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Thursday, 7 January 2021

Congratulations Sir Christopher Le Brun

 Congratulations from the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery to Sir Christopher Le Brun who was awarded a Knighthood for services to the Arts in the New Years Honours 2021. Well done and richly deserved.

His fabulous painting, Hyperion, entered the Swindon Collection 35 years ago, and was part of our 'Big Hitters' online exhibition on the Art UK website 

 We aim to have some sort of connection between our talks speakers and the Collection, and so were thrilled when he agreed to come and give us a talk, almost 4 years ago. Knowing we would need more audience space than available in the current gallery at Apsley House, we hired the hall at Swindon Dance for the occasion. The Curator at the time, Sophie Cummings, interviewed Sir Christopher Le Brun. It was wonderful being able to talk to the great man before the in conversation with Sophie, when I learned, among other things, that when Hyperion was acquired, it was hung in the stairwell of Swindon Dance, the great hook which held it is still in the wall!

The evening was documented in a blog post of course, please click here to read it.



Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Our December Talk by James O. Davies

 We were very fortunate in having James Davies giving us a virtual talk in December, beginning with his early interest in photography, and talking about some of the projects he has been involved in over the years. The actual title of the talk was: 'The Photographer, the light, the building and getting it',  I did take some photographs of the computer screen during the talk, including some fascinating ones taken inside Silbury Hill in 2007, inside prisons, power stations and at Stonehenge. I don't think I should use these photographs, but will include some James sent me to advertise his talk to give you an idea of what he means by photographs:

Above is Tokyo Cathedral designed by Kenzo Tange
This is a photograph of the 12th Century archway round a door at St Andrew's church at Great Rollright
Above might be a photograph inside Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye
Above is a photograph of an Angel sculpture from Whitehall Palace in 1686 now at Burnham on Sea in St. Andrew's church and below the font is from a church in Roche, Cornwall

Above Landfall, Poole regarded as one of the finest Modern Movement buildings by one of the finest architects of the inter-war period, and below Malator at Druidstone, Pembrokeshire built in the earth house architectural style.
I'll continue with some information I found by looking up James Davies, and adding the 'O'

 'JAMES O. DAVIES has been an architectural photographer for English Heritage  for twenty three years. He has contributed to many books in that time and his work has been widely exhibited and published  throughout the world. He is also a portrait photographer, twice exhibiting in the National Portrait Gallery and having received various awards, including Nikon Independent Award, Ilford Award, and Jane Bown Portrait Award. He has taken the official Portrait of Her Majesty The Queen Mother, as well as the first ever photographic survey of English Prisons, published in two books. He is currently working on a book about post war buildings in Britain.'

 I then found information about James's book on Stonehenge which I have now bought:

'More than 4000 years old, the true meaning of this ancient, awe-inspiring creation and the secrets of its construction have been lost in the mists of time. Surrounded by mystery, Stonehenge never fails to impress. 

Over the last five years James Davies has been photographing Stonehenge at all times of the day and night, and all through the seasons. With privileged access to the stone circle he has built up a unique portfolio. A Year at Stonehenge brings together the best of his work, while a short expert text summarises our current understanding.

Published to coincide with the opening of a new environmentally sensitive visitor centre and the restoration of the surrounding ceremonial landscape, this is the most visually stunning book available on this most fascinating world heritage site.'

I took notes throughout the fabulously illustrated talk, which I'll include here in an abbreviated form. Keeping verticals true is important, as is waiting for the light to be just right, although it might take all day, with ambient light being particularly important in churches and cathedrals to give the right atmosphere. Moving clutter from the scene you are about to photograph, particularly bags, and making sure the scene is as you want it before photographing it is important. James talked about what makes a great photograph, and showed us examples where he thought he could have done things differently to improve the photograph. James is currently recording the last coal and oil powered power stations, and had some fascinating shots inside them. 

I've got a final note about getting low when taking photographs, and luck = readiness + opportunity there's also a mention of Tom Denny who made a fabulous tryptych at The Chapel of St.Thomas, Gloucester, do click on this link to see them, they were photographed by James O. Davies.

I also found a list of things to remember when taking photographs of buildings, please click on this link  below for a more informative list than mine. A final thank you to James, and a recommendation to follow his Twitter feed @JamesODavies where we find out how James spent New Year's Eve and the photograph he took by moonlight.


