The unknown soldier
As part of Amgueddfa Cymru’s First World War centenary programme the collections relating to this period will be conserved, digitised and made available online. My role at the museum is Textile Conservator so I am responsible for the practical care of the textile collections across all seven sites. There are many WW1 objects in the textile collection; most take the form of commemorative or souvenir pieces while others are costumes and accessories.
One of the objects recently conserved for the project is an embroidered panel measuring 43.5cm x 53.5cm maker unknown, it is made from a single piece of royal blue silk satin embroidered with flags and text which reads ‘VICTORY FOR THE ALLIES MALTA PRESENT’ in yellow silk thread using stem stitch. It also features a photograph of a Welsh soldier printed onto a postcard which is slipped inside a frame made from card and covered in painted silk. The frame is tacked to the satin along the bottom and sides with the top edge left open. The flags are made with lines of silk floss which have been laid down to form the coloured sections and secured in a criss-cross, net like fashion and couched using a very fine thread. Thicker, cotton threads are used to define the sections of colour, the flags and poles are made from a coiled paper thread with a cotton core.
When it came to the conservation studio the panel was in a fair condition with some light surface soiling all over and creasing across the silk from being folded around the frame at some point, probably before it came to the museum. It is possible that the panel once had an adhesive backing as the embroidery threads on the reverse appear stiff and flattened. There is also some abrasion to the surface of the embroidery threads and satin floating yarns. The top and bottom edges are frayed and there are several splits in the ground fabric where it has been stitched through.
The conservation treatment began with a surface clean using a micro vacuum to pick up dust and fluff. It was then humidified to remove the creases; we cannot iron historic textiles because the heat and pressure of conventional irons can cause further damage. Instead we use gentle techniques with cold water vapour or in this case, a combination of materials layered up to introduce moisture gradually to the textile giving it time to penetrate the fibres. Once the fibres were relaxed, glass weights were used to hold them in position whilst drying. The photograph was removed during the humidification process to avoid any damage. The next stage was to support the splits in the satin which affect the stability of the textile. Fine silk crepeline was chosen to do this because it is gives a light support but is almost transparent, so even though it covers the reverse you can still see the threads; it was dyed blue to match the colour of the satin. The crepeline was fixed to the textile using a very fine layer of thermoplastic adhesive, which was applied to the dyed crepeline and allowed to dry. The adhesive was then re-activated to bond it to the reverse of the panel using a heated spatula, the bond created is enough to support the textile but not so strong that it cannot be removed in the future if required. The frayed edges were then laid out and secured though to the backing by working a blanket stitch along the edge using a fine polyester thread.
The textile is now back in store but will soon be available to view online and may one day go on display at St Fagans. Keep checking the blog for more updates as the project progresses!
The Soldier in the photograph is yet to be identified if you recognise him please contact the museum via Elen Philips Principal Curator: Contemporary & Community History Tel: 029 2057 3432 or on Twitter: @StFagansTextile
Wallace; the Forgotten Evolutionist?
This week our exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the death of the brilliant naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace has opened for exploration. But who was he?
Wallace was many things - an intrepid explorer, a brilliant naturalist, a social activist, a political commentator – overall a remarkable intellectual. By the time of his death in 1913, Wallace was widely praised as the 'last of the great Victorians'.
Wallace is most famously associated with co-discovering the process of evolution by natural selection alongside Charles Darwin. Yet we have all heard of Darwin, whilst Wallace has become more of a forgotten figure.
In his time Wallace travelled extensively, surviving malaria, numerous fevers and even shipwreck! He covered thousands of miles, lived with indigenous tribes and collected over 125 000 animal specimens. He also wrote widely on a range of subjects, publishing more than 800 articles and writing 22 books.
This exhibition attempts to explore some of Wallace's life and work, and in doing so raise our awareness of this remarkable man. The exhibition uses a mix of media, and has rich diversity of specimens on display, including specimens collected by the great man himself.
Associated with the exhibition are a range of workshops, talks and tours. Check out the website for an up-to-date list of ‘whats on’.
We really hope you enjoy the exhibition and welcome feedback on your visit
Beans on Toast
3 primary schools took part in activities exploring the new Beans on Toast exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff last week.
Pupils from Windsor Clive Primary School, Trelai Primary School and Ysgol Wirfoddol Abergwili explored where in the world our food comes from and how we can make sustainable choices about the food we buy. They then worked with an artist to create a 'World Food Stall' display to encourage discussion on the issues of food security back in school.
Funding was received to work with the artist through the British Ecological Society.
The exhibition will be open until 29 September 2013. Contact the Learning Department 029 2057 3240 if you would like to take part in future activities.
Penblwydd hapus to Alfred Russel Wallace!
Today, 8 January, marks the 190th birthday of the intrepid explorer and brilliant naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Born in 1823 in the village of Llanbadoc near Usk, Wallace went on to be one of the most celebrated scientists of his era.
Wallace spent much of his early working years as a civil engineer in the south Wales area, particularly in the Vale of Neath. This involved spending a great deal of time working outdoors, which allowed him to indulge in his growing passion for natural history.
