Out with the old, in with the new
By: Sioned Hughes, Head of Public History
It’s difficult to imagine that over the next couple of years the old Agricultural Gallery, largely unchanged at St Fagans for 20 or more years will be transformed as part of the Making History project. It will become a space that celebrates the fact that history belongs to everyone. It will be a platform where the museum shifts from being the provider of history to supporting and providing opportunities for others to explore meanings around diverse objects and make their own histories through participation and community curated displays.
Currently called by its working title Wales Is… we aim to display 17 moments in Welsh history using objects from the national collections. It will be a space where we encourage visitors to use historical skills to find out what the national collections can tell them about different moments in Welsh history.
The past few months have seen the Making History core content team work intensively with designers from Event Communications to develop this space. It’s an exciting, creative and intense process that involves looking in depth at our object selection and testing them against this exciting new concept.
To aid our current thinking and to generate discussion, we have stopped thinking about this space as a gallery and have started referring to it as a 3D social media account. Over the next few weeks we will be developing the idea of using social media as a conceptual framework for how the space works and how visitors will behave in it.
So far, we have identified that we would like the space to have followers and that it will follow other institutions or spaces that share relevant collections and opinions. We would like to ask visitors to Like, Share and Comment on what they see and provide opportunities to do this digitally and non-digitally, both in the space and remotely. We would like the space to have its own social media account and we would like its digital identity to develop as the content and the space itself develops – not as an add-on once it is open. We are looking at the possibility of tagging displays and objects so that content generated around them can be gathered and used as layers of interpretation. We want each display to have a social media feed on a screen as part of its interpretation.
The Public History Unit
Key to testing and delivering this space is the establishment of a new Public History Unit within the History and Archaeology Department. As a unit we have already facilitated workshops that support groups to develop historical skills to discover what objects can tell them about the past. These sessions have generated diverse, sometimes surprising, often emotional and occasionally controversial content that adds layers of rich and relevant interpretation to our storytelling.
In the space, we see the content generated around the displays, both digitally and non-digitally, as information that will be curated by museum staff. It will also be part of curatorial practise to manage social media campaigns around displays so that targeted audiences are reached. These campaigns will be supported by a programme of events and pop-up activities that can be used to generate interest and debate.
Suffrage Participatory Workshops
As part of the process for testing the content for Wales Is…the Public History Unit took the national suffrage collection to two schools in the Newport area as part of the Bird in a Cage project with Winding Snake. Within a few hours, over a hundred pupils from Lewis Girls School and Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd had seen and participated in a debate around the collections and suffrage movement in Wales. This is an example of how objects can generate content that is as interesting as the objects themselves. It demonstrates how groups and individuals can construct their own meanings around what they see. It also showed how social media can be used to generate interest and debate around a subject area.
The next challenge
The challenge will now be to work with Event to develop a design that can deliver this concept so that the outcomes of a participatory workshop can translate into a gallery context using the framework provided by Social Media. The questions we are asking ourselves at the moment are: is this workable? How can we use the information generated? What would a social media campaign linked to one of the displays look like? How can we create a framework and strategy to help develop the digital identity of the space? And most important of all, is this approach future proof? The Agricultural Gallery was popular at St Fagans for over 20 years. This new space will also have to stand the test of time and the changing behaviour patterns of our visitors in the future.
TIME FOR PUTTING THE PRINTS IN MOUNTS!
Here we are again with more news about the lithograph prints conservation process. Now is time for mounting each print in its own conservation mount to be ready for the exhibition opening 2nd August in gallery 18 at the National Museum Cardiff.
Preparing the mounts where the prints will be housed for the next 100 years hopefully! The mounts are cut to the museum standard size, using 100% cotton alkaline buffered museum board (the most expensive available – but the highest quality). The back board is hinged to the mount using water based adhesive tape.
In the following photos you will be able to see how I attach the print to the backing of the mount. First of all, we attached the hinge to the back of the print on the top edge. The hinge is made with Japanese tissue. (Second Photo)
Then, in third photo I am applying an adhesive over the surface of the hinge. This then folds back over and stick to the back board of the mount.