Monday, 30 November 2020

Beauty of Nature: Incompetence of Painting, a Talk by Dr Mike Pringle

 We were very pleased to welcome Dr Mike Pringle, a professional in the arts and heritage sector, for our November Zoom talk. For those not yet familiar with Mike, there's a great interview with him here where he talks about taking over the Richard Jefferies Museum over 10 years ago, and the way forward, and here's more information on the Green Rook website.

 I slightly worried by the title of the talk, it's challenging, but being Mike, he researched it very well, and he treated us to a fantastic slide show of photographs, many of which appear in his latest book, out soon, and all taken by local photographers. I did my usual photographing from the computer screen, but it gives you an idea of some of the images Mike talked about.

Mike started by talking about a Lascaux cave painting estimated to be 17 thousand years old, and invited us to compare the depictions of the animals with what those animals may have looked like.

The next painting depicted two horses, the one on the left is fairly horse like, but the artist had clearly not seen a horse from the front.

Depictions vary, and artists can produce photorealistic paintings of horses, do they capture the beauty of the horse? Mike then introduced the writer Richard Jefferies who grew up at the farmhouse depicted here by Tim Carroll.

Jefferies loved the countryside around where he grew up, his parents were farmers, his sister Sarah painted these cattle seen below.

Jeffieries was a nature lover, he had a passion for the countryside, and created a fantasy world around Coate Water as Bevis. He is known for his depiction through words of the countryside around him, he was a landscape painter in words, and struggled to find words to describe the wonder of the natural world, just as a painter might struggle to find the right paint to depict a landscape.

Jefferies was the first person to use the word wildlife rather than wild life, in his book Wildlife in a Southern County. The OED mentions the first used the term in 1879 by Jefferies, in some cases the cover of the book has Wildlife and others Wild Life. It wasn't until 1982 that the term wildlife was in common usage and appeared in a dictionary with Jefferies listed as the first person to coin the term.

I've included a painting of the Old Town Mill above and Jefferies farmhouse below
I think this is a photograph of Coate Water with the diving board on the right
And below this is 'Gamekeeper's Cottage, Hodson' by Frank Quentin, I wondered when it cam eto this point whether Mike thought that Frank had captured the idyllic nature of the cottage.
Mike used Tara Parker-Woolway's painting of Liddington Hill to compare a photo of the hill with Tara's painting. He wondered why she had transposed it, the reason being that Tara lives in Bourton and saw it from a different perspective.

Below is Turner's depiction of a train, Mike felt this was an abstract painting, but I can see identifiable things in it.

It was certainly a very thought provoking and fabulously illustrated talk. Thank you Mike. I look forward to the publication of your next book on Jefferies in 2021.

I hope this is a copy of the video of the talk, when you can find what Mike really said:


Monday, 2 November 2020

From Seed to Steel: a talk by Joseph Ingleby

 For our last Zoom talk, we were very pleased to welcome Joseph Ingleby. whose sculpture, 'Turtle Storm' has resided in Queen's Park for the last 25 years. Fascinated by the sculpture, and the person behind it, I looked up Joseph, found his website, contacted him and asked if he would consider talking to us via Zoom. Based in Glasgow since 1989, there is no way we could have brought him to Swindon in person, but I am really pleased we were able to find out about his subsequent work.

Let's start with the sculpture 'Turtle Storm' seen below:

This was a response to the effects on a turtle colony of nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1980s, it is composed of irregular natural forms including turtle shells, making an abstract work. It started life at Kelmscott Manor from 1989-94, and when Kelmscott was run by a Trust, a decision was made to have only artefacts on the premises made by William Morris. Turtle Storm was then donated by the Dufty family to Thamesdown who sited it in Queen's Park. Thank you to Angela Atkinson for this information in her 2015 blog piece on Queen's Park, which can be read here. Angela has written a blog piece in response to this talk, mainly about 'Turtle Storm', lots more information on the piece here.

