summer art activities
As I am now working in St Fagans National Museum and National Museum Cardiff, I can share loads more works of art and design! It also means that I've had a lot of help preparing and delivering the art workshops, so thank you to Heloise,Liz, Sally, Ellie, the two Catrin's, Marged, Marsli, Tracey, Angharad and Hywel!
In St Fagans this summer we've been asking visitors to design a new play area for us (we will be building a new play area in the near future as part of the redevelopments) and we have had the most amazing designs and ideas. I think my favourite are the fireman's pole shaped like a worm and a tree house that explodes with sweets every five seconds. Lots of people want tree houses, zip wires and monkey bars!
For the workshop based on the Wales Visitation exhibition we are taking families to look at some of the paintings and objects on display and asking them to create a landscape using image and text. They can use any words they want, but we have also been providing them with quotes from the Allen Ginsberg poem (from which the exhibition gets it's title) as there are such gorgeous and visual parts to the poem, such as:
"Valleys breathe, heaven and earth move together,
daisies push inches of yellow air, vegetables tremble,
grass shimmers green
sheep speckle the mountainside, revolving their jaws with empty eyes,
horses dance in the warm rain"
(Art activities continue throughout August, for more details about the workshops and activities, please visit our 'What's on' pages)
Students from Oman at National Museum Cardiff
Two final year biology and crop protection students from Sultan Qaboos University, Oman have arrived at the National Museum Cardiff for 2 weeks on an internship to learn more about the identification of two groups of insects, flies and bugs and the techniques we use to study them. For Sara Mohamed Ahmed Al Ansari and Salma Saif Salmin Almabsli it is their first time outside of Oman. After the time here they will spend 2 weeks at the Natural History Museum, London to widen their knowledge of taxonomic techniques before returning to the warmth of Oman.
I-Spy Micrarium Touch Screen (VADU part II)
There is an exhibition showing at National Museum Cardiff called: I-Spy…Nature (until April 2015). One of the touch screens (picture 1) focuses on a selection of diverse, interesting and beautiful biological and geological slides from the Museum’s Natural History Collections. This blog is about the small aspects of the touch screen that I was involved with; plain and simple.
Resources & Outlines
- One general overview image of 36 slides
- 12 very high resolution images of some of those slides
- 27 inch touch screen
- Complement an actual Micrarium, which would be displayed neatly above the touch screen
- Incorporate a Victoriana style
- Target audience: young folk
All the controls were laid out in plain sight, hopefully to reduce any learning curve when approaching the interactive; and since the touch screen is quite large (27 inches) we had the space.
Five additional features were added to the zoom screen (picture 4):
- Zoom controls
- Navigation controls
- Home button
- Information button
- Change language (English/Welsh)
n.b. where possible I tried to avoid using words to describe button functions, hence why the home button is only an image, but this idea fell down a little when it became clear you couldn’t avoid a word or two to help the visitor work out what specimen they were observing.
Into the Arms of a Microscope
Once or twice someone may have caught me saying things like: “Plagioclase Feldspar” or “Olivine”. Anyhow, part of the fun with looking at slides is the process of selecting a new slide, I thought so anyway - you were never sure what would be on the other side of the glass.
I wanted to avoid the conventional method of changing between images, which is usually to include a ‘next’ and ‘previous’ button; so tried to incorporate some of my vague science memories with a quick reconnaissance mission (picture 5) to see the microscope that was being prepped for the exhibition.
Since there were 36 lower resolution images on the home screen, but twelve high resolution images on the slide selection screen, it gave some space to move a simple microscope stand into view, which provided the excuse to animate the microscope arms and float the slides back and forth. The iris transition between the microscope slide view and the zoom view is loosely based on the idea of looking down a microscope eyepiece.
We’ve been using Firefox for a while as its platform independent and has neat little add-ons (R-Kiosk and Block Site). In this case, the operating system is Windows 7, with a locked down user account which only has access to Firefox and the touch screen drivers.