To reinforce the hinge we will glue another hinge over the top, creating a T hinge. This then allows the print to hang within the mount.
After one week making mounts for the prints we have already done 30 mounts.
Another 36 more to do and just 7 weeks to go… But we still need to make the frames and put them in…
Flower Drawing Competition 2014
Congratulation to the winners of the Flower Drawing Competition 2014! Here are their excellent botanical illustrations.
- 1st: Abbey – Coppull Parish Church School
- 2nd: Louise – SS Philip and James CE Primary School (Pink 3)
- 3rd: Amelie – Stanford in the Vale CE Primary School
In this competition I was looking for botanical illustrations – these are pictures of plants drawn in a scientific way. This means I was looking for beautiful pictures but they also needed clear labels to show the different parts of the flower.
All of the drawing sent in were really fantastic, so I have put them all on our website for you to see! Well done to all of you.
Click here to view all the drawings.
A Window into the Industry Collections
Amongst this month’s new accessions was an aluminium prop withdrawer, known as a 'buller', manufactured by Parsons. It consists of handle and rack, and was used in coal mines for pulling out roof supports (as well as other tasks). This one is unusual in that it is made of aluminium for lightness. However the use of aluminium was later banned (because of its tendency to induce sparking) after the Horden Colliery explosion in 1953.
We have been donated the following four badges manufactured in 2014 that relate to the 1984/85 miners’ strike. These include two limited edition badges to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 1984/85 miners’ strike. The inscription on reverse reads “Forget not the / lessons of / our past”.
This badge with the slogan ‘Coal Not Dole’ issued by The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign which included ex-miners, Trades Unionists, activists and others determined to get justice for miners.
The final badge in this collection is in the shape of a miners flame safety lamp. WAPC-NUM stands for Women Against Pit Closures - National Union of Mineworkers, and was manufactured for their 30th Anniversary.
We are currently working on documenting an important collection of approximately 150 film negatives taken by E. Emrys Jones in the 1950s and 1960s. The negatives show the slate industry in north Wales, concentrating on the Dinorwig slate quarry. Many images are of the Dinorwig quarry workshops (Gilfach Ddu) which is now the Welsh Slate Museum, and part of Amgueddfa Cymru. Below are three images taken from this collection.
A general view of Dinorwig Quarry, 1950. It shows the ‘Wellington’ section of Dinorwig Quarry, with the Muriau Shed in the foreground, and the Ceiliog Mawr in the background.
This view shows loaded slate wagons outside Gilfach Ddu (now the National Slate Museum) in the 1950s or early 1960s.
This group of quarrymen are probably at Dinorwig Quarry.
This model of an opencast coal truck was manufactured from South Wales anthracite coal. It is inscribed OPEN CAST / EXECUTIVE.
With 2014 being the centenary of the start of the First World War it is poignant that we have acquired a collection of photographs and documents relating to Captain Anthony Starkey of Bristol. Capt. Starkey was master of the S.S. Torrington which was torpedoed and sunk off the Scilly Isles in April 1917. 34 members of the crew were killed, and Capt. Starkey was the sole survivor. He was taken from the ship and held as prisoner aboard the U-boat for 15 days. He was then held in four different prisoner of war camps in Germany (including Brandenburg, Holminden and Strohenmoor).
This view shows the S.S. Torrington with an inset portrait of Capt. Starkey.
This photograph shows Capt. Starkey during his internment in Germany. It will have been taken in one of the four prisoner of wars camps in Germany that he was held in.
Curatorial Assistant (Industry)
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Overcoming the Taxonomic Impediment in the Amazon
It is well known that the Amazon rainforests are amongst the most biodiverse places on the planet. However, much of this biodiversity remains completely unknown having never been formally described and with absolutely no knowledge of the ecological and other conditions required for its survival. This profound lack of scientific knowledge arises from what is called the Taxonomic Impediment - there simply are too few taxonomists (people who can identify and describe living things) to get to grips with the magnitude of biodiversity. The Taxonomic Impediment is a world-wide problem as taxonomists themselves have become endangered species and few, if any, countries now devote sufficient resources to biodiversity research. There are many unfortunate knock-ons from this fact; for example designing rational conservation strategies is difficult without knowledge of the animals and plants that live in an area and some knowledge of why. It is only taxonomists who can deliver this knowledge.
