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Collectors & Collections

July 2011

St Fagans Collections Manager - FIRST BLOG!

Posted by Dylan Jones on 1 July 2011

My name is Dylan Jones and I am the Collections Manager at St Fagans:National History Museum.  Apart from being responsible for the documentation at St Fagans I also look after the fishing and hunting collection which will be the main focus of my first blog.  It will cover the work / preparation for the fishing weekend at St Fagans later on this month.

Follow the blog as I finalise details for the weekend which will include Karl Chattington, Coracle maker from the Cynon Valley, lave netsmen of the Severn estuary demonstrating their unique fishing skills and Hywel Morgan giving a demonstration on fly fishing.  For the first time around the Netshouse we will also be preparing and cooking fish.  I hasten to add it will not be me cooking!

Karl is no stranger to St Fagans and over the years he has been a popular attraction on site demonstrating his coracling skills on the ponds at Easter and in the summer months.  Karl was part of the Welsh contingent that attended the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC in 2009.  It was at this particular festival Karl constructed a Tywi coracle within two weeks of the festival – no mean achievement considering the lack of tools / weather conditions.  Karl’s exploits at the festival can be read in a later blog.

I have already received some good news a few weeks ago with Martin Morgan, Secretary of the Blackrock Lave Net Fishermen Association confirming the presence of the fishermen at the festival.  Good news indeed as the netsmen are very popular and informative.  Beside showing the lave net Martin and his brother Richard will also bring with them fishing traps known as putchers and a putt which were once used on the Severn estuary until quite recently.  Keep reading the blog to learn more about these hardy and unique fishermen. 

Follow me on Twitter @CollectionsSF

 

March 2011

The Buddhas are as many as the sands of the Ganges River: Carved inscription at Baodingshan, Dazu, AD 1177-1249

Posted by Dafydd James on 16 March 2011
(c) Dazu Rock Carvings Museum, Chongqing, China
Head of Vairocana Buddha, Baodingshan, Dazu, Southern Song dynasty (AD1174-1252).
(c) Dazu Rock Carvings Museum, Chongqing, China
(c) Dazu Rock Carvings Museum, Chongquing, China
Sakyamuni Buddha, Xiaofowan, Baodingshan, Dazu, Southern Song dynasty (AD1174-1252).
(c) Dazu Rock Carvings Museum, Chongqing, China

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

September 2010

Face to face with the past - the redisplay of a Roman coffin

Posted by Chris Owen on 28 September 2010
Coffin

One of the most popular displays at the National Roman Legion Museum is a stone coffin that contains the skeleton of a Roman man. The coffin also contains the remains of grave goods that he would need for their next life, including the base of a shale bowl and fragments of a glass perfume or ointment bottle.

The coffin was found in 1995 on the site of a Roman cemetery just outside Caerleon. The cemetery is now part of the Caerleon Campus in the University of Wales, Newport. It has been on display in the National Roman Legion Museum from 2002, however in Summer 2010 we started working to redisplay the coffin in a fashion that is closer to its original form thanks to funding from the Friends of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Made from a solid block of Bath stone, the coffin dates to about 200AD. Since it is around 1800 years old the coffin wouldn’t be able to support the weight of its original lid which is in 2 large pieces. The sides and base of the coffin are being reinforced and the lid will sit on top of a Perspex cover with enough of a gap so that you can see the skeleton inside.

Further work will be done to find out more about our Roman man, who was about 40 when he died. Thanks to funding from the Roman Research Trust, Isotope analysis will be carried out on his teeth which should tell us where grew up and what sort of food he ate. We will also be trying to reconstruct his face so that we can produce a painted portrait of him using the same materials and techniques used by the Romans.

Follow our progress as work proceeds over the next year.

We aim to complete the redisplay by the end of 2011 when you will be able to come face to face with the past!

Step 1

Coffin

The coffin, skeleton and grave goods have been on display since 2002.

In that time it has become one of the most popular exhibits in the gallery.

Step 2

Discarded items

Gaps in the coffin allowed visitors to push things into the display.

These are some of the things we found, not exactly the sort of thing our Roman would like to take to the next life.

Step 3

Work begins

Work begins. First the skeleton and grave goods have to be removed and stored safely.

While off display the skeleton will undergo further investigation in an attempt to find more about the man buried in the coffin.

Step 4

Painting

All modern materials added to an object must be reversible. This makes it easier to remove restoration without causing damage to the original artefact.

Here a reversible barrier is being painted onto the coffin. This will separate the original stonework from the material used to fill gaps and level the rim.

Step 5

Painting

Even the most awkward places have to be reached!

Step 6

Lid of the coffin

The lid of the coffin must have a level surface to sit on!

Unfortunately much of the original rim of the base has eroded so with the aid of foam, double-sided tape and the glass top of the original display as a guide, we hope to establish a new level for the coffin rim.

Step 7

Layers of foam

Layers of foam were stuck to the flat glass top. When the highest part of the coffin was reached this line was used as the level for the new rim.

Step 8

Mixing up the fill material

Now for the fun bit� mixing up the fill material.