Usually we use Google Analytics to record button events, to give us an indication of how much the interactives are being used, but Google Analytics is designed to work with regular domain websites, which is not the case when running locally from simple hard drive files. Therefore the button events are recorded by the web server through AJAX calls.
I've included a short demo video for posterity:
Fifty years of a golden reign: a souvenir of the Queen's Jubilee 
Well now, here’s a pretty thing…
A souvenir booklet celebrating the fifty year reign of Queen Victoria. It was published in 1887 by Eyre & Spottiswoode, who were the official printers to Her Majesty at that time.
Our volunteer [Alison] has been working her way through old pamphlet boxes and all manner of forgotten things and very kindly passes to me items that are interesting, unusual or just lovely to see, and this one falls into that last category.
It measures 11 x 13.5 cm, has 16 pages and, our accessions register states that it was donated to us in May 1935 by a Mr Charles Barnwell Esq.
The book also contains a poem written by Lord Tennyson especially for the occasion. Tennyson had been Poet Laureate since 1850 [after William Wordsworth's death] and held the position until his own death in 1892.
Interestingly, Eyre & Spottiswoode [established in 1845], went on to merge with Methuen Publishing in the 1970s.
All photographs in this post taken by the author.
A partnership between the Cardiff Story Museum, Amgueddfa Cymru- National Museum Wales and the Heritage Lottery Fund is seeking to create a pop-up museum steered completely by members of the public who have something to say about Cardiff.
The themes, content and display will be decided by the public and will be created and displayed at the Wales Millennium Centre from the 9 to 12 October. Anyone in the locality will be able to come and either see or help put it together, and will also have the opportunity to put their own object or story on display!
Over the next two months we will be hosting a number of workshops for people to see how they can become involved, and to find out how a pop-up museum can actually work.
The workshops will be held at the Cardiff Story Museum on:
- Saturday 30th August, 11am – 1pm
- Thursday 11th September, 6pm – 8pm
- Saturday 27th September, 11am – 1pm
We will be blogging and tweeting throughout the creation of the pop-up, so you can get involved wherever you may live and keep up to date with the progress and some of the stories being shared by Cardiffians and anyone with a Cardiff story to tell. #popupmuseum
A Window into the Industry Collections
In July we have seen the usual range of new accessions entering the industry & transport collections. Amongst others we have received the following -
A serrated measuring stick used at Dinorwig slate quarry for marking out/measuring a roofing slate for trimming. Roofing slates’ names and sizes were standardized in 1738 when General Hugh Warburton (joint owner of the Penrhyn Estate at the time) devised the famous ‘female nobility’ names for slates of different sizes (measured in inches) with names such as Empresses, Duchesses Mawr (Large), Viscountesses, and Ladis Llydan (Wide Ladies). The naming system soon became the industry standard, although the sizes varied slightly from time to time and area to area. In total there are twenty three serration on the measuring stick, measuring 26 inches in total. There are three serrations are two inches apart (at the top end of the measuring stick, closest to the nail), whilst the remaining twenty serrations are one inch apart.
This measuring stick is long, therefore could be used to mark and measure ‘Queens’ and large slates. The smallest slate that could be marked/measured with this stick are the ‘Narrow Ladies’ and above (16 inches in length and above).
This brass toasting fork depicts a miner and is inscribed 'BIG PIT BLAENAVON'. The fork would have been sold in the Big Pit Mining Museum shop in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Big Pit is now one of the eight museum sites that form Amguedffa Cymru – National Museum Wales.
An empty bottle of Penderyn 'Madeira' single malt Welsh whisky in its original packing. The company was launched in 2000 as the Welsh Whisky Company, but later became Penderyn Distillery. The Penderyn Distillery is situated in the village of Penderyn, which lies just within the southern boundary of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Penderyn Single Malt Whisky was launched by the Prince of Wales on 1st March 2004 at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff. The whiskey is initially matured in bourbon barrels, and then further matured in special Madeira barriques.
This £10 share certificate was issued by the Neath & Brecon Railway. The railway was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1862 as the Dulais Valley Mineral Railway to transport coal to Neath. It was promoted and constructed by the contractor John Dickson who was issued with this share certificate. After being authorised to extend the railway to Brecon, it changed its name to the Neath and Brecon Railway.
