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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What Does the Derbyshire Landscape Mean to You?

Regular visitors to the museum or its digital incarnations may remember the launch of White Peak Dark Peak on Friday 13 December, blogged about by Ben shortly afterwards. He was kind enough to photograph me sampling the buffet!

The exhibition examines some of the places we’ll be exploring through Collections in the Landscape, using objects, paintings and photographs to contrast the ‘soft curves of the White Peak’ with the ‘gritty angles of the Dark Peak’.

Visitors to the exhibition are also asked a question – What does the Derbyshire landscape mean to you? We’re encouraging people to let us know through social media (#WPDP) but also in the gallery itself.

The whiteboard in White Peak Dark Peak has allowed visitors to express themselves.

The whiteboard in White Peak Dark Peak has allowed visitors to express themselves.

For this week’s post I’ve taken it upon myself to analyse some of the comments – exploring the moving, interesting, and often imaginative responses left behind by visitors. Already there are some strong themes emergingGet ready for the top 5 so far!

5. Flora & Fauna

No surprise in this strong entry. The living landscape of Derbyshire has clearly made an impression on those who visit it. Mammals, birds, insects and flowers all get a mention! A casual walk around Miller’s Dale in late Spring/Early Summer rewards the visitor with hundreds of pink Common Spotted Orchids.

 

Space, air, butterflys, orchids, hares...a fox...

Space, air, butterflys, orchids, hares…a fox…

4. History

I can safely say that the museum team are very relieved to see this feature in the top 5! The messages left convey the sense of special places, where time has stood still or that, despite changes, the past is all around us. Take a stroll up to Arbor Low to feel this deep connection to the landscape’s ancient past.

Where the past still lives

Where the past still lives

3. Weather

How very British, our visitors simply couldn’t help but comment on the weather. The rain and wind seem to feature quite a lot…I can’t imagine why. If you do catch yourself in the area in poor weather I can only recommend you visit us at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery as a perfect way to spend a wet afternoon.

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wet

2. The Physical Landscape

In at number 2 – the geology and geography of the region. From rolling hills and deep dales to dark moors and peat bogs, visitors have enjoyed describing the physical features of Derbyshire. The top of Mam Tor, near Castleton, is a great place to contrast the landscapes of the White Peak to the south and the Dark Peak to the north.

Long rambles through dales and over moors

Long rambles through dales and over moors

1. A Beautiful Place

Topping our list – it’s the sheer beauty of this unique landscape. Many, many different terms were used to describe the spectacular scenery of the region. I’ve often pulled over on my drive home along the A53, from Buxton to Leek, to admire the view across the hills and dales.

Unspoilt Untamed Incredible

Unspoilt Untamed Incredible

We’re continuing to photograph the board as it fills up to keep a record of the comments. We’re also starting to share some of these quotes with the world through our Facebook and Twitter accounts.

We've started to share our responses through social media.

We’ve started to share our responses through social media.

Please share your own thoughts about the Derbyshire landscape with us and we’ll endeavour to print some out and include them in the exhibition. Use #WPDP on Twitter posts. I’ll leave you with one of the most artistic contributions so far, but perhaps a little unfair on some of our neighbours though…

Some visitors have been quite creative

Some visitors have been quite creative…(not the opinion of the museum I hasten to add!)

Dovedale, Revisited

Dovedale, Revisited

On a dark, wintery day in November, Anna and I went to Dovedale to try and tackle the problem of what to include in our app. The day reminded us how changeable the Derbyshire landscape can be. In the morning the weather was crisp but cold, I even tweeted about it:

It may be cold but that doesn’t stop us @BuxtonMuseum! Today we go to #Dovedale to think of content for our new app #collectionslandscape

 However, the afternoon soon took a turn for the worse but true to Buxton Museum form we didn’t let that hold us back. Armed with our waterproofs (or not, in Anna’s case) we waded through the flooded path, the nearly submerged stepping stones, and onwards into Dovedale.

The first challenge - navigating the flooded footpath.

The first challenge – navigating the flooded footpath.

The main aim for going to Dovedale was to see how we could link items from our collections with the landscape, and to see what the landscape was like at the points where we have objects. It soon became obvious that we needed to think about this area a little differently. A large amount of our Dovedale collections are either fossils or artwork – how do we tie those in to the landscape in a way that will make it exciting for visitors and families? We decided games and activities would be the most interesting method to use.

Dovedale is traditionally most well-known for its dramatic rock formations. The first rocks we reached were Dovedale castle. One of our colleagues had already suggested renaming the rocks in Dovedale as an activity, so we thought we would give it a go. Anna decided that Dovedale Castle actually looked like a gorilla and chimp sitting together (I couldn’t see it). Next we arrived at the Twelve Apostles. From Lover’s leap these rocks look quite threatening and I didn’t think the ‘Twelve Apostles’ was suitable, perhaps they could be more suitably called ‘The Guardians’ as it looks like they are hiding a big secret. Neither of these areas are well covered by our collection so we moved swiftly on.

Me at Lover's Leap noting down our activity ideas.

Me at Lover’s Leap noting down our activity ideas.