This material must work like a putty and set hard when dry. Also be safe to use in the open gallery and similar in colour and texture to the original Bath stone.

We went for a mixture of air-drying clay, sand to reduce shrinkage and give texture. Acrylic paint for colour and extra bonding. This was a bit of a messy job and it took a while to get the mix right!

Step 9

Filling the gaps

Once the mix was ready the gap between the foam and the edge of the coffin was filled.

Step 10

Filling the gaps

Being careful not to get excess fill material all over the stone.

Step 11

Filling done

Looks good, let�s hope the fill dries without to much shrinkage.

The colour of the fill is a bit light, not as golden as the original Bath stone. The Roman quarry for the stone is believed to be south of the ancient City of Bath. The stone is soft and easily carved when wet, but becomes hard on drying.

Step 12

Inspecting the day's work

Inspecting the days work! Hopefully when the glass and foam is removed the fill will be nice and level.

Step 13

Side of the coffin

The gaps in the side of the coffin have to be filled to prevent access to the skeleton once it is put back on display.

Step 14

Glass top and foam removed

The glass top and foam are removed and the new rim revealed. The fill has dried much lighter than expected so will have to be painted to make it less obvious.

Most of the fill will be hidden by the lid which extends over the edge and down the side. This overlapping edge use to rest on a ridge that ran round the top of the coffin base.

Remains of this ridge can still be seen on the right hand-side of the image just below the fill.

Step 15

Coffin

The coffin was unearthed by a mechanical digger, which broke it into several sections. Most of the pieces were retrieved, but one area was so badly damaged no pieces survived.

Instead of filling the gap to complete the side, we decided to install a viewing window so small visitors to the museum can still get a good view of the skeleton inside.

Step 16

Gallery

The coffin is extremely heavy and could not be moved out of the gallery safely. Therefore, all conservation work has to take place in the gallery, which has been quite challenging at times.

If you are visiting and see us there, come over and say hello, we are happy to answer any questions about the project.

July 2009

St Teilo's Church - the book blog

Posted by Mari Gordon on 28 July 2009

At last, the first review for Saving St Teilo's has come in.

Reviews make me nervous but in a good, exciting way. I never really dread seeing them but it is a truth universally acknowledged (in publishing at least) that you can't keep all of the people happy all of the time. So, sooner or later we'll get a stinker. But not this time –

"Gerallt Nash’s book also conveys a spirit rarely found in museum publications – pride and joy, craftsmanship and passion, a genuine sense of adventure and achievement. It makes the reader not just want to see St Teilo’s, but also to wish that they had rolled up their sleeves and lent a hand in its rescue."

To read the rest of the review go to http://www.vidimus.org/booksWebsites.html

 

April 2009

St Teilo's Church - the blog

Posted by Mari Gordon on 27 April 2009
BBC journalist Garry Owen
BBC journalist Garry Owen launches the book 'Saving St Teilo's'

We had a fabulous event at St Fagans yesterday. The weather wasn't quite with us - damp and overcast - but luckily lots of people were, and very many of them bought copies of the book!

I didn't catch the whole service as I was flitting around with boxes of books, but what I saw was very moving, and it felt intimate and totally natural.

Then a whole load more people arrived for the actual launch. People crowded into the Church and the two main speakers, Garry Owen and Eurwyn Wiliam, both did excellent jobs. Eurwyn spoke about the project from its beginnings, and as he's been involved with the project since its beginning 25 years ago it was a great overview. But, as always, humorous too! Then Garry Owen brought a lovely personal note, as he's a local boy who remembers the Church when it was still by the river Loughour at Pontarddulais. He really emphasised just how iconic the Church was  - and still is - to the local community.

Finally everyone came over to Oakdale, the Workmen's Instititute, for refreshments and we were flooded with people queuing up to buy the book. It was like when you first arrive at a car boot sale! It was also great for me to finally meet some of the book's contributors, people I've only emailed up til now. I guess everybody was enjoying themselves as by 5.30pm some people didn't seem to want to leave!

The rest of the work for me is now to make sure all the relevant bookshops and retail outlets know about it. And making sure it's on the relevant websites. And sending out review copies... In a way, producing the book is only half the job: now we've got to sell it!

St Teilo's Church - the book

Posted by Mari Gordon on 20 April 2009

No blogs for a while now - but mostly because we've been working full tilt on the book (also because I've been off for a week...).

So, it's now at the printers, and there's nothing - well, hardly anything - more we can do now. If all is well the books will be in Cardiff this Friday, and we'll all be at St Fagans launching it on Sunday. If the weather is anywhere as good as it has been this last week or so then it'll be a truly lovely afternoon.

As exciting as it is to look forward to seeing the actual book (no matter how many proofs, dummies etc you've seen - the real thing always looks different!) this bit always makes me a bit nervous too. After it arrives, and I spot the inevitable typo that got away, or something I wish we'd changed when we had the chance, or... and after the launch event, I'll be able to reflect on what a pleasure it was to work on and how lovely everybody was to work with. It's a real privilege to have been able to learn so much about the whole project - one of the very best bits of my job is being able to get involved with such a variety of different projects that might otherwise have passed me by. But with this one in particular, I think, the depth of people's knowledge and skills, and their committment, is inspiring.

