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Love it, or hate it, this Sunday is Valentine’s Day, where many will exchange cards, gifts and flowers with their loved ones.

The custom of sending Valentines is hundreds of years old, but the tradition truly thrived during the end of the eighteenth century and nineteenth century. The improvement in postal services and printing methods during this period, made it easier than ever to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

The Evening Express in 1885 stated that when the trade was its best, between 1860 and 1880, the public spent a quarter of a million pounds annually upon valentines. It reports that at least 5,000 people, mostly girls and women, were employed in valentine factories, at wages ranging 10s to 18s per week.

Here at St Fagans we have a rather large collection of Valentine Cards dating from this period. Many are elaborate, adorned with cupids, satin ribbon, delicate lace or miniature flowers.

But surprisingly some are of complete contrast to these romantic and sentimental Valentine cards. Several from the collection, feature an ugly comic caricature, with humorous yet rather abusive verses beneath, clearly intended to cause offence.  These cards were referred to as 'Comic Valentines', and their history has largely been forgotten.

The card in the middle right, from our collection at St Fagans National History Museum, is a perfect example of a typical comic valentine card. It shows a rather ugly, dramatic caricature of a woman crying with the following verse beneath:

Tired of your lonely state,
Longing for another male,
But this fact pray understand,
Men don’t like Women second hand
.

These particular kind of cards become incredibly popular during the mid-nineteenth century.

The Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian  reported on the 14th February, 1846:

St. Valentine’s Day is now almost everywhere a degenerated festival, the only observance of any note consisting in the sending of anonymous letters, by way of practical joke, and this confined very much to the humbler classes….Each generally consisting of a single sheet of paper, on the first page of which is seen some ridiculous coloured caricature of the male or female figure, with a few burlesque verses below.

The anonymity aspect of sending a Valentine’s card would have made these racy cards appealing. They were also affordable to buy and to send, as they were printed on a single sheet of paper, unlike the more elaborate romantic cards.

Despite their huge popularity, the demand was short lived, and by the late 1800s, Wales and Britain's love of comic Valentines was over.  The late Victorians viewed the cards as malicious and vulgar and demand for a return of moral values, politeness and decency.

Valentines, whether sentimental or comic, have come to be voted common place – not to say 'vulgar'. The Aberystwyth Observer, 21 February, 1885.

The two artists we are lucky enough to have assisting Nils Norman on the playground project are Fern Thomas and Imogen Higgins. Fern will be investigating the archives and collections at St Fagans in order to find inspiration and stories for the new play area. Fern's own practice is based in research and she has previously had a solo show investigating the history of the Mission Gallery in Swansea, entitled When the moon fell out of orbit: from the Institute for Imagined Futures & Unknown Lands

Imogen is a recent graduate from the ceramics course in Cardiff Metropolitan although her work has since developed to be more community focused and inspired more by land art. Imogen will be working with community groups and visitors to collect ideas and suggestions to feed into the design.

We hope both supporting artists will be able to share their work, discoveries and experiences as the project progresses.

In Britain it is estimated that we use 13 billion plastic bottles each year, whilst this has a serious environmental implication, this mass production also has implications for the museums of the future.

Take for example, St Fagans National History Museum, in 100 years’ time what will be on display in the house of 2016?

In our modern society we have come to accept mass produced items as an essential part of our lives. Whilst producing items in this way is cost effective and practical, its introduction has meant that some of these items which historically would have been aesthetically pleasing have lost their aesthetic appeal.

In my room I have chosen to display a collection of bottles manufactured years before I was even born. I am drawn to the beauty and manufacture of these objects, their vibrant colours and slight imperfections. In the past a bottle with a primary function to hold a certain liquid, manufactured of glass could last for years and have a wide array of applications within its lifetime.

Now however, when we buy a bottle of water or fizzy drink, it generally comes in a mass produced bottle made of plastic. Whilst these are very portable they are not generally viewed as being very aesthetically pleasing.

Whilst I may choose to display an old glass bottle, a plastic bottle produced in 2016 would not make it onto my shelf.

Returning to the question of the St Fagans of the future, will they choose to display a plastic water bottle on the kitchen table, the new model of smartphone by the bed or even an E-reader on the bookshelf? Mass production has removed the individuality and beauty from some objects which in the past were manufactured with care.

In the future our culture will be conveyed through the artefacts which we choose to treasure, for some that may be a collection of antiques curated throughout the years but for others it may consist of a collection of modern objects.

The museums of the future will have a very tough time conveying our diverse culture through the use of a select few objects.

The future is uncertain but the choices over what we individually choose to curate will shape the perceptions of our culture in the museum displays of the future.

 

Gracie Price,

Cardiff Museum Youth Forum

 

Sources:

Recycle-more. (2016). Top facts on recycling and the environment. Available: http://www.recycle-more.co.uk/pwpcontrol.php?pwpID=12809. Last accessed: 28th Jan 2016

So in my last post I was talking about how we have Nils Norman to design our new play area for St Fagans, I also mentioned that we were going to work with community groups and visitors in order to get their input into the play area. Last night I got my regular email from the amazing Playscapes website which was all about how to engage kids and community in playground design, super timely!

This is something we have been considering quite a lot - we want to engage our visitors and local communities, but how do you get children to talk about what they would like to see in a play area if all they've ever seen is a 'traditional' play area with swings and a slide? the article on Playscapes suggests asking the following questions to children:

What is the most dangerous, scary places you have ever gone?

Where would you like to go alone?

Where would you like to be right now?

What do you do that your parents tell you not to try?

What is the highest you have ever climbed?

Where do you go to be alone? To be with friends?

What is the silliest thing you have ever done?

What games do you invent?

How great is that? they also had a list of questions for adults, one of which was:

What value or sensation do you want your kids to experience: e.g. risk, fear, failure, satisfaction, accomplishment, beauty, tranquillity, action?

We want this playground to be different, we want a space where there can be risky play but there can also be quiet, contemplative play, a play area where children can enjoy creative play and a space that is open to be used in different ways. Of course overall we want it to be fun, a play area for plays sake.

Any thoughts please share - What is the highest you have ever climbed?

If you are a regular visitor to St Fagans you may have noticed:

a. The big red crane

and

b. the play area has gone.

The big red crane is obviously temporary as all the building work goes on for the new and improved St Fagans, and luckily the lack of a play area is also temporary as we are BUILDING A NEW ONE! not only that we are building a new one with Nils Norman - an artist who has been working extensively around play for a number of years.

Although Nils has been on board for a good few months now (with support from Arts Council Wales and the Heritage Lottery Fund), it has taken a while for the project to get going as there is so much organising to do beforehand!

We also needed to appoint two supporting artists to work on the project with Nils which we did at the end of last year. These support artists will be helping with research as well as community engagement. We want the play are to be unique, bespoke to St Fagans, accessible to all ages and abilities, create links with the collections, is fun and is also a work of art. To do this the artists will be undertaking lots of research - looking through our archive and stores, as well as holding workshops for community groups and visitors into what kind of play area they would like to see.

They are currently at the research stage which will take a few months, Nils will then provide some drawings, we will *all* have a look at them and report back and then all going to plan the actual construction will start towards the end of this year, with a finished play area for spring next year! (don't hold me to those dates)

If you have any ideas, or if you have seen some great play areas, please let me know. This is such an exciting project which I will keep you updated on as it progresses. Next post, i'll introduce you to our supporting artists.

For more information about Nils Norman's work, visit his website