Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales


This is a void appreciation post.

It's not often that we have a lot of time to reflect on what we do, because there's always so much to do. So, before I jump into venue hire revamps; finishing off a piece of prep for this Women's Archive Wales conference and helping with new 'suggest an event' pages, let's look into the murky abyss and just take a minute to breathe.

The Sea's Edge

Nice, no? [The Sea's Edge, Arthur Giardelli]

Since 'keeping busy' is the other Welsh national sport, it's not for everyone - but I'm a firm believer in taking stock, staying still for a minute, and listening. There'll always be a call: an email that's fallen down the back of the sofa, a book you've been meaning to pick up, or a colleague you'd like to make more time for will pop upstairs and say hi.

Evaluation and Taking Stock

We're in transition as a department - welcoming two new team members this week - and have been working, quite separately and like the clappers recently, on various projects, on web, galleries, social, governance, research and planning.

Graham, who heads the Content Team (and who I will now be calling Captain Content if he lets me), has been taking part in a cross-sector project looking at evaluation and taking stock, called Let's Get Real. Last week, he braved their Crit Room in Brighton, where he presented our work for open criticism and questioning. Curiously scary.

The results of the crit have been a real encouragement - I had been worrying about the size of our twitter network, since the time cost of keeping everyone trained up is ever growing for me. But, we were encouraged to see it as a sign that we're a healthy, tweeting organisation.

I am really trying to believe them.

Feedback from the Crit Room

Self-deprecation aside, I'm quietly happy with how we're working as a network, and really chuffed to see people really run with the new skills they've acquired on social media. In fact, while totting up some numbers for an unrelated report last week I saw we'd passed a great milestone - as a network, we now have over 125,000 followers on twitter alone. I know it's not just a numbers game, but there's something reassuring about those great, neat, empty 000s in a row.

The Crit Room also had great words of encouragement for Chris, who's built all the foundation for the website redesign (and much more besides), and the rest of the team - namely that our digital offer was 'highly rewarding, rich and satisfying'. I can't stop thinking of coffee when I read those words. Speaking of which: time to stop blogging about stopping now, and start stopping for a cuppa.

A Radical Collection

I'm content when I'm rummaging through old records, photographs or documents. Gleaning through 'stuff' is an unusual pleasure now that I work in the Digital dept, my day-to-day work mostly bereft of bits of paper.

I love the feel of ruffling through collections; whether it's a pile of vinyl, a card catalogue, or a box of old letters and tickets from the last century (it's scary to say that: "I went to a Levellers gig in the last century".)

Nearest and dearest to me are the Screen and Sound Archive at the National Library (where my Father worked until his retirement), and the Archives at St Fagans National History Museum. At St Fagans, the history of those early, radical curators, the background noises they capture, the dialects and the voices have had me in awe for almost a decade now.

It's also a relatively egalitarian collection, that notes the value of women's histories and makes space for us to tell our stories in our own words, to share our songs, recipes, beliefs and superstitions. Paper history doesn't match up somehow, where our voices oftentimes get squished to the margins and footnotes. It must be said that it isn't a completely intersectional collection, though efforts have been made in recent years to address this, for example, in recording stories from LGBT people.

My Grandmother's Voice

I will never forget finding my Grandmother's voice in the archive. She died when I was very young and so I don't remember very much about her, apart from what I've picked up from photos and from her poetry.

Nancy Hughes Ffordd Deg Bach © R I Hughes
My Grandmother in 1926 © R I Hughes

She was an excellent storyteller, and it was a privilege to receive a CD of her telling a few tales. Her voice had been there, kept safe all along - and I was bowled over, not just by her turn of phrase and sense of humour, but by the noises my Grandfather was making in the background as he tinkered around. His voice was not as deep as the one I'd committed to memory, and unlocked a drawerfull of memories besides.

This encounter further convinced me that archives deserve to be recognised as inherently meaningful collections, to be treated not as a supporting cast, but as whole collections which deserve pride of place alongside archaeological objects and artwork in our museums.