Soon, inspired by the writings of traveling naturalists such as Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin, Wallace set out on his own intrepid travels. These adventures started in the Amazon Basin and were followed later by his explorations of the Malay Archipelgo.
During these trips Wallace collected many thousands of birds, butterflies and beetles, many of which were new to science. The biological diversity he encountered inspired his thinking in many areas of biology such as the distribution and evolution of species. His brilliance did not go un-noticed and in 1858 he famously co-published the theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin.
During 2013 Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, along with other museums and institutions across the world, will be marking the centenary of the death of A R Wallace in a celebration of his life and legacy. Keep an eye on our web site and blog for further information as we finalise details and dates. You will also be able to follow other events and exhibitions on the Wallace100 website.
Natural History Halloween Open Day - more scary pictures!
Following on from the last post about our Natural History Halloween Open Day, we thought you might like to see some more pictures of the event.
We had some freshly collected fungi on display, including an invitation to sample the smell of a fresh stinkhorn and to speculate on the significance of the smell to the biology of the fungus. We found it got some interesting reactions (although it’s not so fun being sat downwind from it!).
There were also some less stinky but realistic wax models of fungi. These were made in the mid 1900s by our in-house botanical model-maker, a practice that continues today.
A ‘murder mystery’ had also taken place in our herbarium (the plant collections), an area not usually open to the public. Whilst surrounded by our quarter of a million pressed herbarium specimens, you had to work out which plant was used to poison the victim!
If this has whetted your appetite, keep an eye on our Natural History collections Twitter feed @NatHistConservation for more behind the scenes sneak peeks. Also stay tuned to the What’s On guide on our main website for details of the next Open Day. More stories from behind the scenes can also be found on the 'Rhagor' pages of our website e.g. conserving wax models.
Old Bones for a New Exhibition
More than 20 years ago the Museum was donated a large research collection of animal bones. This had been put together by a veterinary scientist, Dr Barbara Noddle. The collection mainly consists of sheep, goat and cattle bones from many different breeds.
When it was donated the collection was in a poor state and required extensive conservation and curation. Today it is now housed in over 600 boxes at our offsite Collection Centre at Nantgarw, and a database is available on the website.
Over the years the Noddle Collection has mainly been used in zoo-archaeological research – this is the study of animal remains found at archaeological sites. However parts of the collection will soon find their way into the exhibition limelight!
From the 13th October ‘The Wolf Inside’ exhibition opens. This will be looking at animal domestication, focusing on dogs but also exploring other animals such as sheep and chickens. And this is where Barbara’s collection of old bones finds a new use. We are using a range of skulls from the collection to show some of the diversity found in the different breeds of sheep. A range of these skulls have been checked over and polished up ready for public display.
Along with the skulls there will also be a whole range of animal specimens on display from the museums collections, many of which we haven’t had the opportunity to bring out for many years.
The exhibition runs until February next year.
New Natural History Galleries
At long last all the natural history galleries are now open again at National Museum Cardiff. You can see old favourites such as the Humpback Whale and the world's largest recorded Leatherback Turtle but there is also something new.
We have created a new gallery which is an introduction to marine biodiversity - or life in the sea. The gallery has over 100 new marine specimens on display with a focus on marine invertebrates rather than fish and you will also find specimens of seaweeds, an often neglected group when it comes to museum displays.
Nearly all the specimens have been displayed in indvidual cases which allows you to get up close and marvel at the intricate design of some of these beasts (and algae!). We have reserved the 3 large cases to display heavy or fragile specimens. Two have displays of some of our fantastic Blaschka glass models. The detail in these models has to be seen to be believed and all the more amazing is they were made over 100 years ago.
So if you are in Cardiff and have an hour free why not pop in and have a look at the new galleries.
Lower Natural History Galleries re-opening soon
The west wing natural history galleries have now been closed for well over a year. This has been due to the building works replacing the west wing roof and installing the new contemporary art galleries on the top floor. These works are completed and we are now working hard to get the ground floor natural history galleries back into shape.
The front gallery remains mainly the same but we have taken the opportunity to give the dioramas a deep clean, replace the carpet and redo the lighting. As a result the space is looking much brighter and fresher.
The remaining ground floor gallery space has seen some big changes. We are currently installing a new display area called ‘Insight’. This is a series of modular displays, many with interactive touch screens, which will explore the science that goes on behind the scenes at the museum.
Beyond this is another new display area that looks at evolution, and provides a linking space to the newly refurbished science education room.
These spaces will all be fully open to the public on April 16th when we look forward to welcoming you back into these gallery spaces.
Unfortunately the mezzanine area gallery spaces, where the Leatherback Turtle and Humpback Whale can be found, will remain closed a few months longer. Once the ground floor is open we will be cleaning and redoing some of the displays in this area in preparation for the BBC Wildlife Photographer exhibition which opens in mid June.
