a dash of Photoshop, of course. Note that the handsome chap behind the camera in this picture is me, along with Nick’s assistant and brother Steve; a bit cheeky considering I was just the monkey, not the organ-grinder.

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Photographing the art collection was easier as I was not required to open any of the cases in The Wonders of the Peak, unlike last time. Some of those old displays were not designed for quick and easy access which is good news for museum security but bad news for photo projects. Fortunately, due to the efforts of the Derbyshire Museums Manager, Ros Westwood, the paintings live in a modern high-tech storage facility.

work over 08

Most of BMAG’s art collection will be available for you to view online before much longer; improved public access is one of the main aims of the project. More of our oil paintings are already on the Public Foundation Catalogue website http://www.thepcf.org.uk/ . I particularly like this one by David Russell because it depicts the exterior of the museum with an assortment of local characters.

DERSB 2006.33

Talking of unusual pictures, Ros found this photo recently in a box from the Randolph Douglas collection. It is entitled In Search of Thermal Springs, Matlock Bath. Ros said it made her think of me. I have decided to take this as a compliment.

In search of thermal springs, Matlock Bath

More impressive is this action shot of climbing pioneer and cave explorer, Jim Puttrell (1869 -1939). It is thanks to Puttrell that Buxton Museum has a fantastic collection of minerals.

Puttrell

As if these discoveries were not exciting enough, Douglas had also kept some postcards of Dicky’s Skull. What is Dicky’s Skull I hear you ask? Find out in my next blog; if you dare!

Dicky's skull 02

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A Derbyshire salon hang?

Over the last five years Buxton Museum has bought over 30 artworks as part of the Enlightenment! project. These range from oil paintings by Royal Academy artists to watercolours by unknown amateurs. What the pictures all have in common, is that they show either Derbyshire views or Derbyshire people and were created between 1743 and about 1880.

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All these artworks have been on display in the Museum, and many of them have toured to Derby Museum and Art Gallery and Strutt’s North Mill. We don’t have a permanent art gallery at the Museum. Instead we incorporate art into the Wonders of the Peak Gallery, especially in the Georgian Room, and into our temporary exhibition programme. As part of Collections in the Landscape we are looking at redeveloping the Wonders of the Peak Gallery and have a commitment to put 10% more objects on display.

Salon hangs were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is an image of the 1839 Derby Exhibition at the Mechanics Institute in Derby.

I am very keen to get more art on display and one way of doing this in a small space is by implementing a salon hang – basically floor to ceiling art.  Although I like salon hangs, I do find that they don’t always work and that pictures can sometimes blend too much into the background. Traditionally the ‘best’ paintings were hung ‘on the line’ i.e at eye level. While those further down the hierarchy were ‘skied’, meaning that you can’t get a decent look at them! The benefits of the salon hang, is that you are able to get more art on show and they are displayed in an appropriate period style.

Salon hang at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Salon hang at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I think Buxton Museum’s Derbyshire views would work well in this scenario. It would give the wall a strong theme and comparisons could be made easily between the different artists’ interpretations of the views. Oils could be up there semi-permanently while works on paper could be on a rolling programme, limiting their exposure to the light. We could also look at drawers, possibly in a Georgian Gentleman’s style cabinet in which to display prints and watercolours, which would allow public access while limiting light damage.

Anna using the iExplore app at the Clarke Institute

Anna using the iExplore app at the Clarke Institute

 
It can be tricky to get the interpretation right on a salon hang, as it doesn’t lend itself to the traditional museum label.  While visiting museums over the last 6 months I have been keeping my eyes peeled for ideas. I enjoyed the hang at the Clarke Institute in Massachusetts, USA. Here they’ve hung over 80 paintings in a small room and the bulk of the interpretation is accessed via tablets, which are loaned to visitors. It creates an interesting exhibition and I enjoyed the ‘hodgepodgeness’ of depictions of American Indians displayed alongside a Renaissance Madonna and British coastal scenes.

Using the iExplore app

The tablet displayed a programme called uExplore which gave further information on the paintings and sometimes also relevant audio and video content. There was another interactive app called uCurate which allows visitors to digitally curate their own exhibition – you choose the paintings, wall colours, design layout etc.

A visitor using the uCurate app at the Clarke Institute

A visitor using the uCurate app at the Clarke Institute

Both apps are available to use from the comfort of your own home – http://www.clarkart.edu/exhibitions/remix/content/exhibition.cfm We’d be interested to know what you think?

 

Dovedale: making sense of the collection

Dovedale: making sense of the collection

One of the main challenges we face with Collections in the Landscape is making sense, and making the most, of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery’s collections. This is a particular challenge with Dovedale, one of our trial locations for the project. We are currently working out how to interpret the multi-layered history of the area in a way that is interesting and engaging for visitors.

To begin with we need to consider the area we are dealing with. There is the Dove valley itself, but do we include the offshoots such as Hall Dale, and how far up the valley do we go? J.W. Jackson led a trail that went from Dovedale in a circuit around to the Manifold valley. If we used this template we could also include items held in other museums, including the spectacular Beeston Tor hoard at the British Museum. These are all things we need to consider.

Moonlight at the Straights, Dovedale

Moonlight at the Straights, Dovedale

 In the Enlightenment period Dovedale was a popular site with tourists, travellers and artists, much as it is today. As part of the recently finished project Enlightenment! Derbyshire Setting the Pace in the 18th Century Buxton museum and regional partner sites acquired 6 artworks relating to the area. These acquisitions complement our existing pictures collection which already contains over 35 Dovedale-themed works from different periods.  We also have a collection of books from this period that talk about walks and tales of Derbyshire (including Dovedale) and booklets of tourist prints, plus more that is yet to be catalogued in depth. In addition to these works we have a rich photographic archive, most of which is available on Picture the Past.

Jackson in Dovedale

Jackson in Dovedale

Moving more up-to-date, we also have several boxes of archive material from J.W. Jackson relating to Dovedale. Jackson was heavily involved in the movement to get the Peak district declared as a national park, to do so he focussed on the geological importance of Dovedale which he himself had excavated extensively. These boxes include newspaper cuttings, pamphlets for talks given by Jackson and photographs, but again we need to record this material in depth.

A sample of Jackson's collection, stored in pill boxes

A sample of Jackson’s collection, stored in pill boxes

Interpreting Jackson’s collection is the biggest challenge we face. In total there are 480 records of fossils from the area, but within each record there is anything from 1 – 80 specimens, sometimes even more! These were excavated from various sites along the Dove valley and certainly offer an insight into the biodiversity of the area during the Lower Carboniferous period. However, how do we make this extensive collection accessible? We will be meeting soon with the National Trust to discuss our ideas for the project and learn about their current work too. One of their volunteers, Mike Allen, has been cataloguing the find sites in Dovedale and we are very interested in seeing his work.