The Archive Today

I've been working with the team for a while - Richard (@archifSFarchive) who is part of the @DyddiadurKate team, and now with Lowri and Meinwen, who look after the manuscripts and sound archive. I've been showing them how to use our blogging platform, so hopefully we'll see a bit more of the life of those collections online soon. 

Within the digital department, we're busy revamping our pages on Welsh traditions and folksongs. While that work is going on, I've been looking in more detail at how we could potentially reach a wider audience by sharing sound clips on social platforms.

Sharing Sound Socially

The platforms we currently run - twitter, facebook and tumblr - seemed too ephemeral somehow.

Tweets don't live long enough, especially since we have so many accounts running in St Fagans; and the data shows us that our facebook fans are more interested in our events programme than our collections. Something as focussed as oral history or folk music could easily get lost or miss its mark.

So, I asked Gareth and Rhodri about their experiences of sharing music on soundcloud, bandcamp etc. I decided to create a package our of existing digitised material using bandcamp, and to release them all in one go, father than drip-feed them on the blog or on twitter.

One of the lovely things about bandcamp is the ability to add more information, like sheet music, lyrics and the history of the recording, and that I'm able to package things in an 'album' style. I was also really keen to use the 'pay if you like' function to see if we could open up a small donations stream that could be evaluated in the future.

Download 'O'r Archif'

Here it is then, a selection of folk songs, recorded from 1960 onwards by our archive at St Fagans: O'r Archif: Caneuon Gwerin

Most of the recordings were made by Roy Saer. The sheet music and sound was arranged by Meinwen Ruddock-Jones in the archive, and additional research carried out by Emma Lile. The cover for the collection is held in our art department, and is attributed to the travelling artist W J Champan.

I used Canva to tie together the older scans of the sheet music, and to add a word or two about the archive's history. If there are any errors, therefore, they are mine! Enjoy, share, sing, donate and experiment - and if you have any feedback, please pop it in the comments!

Dwi'n edrych ymlaen at ein digwyddiad sgyrsiau fflach yfory - cyfle i staff o wahanol adrannau gyflwyo eu hymchwil mewn pum munud.

O ystyried amrywiaeth y disgyblaethau a'r arbenigedd sy'n bodoli 'ma (o ddaeareg gynnar i gelf modern, gofalu am esgyrn i dynnu llo...), dwi'n disgwyl dysgu rhywbeth, a'n gobeithio rhannu arfer da.

Pum Munud i Drafod Dyddiadur

Fe fydda i'n cyflwyno pum munud am @DyddiadurKate - er fod calon ymchwilydd gen i, y tîm yn Sain Ffagan sydd wedi bod yn dod â hanes Kate a'i chynefin at gynulleidfa newydd. Yn aml fe fydda i'n ymladd fy ngreddf i ymgolli mewn casgliadau a'n atgoffa fy hun mai pen hwylusydd sydd gen i - a mai fy rôl innau yw i greu gofod ar gyfer y tîm, eu hannog, a rhannu eu gwaith da ymhellach. 

Model Rhannu Casgliadau

Dwi wedi fy argyhoeddi fod model @DyddiadurKate yn un y gellir ei ddyblygu i rannu casgliadau eraill - yn enwedig y gwrthrychau cynnil hynny na fydd byth yn ennill teitl fel 'trysor' neu 'eicon'. Ond ofer fyddai mentro'r un peth eto heb ymroddiad tîm, a'r holl gynnwys cefnogol sydd gennym ar flaenau'n bysedd. 

O gronfa ddata casgliadau'r Rhyfel Mawr, i adnoddau allanol fel Papurau Newydd Cymru - a mewnbwn ein cynulleidfa - mae'r dyddiadur wedi bod yn sbringfwrdd i straeon amrywiol iawn am Gymru, a thu hwnt, gan mlynedd yn ôl.

Technoleg Gefnogol

O ran stwff nyrdlyd, technolegol, mae arferion rhannu asedau da wedi helpu, yn ogystal â phlatfform rhag-bostio, er mwyn rhyddhau'r curaduron o'r dasg ddyddiol o bostio, i greu amser iddyn nhw afael mewn pynciau perthnasol a'u hymchwilio ar gyfer y blog, neu greu cysylltiadau efo casgliadau eraill.