As we descended from Lover’s Leap and made our way to Church Rocks and Reynard’s Cave we were reminded of the tale of Dean Langton, who fell to his death in 1786 whilst cavorting up the hillside with Miss De La Roche. His horse sustained only minor injuries. In full it is a great story and it could work well as audio on our app. Next up were Church Rocks and Tissington Spires. This area was a favourite of artists’ and we have a lot of paintings and prints of here. Could we inspire people to take a photo or make a drawing and share it with us? We would love to see how others view the landscape too, not just 18th Century artists!

Reynard’s Cave is certainly my favourite spot in Dovedale and I have memories of scaling the path up to the cave with ease. Sadly those days are long gone and it is more like a crawl now, but the cave is still a spectacular sight. This is a ‘must –have’ location for our app as Reynard’s Cave is the only site with archaeological remains in Dovedale. We could also get phone signal & 3G here so we can potentially ask more of our app at this point. Anna suggested having a game linking to the archaeology of the cave.

Phone signal! 3G!

Phone signal! 3G!

After battling up stream we arrived at the Straits, a very narrow and overgrown section of the walk. There was such a different feel here that it seemed like we were adventurers. The plant life in this narrow stretch is particularly abundant and you are so close to it – could we have a plant identification activity here? This complements the original purpose of the Dovedale which was to be a nature conservation spot. This ethos is still upheld by the National Trust to this day.

                Pickering Tor and Ilam Rock was our penultimate stop of the day. Here the valley really opens out and you can start to see other areas around Dovedale. This spot was a popular area for activities like fishing and picnicking and with such great views it’s not hard to see why. According to J.W. Jackson, one of Buxton Museum’s main collectors, an old Irish woman used to live in the base of Pickering Tor. The path also splits at this point and offers walkers the chance to cross the river and go up into Hall dale, or continue on to the Dove Holes. We opted for the easier route to Dove Holes.

Me at the Dove Holes.

Me at the Dove Holes.

 The Dove Holes was our final stop. Like a dark set of eyes in the landscape, the caves eyed us suspiciously as we walked closer. Anna and I liked the sense of mystery attached to this spot. We both thought that it would be interesting if there was a story attached to this area, perhaps a sinister tale. We are currently in the process of tracking down stories of the area, however, if you happen to know of any then please get in touch.

At this point we were interrupted by a Tawny Owl telling us it was time to go home. The light was fading fast and we decided the owl was right, it would be a good idea to head back. It was a productive walk and we can only hope that the pilot app is as interesting as our walk through Dovedale. Thanks to Anna for all the photos and for capturing my double chin so nicely. We highlighted a lot of different points in our walk but for our pilot app we will not be using them all. When it is up and running, we would really like to know what works and what doesn’t, as well as if there is anything else you would like to be included. We hope to be trailing the Dovedale part of our app in February half-term and will be looking for volunteers – sign up to our blog or follow us on Facebook and Twitter to here all the latest on the Collections in the Landscape project.

Please note: we would not recommend walking in low-light levels or poor weather conditions, even on good surfaces, as it is potentially very dangerous and you could easily incur an injury. Both Jess and Anna are experienced walkers, are familiar with the area, and were fully aware of the risks before setting out.

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.

The Journey Begins…

Welcome to Collections in the Landscape!

Over the coming months we’re hoping to develop some really exciting ideas at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery. We want to give visitors more choice and more control in how they access and experience our collections.

The concept of the project is to link objects in the museum collections to places in the landscape. Where did that fossil form? Where was that arrowhead discovered? Where did the artist sit to sketch that view? This will be achieved through digital media in the landscape as well through media inside the museum galleries.

Visitors enjoyed seeing real images during 'Pictures in the Landscape'. Will digital work as well?

The ‘Pictures in the Landscape’ successfully brought real images to the landscape. The next step is to offer even more content digitally.

Digital versus Physical

Without wanting to sound clichéd, we’d like to try to blur the boundaries between the digital and physical visit. In the case of somebody who is only ever going to visit us online, don’t we need to ensure they can get as much from this experience as possible?

There’s a rapidly growing argument that says museums need to change to meet the needs of the 21st Century to ensure they continue to be relevant. Like it or not, the future is looking more and more digital. I’m told that by 2020 around 50% of the public will be using smartphones and, as data services improve, so will the speed and online capabilities of these devices.

Of course, whilst this is all very exciting, we cannot escape the fact that museums are centred on real objects. As a result we’ll also be ensuring that the project will improve the displays at the museum with the inclusion of more objects and more choice in terms of how visitors access information whilst in the galleries.

Follow the Story

We’ve been awarded a Stage One Pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund to pilot ideas and develop the Collections in the Landscape project. If successful, we hope to start implementing our plans towards the end of 2014.

This blog will track the work of the project team as we collect ideas and develop pilot schemes. We want to hear what you think about the work we are doing or your own thoughts about how museums should or could embrace the digital age.

Navigate around the site to find out how you can get involved or to find out more information. Alternatively, simply leave us a comment below. Collections in the Landscape – let’s start the conversation.

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