 

Anyway, look out for it, available in all good bookshops - soon!

 

January 2009

St Teilo's Church - the book

Posted by Mari Gordon on 14 January 2009

We're getting really stuck in now. We've had a complete set of pages, which is our chance to move or replace any images, or perhaps move pages around. Once we've done that the layout is set in stone and we start proofreading. While we proofread the English, the designer will work on the Welsh pages - that's why it's important that nothing moves around after we've agreed on the layout!

We had some new external shots of the church done, so that we'd have a wider choice to try out for the cover. I think we're pretty close to deciding on the image. And I think the title is decided too:

Saving St Teilo's: bringing a medieval church to life.

I hope it's a strong title, and I like the fact that we get the name 'St Teilo's' right in there at the beginning!

We're also moving ahead with the launch event. It will be in the spring, March or maybe April. It should be a lovely event, it will be lighter then - and warmer!

December 2008

St Teilo's Church - the book

Posted by Mari Gordon on 29 December 2008
Church Exterior Summer
The church as it stands today, in St Fagans National History Museum.

We had a very positive meeting with the book's designer before Christmas at St Fagans. She's come up with some lovely ideas, it makes a big difference when you've seen something and you then have a set of images and visual themes you can relate to. The design manages to convey a sense of the crafts, skills and techniques behind the whole project, which is something I really want the book to convey.

We're still looking for exactly the right image for the cover though. We decided, although it might seem a bit unimaginative, to use a picture of the exterior of the Church. For all the amazing images we've got of the interiors, especially of course the wall paintings, I really believe that the audience for this book will be looking for a book with a picture of the church on it - sounds obvious I suppose! The book covers many things including art, archaeology and architecture, but in the end it's primarily about the story of St Teilo's Church. So that's the message the cover will convey. Plus, the building itself is now so recognisable, its shape is almost iconic.

I think one of the features that draw people to the Church is the contrast between the simple, white, almost humble-looking exterior and the riot of colour and images inside.

As soon as I've got images of the sample spreads I'll publish them here - it would be very interesting to know what people think of them!

St Teilo's Church - the book

Posted by Mari Gordon on 8 December 2008

I'm working on a book about the fantastic St Teilo's Church at St Fagans. Been really looking forward to this one, it's a lovely story and there's a wealth of fab images - unlike usually, when I have to scrabble around for some decent stuff. I thought we'd be much further on than we are mind, I really expected to be up to my ears in proofs by now. I sort of know why we're further behind than I'd planned, just can't quite explain. Or I could, but it still probably wouldn't make much sense. Plus, designers work in different ways, and this one likes to take a lot of time 'up front' working on the design concept, then when that's agreed we crack on with the proofreading fairly quickly. I suppose I'm more comfortable with spending the bulk of the time at the proofreading stage, especially with a fairly text-heavy book like this one. Still, we always manage to end up with a book on time. I should be designing the marketing plan by now, but I'm still getting the images together and finishing the copy - things like indexes, the glossary, that kind of thing. And I haven't written any of the image captions yet, which I decided would be quite long, narrative style, so that we don't have to cram absolutely everything into the main copy.

Having to work within a financial year is odd too - not at all the way publishing works. I could get really quite anxious about this if I let myself. I just have to concentrate on how good the book's going to look, and having a high-profile launch, with a popular speaker, where everybody buys a copy of the book, which will get great reviews...

In our favour is the fact that the Church is already incredibly popular and has had a lot of good press. The whole re-erection project at St Fagans has built up a swell of good will, and the Church has its own loyal following - a sort of fan-base! All that's keeping me going at the moment, but I know things are going to get pretty intense over the next couple of months.

June 2008

At last

Posted by Gareth Bonello on 9 June 2008

At last, I'm able to concentrate for half an hour or so on writing this blog, something that I haven't been able to do for just over six months. The main reason that I have some time now, is that I have stopped working two days a week in our new gallery, Oriel 1, so I can play catch-up with curatorial work such as transcribing oral history recordings and working with partners towards future exhibitions.

The exhibitions we've been working towards include ones on archery, a medical display, the Urdd, Pop, and the Italians in Wales.

I have also been involved in co-ordinating the St Fagans activities and events that are planned for 2009, when the theme will be 'Music', and towards the exhibiting the next Community Dresser, when Cwm Carn Boxing Club will show people what they've got.

Since the last blog, I have attended several conferences in Stockholm, London, Birmingham, Bolton and Llandrindod, have learnt a lot and shared experiences about contemporary collecting issues. The final draft of the museum's Contemporary Collecting Plan has been submitted to my fellow curators, and will be discussed at a meeting at the end of this month.

I still haven't accessioned any objects yet though, which is slightly frustrating. In part, we are still awaiting the outcome of the above meeting, but I am now confident that I have a clear-ish picture in my mind of what to collect. I suppose that I'll just have to be patient - after all, contemporary material will still be around in a few months time...or will it?

I will try to write this on a more regular basis, but you will know, that if I don't, I'm so busy collecting, that I don't have time to write. See Ya.

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