Y Rhife

Hyd yn hyn, mae dros 207,000 o argraffiadau wedi'u cofnodi ar y cyfri - llawer iawn mwy nag y gallen ni ei hwyluso yn gofforol, a mwy nag y gallai'r ddogfen ei ddioddef, yn gorffol, hefyd. Mae'r prosiect wedi codi traffig i flog Cymraeg yr Amgueddfa dros 800% o'i gymharu â llynedd - sy'n fy argyhoeddi mhellach o bwysigrwydd creu cynnwys gwreiddiol ar gyfer siaradwyr Cymraeg y we, i ateb galw go iawn, ac i greu cysylltiadau rhithiol ar hyd a lled y wlad, o'n swyddfa fach y tu ôl' i'r orielau celf.

I'm thankful to my past self for leaving this list on my desk on Thursday. I compiled it after sitting in on a google analytics training course with Jess Spate from Thoughtful SEO, who gave us a great overview of what the platform can do. Some of my colleagues have already mastered it, but I thought I'd have a bit of practice - so here's this year's 5 most popular paintings from Art Online:

San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight - Monet

We hold a number of magical and dark Venetian cityscapes, including this Nocturne by Whistler, and my favourite, the Palazzo Camerlenghi by Sickert. The most popular painting on Art Online by far, however, is this technicolour sunset by Monet. To see it in the flesh, visit Gallery 16 here at National Museum Cardiff.

Rain - Auvers - Van Gogh

Known as one of Van Gogh's very last paintings, this one really benefits from being seen up close. The way the rain pierces the scene, and the paint laid thickly to suggest muddy furroughs: you can almost smell the petrichor. It'll be back on display after it returns from a tour of the US.

The Family of Henry VIII: an Allegory of the Tudor Succession - Lucas de Heere

Last week's candid photos of George and Charlotte might very informal by comparison, but this formal display of lineage and power is part of the same tradition. Hanging in gallery 10, I have always loved looking closely at this painting, to see the way the textiles are displayed and rendered: so rich and luscious. Wearing a Tudor costume used to be a part of my job, but nothing quite and exquisite as this!

La Parisienne - Renoir

One of the cornerstones of the collection, bought by the Davies Sisters, whose eye for impressionist works and passion for philanthropy formed such a key part of the museum and its collections. I've never quite been able to discern what's behind her expression - in that respect, she's our very own Mona Lisa! I also really loved seeing this last week, taken at a wedding here at the Museum, by photographers Sioned a Nia: 

Running Away with the Hairdresser - Kevin Sinnott

The only work by a Welsh artist to make it to the top 5 -  and a real favourite with visitors to our galleries, this bittersweet painting is due to go back on display on the 20th of August. I remember being so taken aback by the piece when I first saw it, and then again when I saw the title - the artist gives us just enough of the story to feed the imagination. I wonder where the hairdresser's adventure ended up?

So - there you have the top 5 from Art Online. Have a look for yourself - I love using the 'random pick' to find part of the collection I've never seen before. And if you find something you really love, don't forget that our Print On Demand service will deliver a copy straight to your door! 

Exciting times in the Digital Media department. I can finally share this with you, an updated Museum Social Media Policy for museum tweeters, facebookers, tumblrerers and so on. I've tried my best to keep it readable, common-sensical and useful - so please do give it a go and let me know if there's something amiss or awry. 

Download Social Media Policy for Museum Wales

The previous policy had been in place since 2009 - and since then, our expectations and the devices we use to access social media have come along a fair way. I hope to keep it up to date as we're faced with the endless barrage of new platforms, retroactively amended ts and cs, high-profile fails and fads.

It's a companion to the Social Media Toolkit - I'm still working on that, since I want it to look a bit more user-friendly (not to mention sexier), so I'll post that up when it's ready. I hope the toolkit will be used a working reference - something that shows the possibilities of social media for museums, where the policy defines the boundaries within which we work, and is a bit more schoolmarmish. Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the document, especially our social media account holders for their feedback.

Let me know what you think in the comments!