Joe seems to have been influenced by natural forms, converting them into large steel structures, or not so large structures. I took a series of photos from the screen and took copious notes, starting with this one, 'Shelf Life' described as 'man made with an organic twist' by Joe

Flywheel seen below is a post graduate piece made from sheet metal
Spring Release below, made in 1992, is made from forged metal, and has much energy and movement in the piece
I don't think we were ready for 'Time Vessel' a breath taking commission on a large scale, it's a plate copper sculpture reminiscent of a ripening seed pod and can be found in Alloa, commissioned by Clackmannanshire Council.
This podded fern was commissioned by Sustrans
'Slipstream' was commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, Lanarkshire for South Lanarkshire Council, and now stands beside the river Clyde at Dalmarnock Bridge, Rutherglen, Glasgow, as you can see, it's lit at night.
Not all pieces are very large, Greta's Star celebrating his daughter's birth, is a copper sculpture
Joe starts with drawings, he showed us the drawings made before 'Turtle Storm' and also for
'Waterland' about freshwater life, and below, the scale models for the resulting sculpture in Nottingham
Joe also talked about the River Wall sculpture which is opposite Slipstream, there are lots of photos online, and it's a large piece, click here to see it, and lots of other images of Joe's work
We were then privileged to hear about Joe's latest work for Lerwick, Shetland, shown above are preparatory drawings, and below scale models of the abstracted guillemot's egg
and as seen below cut open to reveal elements of Shetland

For the definitive, accurate version of the talk, please click on the link here:

Thank you once again Joe for a fantastic talk.

 This was the information Joe gave us to publicise the talk:

 'From Seed to Steel' Joseph Ingleby is a sculptor working in metal, his work informed by an interest in nature and its uneasy relationship with the man-made. Based at Glasgow Sculpture Studios since 1989, Joe makes both large-scale works for outdoor public spaces, as well as smaller pieces for exhibition and interiors.Sculptures in the public realm are site-specific and draw on themes that reflect both historical and contemporary aspects. It is these‘hidden histories’ with their rooted points of reference, giving clues to the nature of the place, that he sees as the focus for the creation of his public artworks. In this talk,Joe will retrace his creative journey since the making of‘Turtle Storm’ in 1986, giving insight to his methodology and his artistic development as well as the importance of drawing to his practice. He will also consider how he works on a practical levelthe materials he uses and how he constructs his sculptures. Illustrating how the commissioning process happens with its various key stages, Joe will show examples of some of his public work, as well as the small-scale gallery work that is the bedrock of his practice, enabling a constantly evolving approach of focus and refinement.Joe trained at West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham (now University College for the Creative Arts) graduating in 1986, and then at the Slade School of Fine Art, London,in 1988. In 1989, seeking affordable workshop and studio space, he moved to Glasgow and has developed his work at the GSSsince then. He has exhibited and had commissioned work located across the UK. Significant major awards include from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, New York, in 1996and the Gottlieb Foundation, New York in 2013.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Art On Tour Goes Outdoors!

Yes that's right, the fabulous Art On Tour duo, Katie Ackrill and Mags Parker bring you Art on Trees in Swindon Parks for the whole of October.  It's a great idea, and of doesn't involve actual artworks being strapped to trees, but photographs of 10 paintings appear on banners with extra information, and they are then tied to trees. It's a great way to encourage families to get outside into parks before we descend into winter.

This initiative started last week in the Town Gardens, and somehow the week flew by, and I suddenly remembered last night that I hadn't been to photograph all ten of the artworks. I was up bright and early this morning, arriving at the Town Gardens before 9am, and was pleased to see the poster on the gate advertising Art on Trees, but on entering the park, I noticed the first poster featuring the work 'Girl Selling Flowers' by Desmond Morris had disappeared. I looked round and saw that 'Studland Bay - A Black Sea Coast' by Roger Fry was still on its tree. Walking towards the rose garden, I noticed Katie and Mags beside a tree with 'Ship Amid Tall Waves' by Alfred Wallis, they were in the process of taking down the display and moving it to Coate Water.

Here are the photos I managed to take, sadly I'd missed quite a lot of the pictures, you can see them on the website, or by visiting Coate Water this week, a much better option.

