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.

wet

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!)

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.

IMG_9673

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

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.

Photographs in the Landscape

One of the challenges we face with a project like Collections in the Landscape is to provide the public with high-quality images of the objects from Buxton Museum’s collection. Although I have grown accustomed to taking the occasional snap over the years, photographing hundreds of artefacts for people to view online is a daunting task. Luckily, we have hired the services of professional photographer Nick Lockett to get the ball rolling. The plan is for Nick to shoot key objects for the early stages of the project and for the team to absorb some of his expertise and continue his legacy. However, as you will be able to see over the next few months, Nick’s pictures are fantastic. If I can take shots half as well, I’ll be happy.

Nick in action

On Monday 5th, August, Nick came in to photograph a selection of objects from BMAG’s Wonders of the Peak gallery. The safety and security of the artefacts was paramount so we took time to remove and replace the objects. The Wonders of the Peak was built in the 1980s and the display cases have rarely been opened since. Myself and my Collections in the Landscape colleagues, Anna and Joe, were faced with a series of puzzles as we tried to find our way into the displays. For a moment, it was reminiscent of 90s game show The Crystal Maze. Amongst the selection were two Bronze Age skulls and we enlisted the handling skills of assistant manager and resident archaeologist Martha Lawrence to ferry them to the photographer’s temporary studio in gallery one.

Martha in action

The art gallery soon became animated with clicks and flashes from Nick’s busy camera. Nick and his brother, Steve, were great about letting me shadow them. I worried about getting in the way and asking too many annoying questions but the Lockett brothers were very accommodating. In between shots, Nick gave me some of his trade secrets on lighting and composition. He told me that the most important aspect of photographing museum objects is to make it clear to the viewer what exactly they are looking at. Photographing the top of a skull might look great, for instance, but will people be able to tell that it’s a skull?

Nick and Steve

For the time being, I am content with seeing what Nick can do with the museum’s collection. As far my own photographs are concerned, I think that setting up a similar studio environment would be beneficial, it’s all in the preparation. Although our equipment is not as good as Nick’s, getting the best out of what we have got is the key. BMAG has a large archive of photographs, most of which can be seen on website Picture the Past . Recently, I found this lantern slide linked to one of the pilot locations for Collections in the Landscape, Arbor Low. It is entitled “A group dressed as Druids” and dates from 1927; a curious scene as I’m sure you will agree.

A Group Dressed as Druids Arbor Low 1927

Getting an image from a piece of glass is not easy. In the end, I had to scan the negative but left the scanner’s lid up so the light would shine through it. If you ever try the same technique, take care to shield your eyes from the glare! Another challenge we face in coming weeks is to shoot a selection of paintings from the museum’s art collection and many of these are glazed. Again, I will be seeking tips from Nick. Watch this space to see how we get on.

Ben in action

Wonders of the Peak gallery

Invitation to the opening of the Wonders of the PeakWhile tidying up an old filing cabinet I came across an original invitation for the opening of the Wonders of the Peak gallery on 1st August 1988.  The gallery which the following year won the prestigious BBC Natural History Museum of the Year award was opened by Brian Redhead

Invitation to the opening of the Wonders of the Peak Gallery

Part of the Collections in the Landscape project is the redevelopment of this gallery.  On the whole the gallery has stood the test of time pretty well and the majority of our visitors do seem to like it. However we do get regular comments along the lines of:

  • The lighting is too dark, I struggled to read the labels.
  • …the labels are quite wordy and complicated for me at least.
  • Was disappointed not to see any display on the lovely town you have and its history.

Roman alters in the Wonders of the Peak

These are all valid comments and are some of the things we want to address with the redevelopment.  However it is going to be difficult to please everyone and as a team we are not taking this job lightly. Our tripadvisor reviews sum up the problem we have, as what some visitors like, others do not.  For example in some we are praised for being ‘An old fashioned museum in the very best sense – no gimmicky computer simulations’ while others think we are an ‘outdated attraction’. 

What do you think? Have you visited the gallery? What do you like, how could we improve it?

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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