Finally we have received two DVD’s. One created by staff and student at Pontypridd High School on the Albion Colliery disaster in 1894. The other is titled ‘Memories of Old Clydach’ and is a collection of photographs, documents and memories from local people who lived in the area during the 1940s and 50s. There is a section on Clydach Merthyr Colliery and Players tinplate works.
Curator: Industry & Transport
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'Made in Roath' take some of the Museum’s specimens on a day out to Chapter
For this year’s Art Carbootique at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, 'Made in Roath' were lucky enough to be able to work with Annette and Jules, the natural science conservators at the Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales in Cathays Park.
The National Museum of Wales has a vast collection of approximately 2000 taxidermy specimens most of which are not on display, and some of which present interesting curatorial challenges because of their history and the stories they tell. Having long been fascinated by the stuffed animal collection on display in the Natural History gallery at the museum, we felt really privileged to be invited behind the scenes and view the specimens in storage.
This was an amazing experience; the conservator’s stores are wonderful - heartbreaking and fascinating in equal measure. We decided that our mission would be to make a ‘museum’ in our caravan of a selection of these unseen animals, allowing them to temporarily escape the museum archive and be seen by the public. In this context, the specimen is not just being viewed as a singular object but as part of a wider culture, referencing human practices such as hunting, shipping and collecting happening in the Victorian period, but which are still practiced today. Furthermore, a consideration of the specimen’s history within the museum itself, with its changing site, politics and attitudes, exposes how wider socio-political forces have shaped the specimen’s display, reception and curation at the local level of the museum. Jules and Annette were really helpful and accommodating when we told them what we wanted to do, they went up to Nantgarw to the stores there and selected some more specimens to add to the collection, many of which had not been displayed for many years.
We installed the work, with a lot of help from Jules, and drove over to Chapter – there is something very surreal about towing a caravan full of stuffed animals through central Cardiff on a rainy Sunday Morning, but it was worth it. The response from the public was great, both adults and children have such a fascination for taxidermy, the exhibition was a big success, we’d also photographed the animals and made masks to give to visitors, so the animals had another opportunity to ‘escape’. Although the emphasis was on fun, we had expected to get some criticism with people possibly disapproving of the museums stuffed animals, but apart from some healthy and thought provoking discussion about the way human beings treat animals, it was a hugely enjoyable day. Thanks to AC-NMW, especially Annette and Jules, for making it happen.
The 'Made in Roath' Team!
Find out more about the work of 'Made in Roath' at http://madeinroath.com/
9 DAYS TO GO! A VIDEO OF FRAMING UP A LITHOGRAPH PRINT
We are in the final stretch of concluding this interesting and amazing project. We have been working hard during the last few weeks mounting and framing the 66 lithograph prints to have them ready for the exhibition The Great War: Britain’s Efforts and Ideals on the 2nd August at National Museum Cardiff.
In the following video you will enjoy the framing process carried out by our colleague Richard. As you can see it is a delicate procedure and the framer needs to be really clean and gentile with the work of art.
We have had the 66 frames specially made and stained by a local frame maker. The scratch resistant Perspex* we have used had to be washed with soap and water to remove all traces of adhesive before being taped into the frame. Conservation framing is about making a sealed package to protect the work of art from the outside environment whilst making sure that the content of the package are all up to conservation standards.
Once the Perspex is fitted in the frame, we clean it very well with glass cleaner and anti-static cloth being sure that is completely clean and we don’t want to scratch the Perspex. Then we put the mount with the work which is already free of any fluff over the surface in the frame. After that, we put in the backboard and keep it all together using a framer’s gun. Lastly we seal the frame with gum brown paper tape.
Don’t forget to join us next Saturday 2nd August for the opening of the show!