After this I went round with them as they took down the rest of the banners:
Above 'Back of the Granary, Poland' by Robert Bevan, and below Katie undoing the ties

I did manage to see half the works

It's worth a trip to see all of them at Coate Water this week, then they move onto Stanton Park, and Lydiard Park. To find out more about the outdoor activities offered by Art on Tour, do have a look at their website

There's a post about outdoor sculpture, and information to start you thinking about it. Which brings me neatly round to our next Zoom talk on 22 October, by sculptor Joseph Ingleby on his sculpture 'Turtle Storm' which has been in Queens Park by the pond for quite a number of years. Here's a reminder of what it looks like:

I've also found a poster with all the dates on it:


Monday, 28 September 2020

The Stones of Swindon- A talk by Michael Gray

 For our last talk, we were pleased to welcome Heritage Architect Michael Gray to talk about the Baptist Tabernacle, which stood very near the centre of Swindon where the current Pilgrim Centre is now situated. Michael is interested in finding a new purpose for the Tabernacle Stones, and in thinking about it, suggested a project which would be unique to Swindon. This was the online introduction to the talk from our website:

'In 2006 Swindon Borough Council took delivery of 2,000 large carved limestone blocks, that when re-assembled make-up a giant temple front that once adorned the centre of Swindon. The Council had aspirations to re-instate this local landmark as an expression of civic pride but despite their noble ambitions, the portico remains in pieces, stored away and almost forgotten.

In this talk Heritage Architect Michael Gray explains the history of the stones, their classical design and meaning. He will discuss similar projects that have involved the reuse of classical artefacts, and examine the ideas that have been suggested for the stones before introducing a new scheme for discussion.'

 Michael began by saying a bit about the buildings in the centre of the town, here's the first Baptist Tabernacle built in 1865 on the corner of Bridge Street to accommodate the growing numbers of railway workers:

In 1891 the Town Hall, designed by Brightwen Binyon was built half way between the railway Village and Old Town, possibly creating a centre of the town, on land acquired from Colonel William Vilett Rolleston. But before getting further into the history of the Tabernacle, Michael gave us an interesting thought: big, important roundabouts often have monuments in the centre of them, think about the Arc de Triomphe in the centre of Paris:
Holding the thought of the fabulous Arc de Triomphe, it was a small step to consider that perhaps the Tabernacle Stones could be reassembled in the middle of our iconic roundabout? It's a great image, and a great thought, but totally impractical.
By 1886, a larger Baptist Tabernacle was needed, two architects were selected to design a building, a Mr Read was selected, and as was the fashion at that time, the building was of a classical design, influenced by Andre Palladio, 1508-80, and the subsequent Palladian movement. 

It can be seen above, it required 300 tons of Bath stone to build, and was 15 metres wide, and 11 metres tall, as you can see there are 6 Greek columns at the front, and behind the impressive facade, is an ordinary building which seated 1000 people, more than the Mechanics Institute which could seat 900.
Above plans of the front of the building, and below with little or no regard for health and safety, two workmen can be seen cleaning pigeon poo off the ledge at the top of the front of the building. This was thought to be in 1950.
As the congregation declined, other uses were considered for the building, one of them being, as a home for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, which had been in Apsley House since 1930, that didn't happen and in 1976, there were demonstrations and speeches by Sir John Betjeman about how it must be saved. Demolition despite protests took place in 1978, with Peter Shaw giving consent.
It looks as though it was demolished using a skip on a chain. The stones however were dismantled and saved, and a couple of buyers came forward wanting to add the columns to the front of their house to gain the Croome House effect, as seen below:
Stanley Frost was a potential buyer, but couldn't get planning permission to add them to his house. Neil Taylor also bought them and took them to Northampton in 1993, but again couldn't get planning permission.
The idea of erecting the stones again in Swindon has always been very popular, and in 2004, it was proposed they front the new Museum and Art Gallery beside a new shopping centre with a curved arcade, linking to the Brunel centre. Modus Limited, the company behind this went bust in 2007/8, and that was the end of that plan.
This is an interesting view where you can see that behind the museum and art gallery, there was a plan to build a very large tower block.
The stones are now up at the Science Museum site near Wroughton and are capable of being reassembled and being very fine quality dressed stone, they have not deteriorated
Here's a reconstruction of what remains:
Michael went on to consider where it was possible to erect Palladian columns, in the landscape, as in this Poussin painting? Lawn maybe?
 Lawn possibly?

By a swimming pool as at Casina del Lago, how would they translate at Coate Water?

As these examples show, it would be amusing to erect the Tabernacle Stones in random places around Swindon, but maybe far better to put them as the frontage to a new museum and art gallery in the proposed Cultural Quarter in the centre of town? This is something we need to consider as plans for moving the museum and art gallery collections from their current home in Apsley House move forward.

And coincidentally, today Swindon Libraries have a jigsaw of the Baptist Tabernacle to do, why not have a go? 
Click on the link below to see the video of the talk: Passcode: 18.&SJ+j