In the Brazilian Amazon the situation is improving with a major research institute Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) now conducting extensive taxonomic research and training a new generation of taxonomists to lead in future biodiversity studies. One such trainee is Josenir Camara, a PhD student at INPA now spending 6 months as an intern at Amgueddfa Cymru under the tutelage of Dr Adrian Plant (Principle Curator, Entomology). Josenir’s research is describing the diversity of a group of aquatic flies (Hemerodromiinae). She has already discovered more than 50 new species, and using sophisticated cladistic techniques to understand more of their evolutionary relationships with related forms elsewhere in the world. The Museum’s extensive collections and taxonomic skills will be an invaluable aid to develop her research and the expertise and experience she develops will be lasting benefits she will take home to Brazil. A small but positive contribution to removing the Taxonomic Impediment in her own country.
Spring Bulb for Schools: Results 2005-2014
The ‘Spring Bulbs for Schools’ project allows 1000s of schools scientists to work with Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales to investigate and understand climate change.
Since October 2005, school scientists have been keeping weather records and noting when their flowers open, as part of a long-term study looking at the effects of temperature on spring bulbs.
Certificates have now been sent out to all the 4,075 pupils that completed the project this year.
See Professor Plant's reports or download the spreadsheet to study the trends for yourself!
- Make graphs & frequency charts or calculate the mean.
- See if the flowers opened late in schools that recorded cold weather.
See how temperature, sunshine and rainfall affect the average flowering dates.
Look for trends between different locations.
From Amazonian Rainforest to Welsh Rain!
Brazilian PhD student Josenir Camara is working with Dr Adrian Plant, Principle Curator of Entomology at Amgueddfa Cymru, on a three-year project to describe some of the diversity of Diptera (flies) inhabiting the rainforest of Brazil’s Amazon Basin. The two researchers have already made numerous collecting expeditions to remote parts of the Amazon, but now they are both back in Cardiff where Josenir will spend the next six months studying at the Museum. As a part of her research she will describe all the Amazonian species of a group of water-inhabiting flies known as Hemerodromia. She already has more than 50 species that are completely new to science and once these have been formally described, the next task is to construct an evolutionary tree showing how the Amazonian Hemerodromia have diversified in respect to Hemerodromia elsewhere in the world. This is where Amgueddfa Cymru comes in as our extensive collections will provide her with an invaluable resource she can use to compare how Amazonian species differ from others. By careful comparison of ‘characters’ of each species and using sophisticated computing methods, Josenir will construct a ‘phylogenetic tree’ to illustrate the sequence of evolutionary changes that have occurred. By comparing the evolutionary tree with the fossil record, geological and climatic history it is hoped that we start to learn more about the biogeography of the Amazon (biogeography is the study of how species and communities or organisms become distributed both geographically and through geologic time).
FIGHTING AGAINST FOXING
Do you want to know what happened after washing one of the lithograph prints??
So here you are, the before and after washing treatment where you can see that the foxing spots have disappeared completely over the paper surface.
As we said before, the foxing reddish-brown spots can appear in the paper surface due to different causes. For example, the print has been exposed to relative humidity and temperature fluctuations for a long period of time creating an environment for the growing of mould or another possibility, could be that during the paper making process were used raw materials infested with mould.
These micro-organisms can remain latent for months or years awaiting for the appropriate conditions for growth and there are a wide range of colour stains. In some of the lithograph prints we found basically small yellow spots in different areas of the paper surface.
Give and Gain Day 2014
Last week, as part of Give and Gain Day 2014, we had 50 volunteers from the Lloyds Banking Group helping with a number of projects here at St Fagans. Some helped with the Gardening Department, some helped the Historic Buildings Unit while some assisted with a project alongside the Alzheimer’s Society. Myself and Bernice had the help of 11 volunteers to build a dead hedge in the woodlands near the bird hide.