The Buddhas are as many as the sands of the Ganges River: Carved inscription at Baodingshan, Dazu, AD 1177-1249
May 2010. I’m standing next to the largest head I’ve ever seen. Carved in sandstone and painted, it belongs to the vast reclining Buddha at the heart of the Baodingshan cave temple. Baodingshan, ‘Summit of Treasures’, is the most impressive of the seventy-five rock-carved temple sites that make up the Dazu World Heritage Site in south-west China. 10,000 individual figures populate its 500m-long tree-shaded sandstone cliff, all carved between AD1177 and 1249.
The experience is overwhelming. I’m astonished by the sheer ambition of this Buddhist complex, by the sophisticated imagination that planned it, by the skills of the artists that fashioned it. I’m here with colleague Steve Howe to plan an exhibition of Dazu carvings at the National Museum in Cardiff early in 2011, and I’m wondering how we are going to convey the magic of these places to our visitors.
This visit to Dazu was my first time back in China since working there in the mid 1980s. China had changed hugely, of course, and the pace of change is as breathtaking as the ferociously spiced Sichuanese food (the best in China, in my view) which our generous hosts pressed on us at every opportunity. The most important things, however – the sociability of the people, their rightful pride in a distinguished cultural heritage – remain undimmed.
Our week’s work with colleagues at the Dazu Rock Carvings Museum developed a warm and trusting friendship, along with the realisation that we had an opportunity to create something really special back in Cardiff. Dazu, after all, represents the last great flourishing of the cave-temple art form and its treasures of Song-dynasty (AD960-1279) sculpture had never been seen outside China before.
Back in Wales, the whole exhibition team rose enthusiastically to the challenge and, under serious time pressure, captured the serene drama of visiting a rock-carved cave temple. The exquisite beauty of the carvings, something both spiritual and deeply human, shines out. From a number of favourite pieces, I would highlight the meditating figure of Zhao Zhifeng, the designer of the Baodingshan complex, and, in complete contrast, the charmingly characterised family group from a tomb complete with serious father, delighted mother and two naughty children. Pride of place, though, goes to the central Sakyamuni Buddha, whose authoritative dignity greets visitors to the exhibition and provides a profoundly spiritual focus for the whole experience.
I was particularly pleased to see the delight of our Chinese colleagues at the results, but equally so to see the enthusiasm of so many visitors of all kinds, whether people from Cardiff or China, specialists or local school children. If the multitude of Buddhist figures and schools of thought, and their interweaving with Confucian and Daoist ideas, all seem like too much to grasp, not to worry. Just enjoy the spectacle and take heart from another Dazu inscription that expresses the essential simplicity of Buddhist thinking: ‘to know clearly means that there is nothing to know’.
Andrew Renton, Head of Applied Art, National Museum Cardiff
Dazu and confused: an exhausting but exhilarating journey to China
Having secured the Dazu Exhibition to come to Wales - to venture west for the first time ever - the Museum sent me to China as a facilitator, a friendly face, to meet and greet its people and report back on the full logistics required for transporting these holy artefacts all the way to Cardiff.
This is a diary of memories from the trip:
The further you travel, the less you know. That line, from Tao teaching, is calling to lay rest my preconceptions.
I reach Dazu late in the evening and after nearly a full day of travelling, cocooned in one small seat after another, happy to have finally finished the journey. My hosts are excited by my presence and have kindly prepared a welcoming dinner. The food arrives as colourful exotic platters, artful dishes with precise garnishes.
Plate after plate upon a lazy Susan, a magic roundabout of smells and flavours so unfamiliar I feel the need for reckless abandonment. I am coached through each course in descriptive detail. Silk worms, pigs gums and the tail of something! Respectfully I enjoy being the entertainment, the toast of this banquet of curiosities.
The next day and I’m standing at the foot of the mountain, my leather soles on ancient well trodden steps. The summit is hidden by dense foliage and cloaked in a playful mist.
Beishan represents the pinnacle of Chinese rock carvings, familiar images from text books are now images of breathtaking artistic, spiritual realization. These exquisite statues project their majesty from 10 meter high walls in commanding elegance, as another niche reveals graceful scenes in rust coloured sandstone magnificence. Truly a day to remember!
Next morning and it’s time to meet the local media. The smell of a thimble size glass of white spirit liquor goes someway in preparing me for the consumption. I know I have to knock it back. Today I’m the toast of the town, and everyone wants a piece of me.
I start with filming for Chongqing T.V and also make the front page of Dazu's local newspaper. I'm feeling the love. It's difficult to recall the interviews, an almost surreal experience of transcendental fragmented English prose, offered in a wide-eyed excitable manner. I must have said the right things - forged a relationship - as an orderly queue waits to raise another glass of white heat to my lips!
Alas, it’s my last night in China. I’m gazing upon the towering skyline of Chongqing with its ever suppressive fog cast neon rainbows across the Yangzi river. Leaving the busy streets behind, the smell of frying tofu and soot, I watch the city unfold from a packed pleasure cruiser.
The huge creative and commercial upheavals that China is undergoing tell of a transition from hard line politics to economic pragmatism. China and the world have much to gain from Chinese openness. I will leave with a fondness for the country and its people.
Lee Jones, Senior Technician, National Museum Cardiff
Respect the world as your self
The world can be your lodging
Love the world as your self
The world can be your trust.