*Perspex: acrylic material is useful because it is light and unlikely to break on impact. However, these materials do scratch more easily and because of static, should never be used to glaze pastels, charcoal, chalks, or friable material
I Spy...Nature Exhibition is open
Saturday 19th July saw the official launch of the 'I Spy...Nature' Exhibition at National Museum Cardiff. The exhibition was officially opened by BBC wildlife presenter Dr Rhys Jones and many families were able to experience the exhibition first hand. Natural Science curators were also on hand showing a plethora of specimens from the Museum's Natural History Collections, including insects, marine invertebrates, fossils, fungi, plants, minerals and much more. The public helped to create fantastic modern and prehistoric scenes with beautifully coloured pictures.
The BBC and the Arts In the Nations and Regions: Impartiality - and Equality?
I am a passionate supporter of a publicly-funded BBC. Along with the NHS, social care and the state education system, I regard it as one of the four vital pillars of public service on these islands - evidence that democracy works. If I ask questions, and challenge practice, it is because I want the BBC to survive and thrive at the centre of public life. It is a beacon of truths in a world of commercial interests. It provides a public space for debate that is vital for our democracy.
I was born in Northern Ireland, grew up in the industrial Midlands of England, and went to university in Scotland. For the last four years I have worked in Wales. I have lived in every nation of the United Kingdom.
The culture of any nation or region is an ecosystem, made up of a number of mutually dependent parts. As well as arts and cultural institutions, these also include the print and broadcast media, public and private funders, the education sector, the tourism industry and - last but not least - creative industries and individual professionals.
Also essential to all of this is the wider community, whose informed support and creative participation is the lifeblood of all cultural activity. A creative economy depends upon a creative society.
The nations and regions of the United Kingdom outside London - with the exception, arguably, of the central belt in Scotland - do not have all the elements that they need to ensure a thriving arts ecosystem.
Wales, for example, has very strong resources of talent and great national arts and cultural institutions. Through recent reports by Dai Smith on the role of the arts in education, and by Baroness Kay Andrews on the importance of cultural participation in overcoming barriers created by poverty, Wales has recognised the value of cultural education.
But, like much of the rest of the United Kingdom, we do not get our fair share of UK funding for our arts. Nor do we have the coverage from the UK media that its quality
deserves. This lack of recognition and publicity from the UK print and broadcasting media - with the credibility that comes with it - in turn makes it still harder for us to attract the private funding that we need so badly, to invest in our programmes and, for example, to provide match funding for Lottery bids.
Many of the key decisions that determine profile for the arts are made by publicly funded organisations based in London, such as the BBC and Visit Britain, which appear to have little knowledge or understanding of what is happening in the rest of the United Kingdom, and especially the devolved nations.
Funding of the arts, employment in the arts, public access to and participation in the arts, and control of the arts are also scandalously unequal. 71% of funding for the arts in the whole of the UK from trusts and foundations, corporate donors and private individuals goes to London institutions. The remaining 29% has to be shared out between all the other nations and regions.
We are in the second decade of the twenty first century, but we still retain the highly
centralised, nineteenth century, semi-colonial model that the arts should be concentrated in London, and that funding London is synonymous with serving the English regions and the nations of the UK. For Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland this undermines the principle, embedded in law, that culture is a devolved responsibility. It is a constitutional tension that remains unresolved.
All the evidence shows that concentration of power and funding in London is, in policy terms, a failure. Despite investment of over £1 billion annually of public and private funds in arts institutions in just three boroughs in Central London (Westminster, Southwark and Kensington and Chelsea), public participation levels in the arts in London are slightly lower than those across England as a whole.
Within England, the Arts Lottery has operated as a highly effective mechanism to take money from poorer communities and invest it in arts provision in Central London. Just five national performing arts organisations in London have received more (£315 million) from the Arts Lottery since 1995 than the 33 English local authority areas with lowest participation, representing 6 million people, which between them were awarded just £288 million over that period. Arts Lottery players of County Durham have contributed £34 million since 1995, but the area has received just £12 million.
The policies and practices of the media can exacerbate these divisions. Within the last year, both Melvyn Bragg and Tony Garnett (director of Cathy Come Home) have accused broadcasters of misrepresenting and sneering at working class people in TV dramas and documentaries. Recent research by the Open Society Foundations suggests that this perception is shared by many working class viewers themselves.