We had been planning on building a dead hedge in near the bird hide for a while, for a number of reasons. A dead hedge would act as a screen for approaching the bird hide, meaning that birds on the feeders would be less likely to be scared by the approaching visitors. A dead hedge also acts as a wildlife corridor, giving cover to a wide variety of wildlife as they move through the woodlands. Visitors had also begun cutting through the woodland, and one section of the dead hedge was to act as a deterrent meaning visitors would be more likely to stick to the paths.
The first task of the day was the sharpening of the fence posts. The posts are needed for structure and need to be driven firmly into the ground. Creating the sharp end obviously makes this much easier. After creating pilot holes, the poles were then driven into the ground using a sledge hammer. Once the posts were in place, we could then begin to assemble the dead hedge.
A dead hedge is built up of dead woodland material. Over the past couple of weeks I have been asking the gardeners and farmers here to help by collecting any trimmings and off cuts and delivering these to the bird hide for use in this project. Everyone was incredibly helpful, and we ended up with a vast pile of material… or so I thought. Dead hedging takes a lot of material, so along with some of the volunteers I headed into the woods to do a bit of clearing to gain more material.
After lunch, we headed up into the woods near the site of Bryn Eryr, the Iron Age farmstead currently being built. This area has previously been cleared so there was a lot of cut material for us to collect. This was loaded into a trailer and taken over to the bird hide. The afternoon finished with us using this material to finish the dead hedge. As an artistic final touch, we used some lime cuttings to add extra height and a certain je ne sais quois to the finished hedge.
As these pictures show, the day was a huge success! The weather could not have been better and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The 2 sections of dead hedge we wanted to build got done, and I’ve already earmarked some projects for future volunteers! The amount of work done in a day was incredible, it would have taken me and Bernice a lot longer to do without the help of the volunteers. A huge thank you to everyone who helped us and the other projects too!
The following photographs are from the book, Twelve new designs of English butterflies, by Benjamin Wilkes [published in 1742]. This rare work consists solely of twelve engraved plates each depicting geometric arrangements of both butterflies and moths. Wilkes produced this profoundly beautiful work as member of the Aurelian Society. Aurelian is an archaic word for lepidopterist [one who is interested in butterflies]; the term is derived from aurelia, meaning chrysalis, and relates to the golden colour it may attain just before the butterfly emerges.
The Society of Aurelians [London], one of the oldest organized bodies of specialists in any branch of zoology. The group collected and documented insects from the 1690s but came to an abrupt end in March 1748. While members of the society were in a meeting in the Swan Tavern, a great fire broke out in Cornhill and enveloped them. All the members escaped, but their entire collection, library, and records were destroyed. This event was documented by Moses Harris in The Aurelian; or, Natural History of English Insects (1765). The loss disheartened the group so much that they never managed to regroup again…Aurelian societies were formed several times in Britain [most notable 1762 and 1801], but each time they collapsed.
…Benjamin Wilkes was an 18th-century artist and naturalist whose profession was 'painting of History Pieces and Portraits in Oil'. When a friend invited him to a meeting of the Aurelian Society, where he first saw specimens of butterflies and moths, he became convinced that nature would be his 'best instructor' as to colour and form in art. He began to study entomology spending his leisure time collecting, studying and drawing the images larvae, pupae and parasitic flies of Lepidoptera, assisted by the collector Mr Joseph Dandridge. Wilkes' own collection was kept 'against the Horn Tavern in Fleet Street' London 'Where any gentleman or lady' could see his collection of insects [Wikipedia].
Our holdings of other Aurelian books include:
The English Lepidoptera: or, the Aurelian's pocket companion: containing a catalogue of upward of four hundred moths and butterflies ... / Moses Harris 
The aurelian. a natural history of English moths and butterflies, together with the plants on which they feed. Also .../ Moses Harris 
English moths and butterflies… Benjamin Wilkes  This work ran to three editions of which the last, incorporating Linnaean nomenclature, was published in 1824
The British Aurelian: twelve new designs of British Butterflies and Directions for making a collection, with an essay by R.S. Wilkinson / Benjamin Wilkes, R.S. Wilkinson 
All photographs in this post taken by the author