There is a challenge in all of this for the BBC, our publicly-funded UK national broadcaster. As funding for the arts from diverse public sources remains concentrated in one small area of England's capital city, and (as research by the Sutton Trust has shown) those employed in senior positions in broadcasting are recruited increasingly from men and women with privileged backgrounds, and the narrow circle of private support shrinks ever closer to central London, will the BBC's coverage of the arts shrink with it? And can this coverage now truly be described as impartial?
Within Wales, there is a much greater sense that culture in the broadest definition is a communal resource and belongs to everyone. At Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, 28% of visitors to our seven museums across South, West and North Wales are from social classes C2DE. At a typical London national museum such as the National Gallery the figure is around a third of this, at 10%.
The BBC is a hugely important part of the arts ecosystem in Wales. The BBC's investment in Roath Lock in Cardiff with its drama productions has given a massive boost to our creative economy, and has made Cardiff a hub for related creative industries. The BBC has also made Wales a centre for music programming. There is a wealth of artistic talent and arts production of an international standard in Wales, yet the BBC in Wales - unlike England and Scotland - does not have a Centre of Excellence in the arts. As a result coverage of the richness of artistic activity within Wales is very limited, and on Network BBC it is almost non-existent.
Why does the Tate's Turner Prize - widely perceived in the contemporary art world to be tired and outdated - continue to get blanket coverage on Network BBC, when the critically more highly regarded Artes Mundi Prize in Wales has never in 12 years had any Network coverage? Research by the BBC itself shows that this lack of impartiality in its coverage of the arts in the nations and regions of the UK is the norm rather than the exception.
Even if it wins the vote on Scottish independence, Westminster has been revealed to have lost the hearts and minds of a substantial minority of its citizens in Scotland, the second largest nation in the United Kingdom. An article in the Guardian, published in early July, examined how the BBC was reporting on the referendum, and said that even a no vote should challenge the BBC 'to examine afresh how successfully it relates to constituent parts of the UK - and whether a more flexible, less monolithic notion of the future of the corporation ought to be embraced.'
Tony Hall, in a recent speech at the Pierhead Building in Cardiff, invited his audience to imagine Wales without the BBC. It is a fair challenge, but we existed long before the BBC with our languages and cultural identities. Some of us in Wales might ask him, in turn, to imagine a BBC that is not dominated by a London-centric perception of the world, and that better reflects the diversity of our nation's arts and cultures, our values and our debates. Without us - we who are outside London - not just the BBC but democracy itself will suffer, if we continue down the road we are on.
What are the solutions for the BBC? There should be a Centre of Excellence at BBC Wales, as there is in Scotland. We need devolved governance of the BBC in Wales through the BBC Trust, as recommended by the Silk Commission. This should be
underpinned by a separate extension to Charter agreement for Wales, and mechanisms to ensure fair representation of our arts on BBC Network. We need BBC Network to recognise that speakers of Welsh and other minority languages have a right to be heard in their own language on UK media. The BBC should monitor and publish annual data on its achievement of impartiality across the nations and regions. We need the Network BBC to be pro-active in overcoming a culture of inequality within the organisation.
And we need the BBC, with headquarters in London, to remember the importance of
geography, of the connections between culture and place. The nations and regions of the UK need the BBC to give us equality and parity of respect, and to free us to represent ourselves, in our own places and across the nations within the UK and abroad.
We want to commission London, not London (when it chooses) to commission us. Our nation’s share of the BBC budget should be devlolved in full to Wales.
As Hugh McDiarmid said, "You cannot light a match on a crumbling wall."
Let's build a better and more solid one.
*This is a summary of a more detailed paper I wrote, which can be found here:
 Four Nations Impartiality Review Follow-up: An analysis of reporting devolution’ – Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University – March 2010: http://cardiff.ac.uk/jomec/research/researchgroups/journalismstudies/fundedprojects/followupaccuracyandimpartiality.html