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Saturday, 18 August 2018

Unveiling a New Painting and Celebrating 25 years

Sophie Cummings, Curator at the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery contacted the Friends recently and asked if we would consider donating towards the purchase of an interesting Harold Dearden painting. We were pleased we could help with the purchase, and when the painting arrived, Sophie asked if we would like to hold an unveiling to celebrate the new addition to the Swindon Collection of Art.
We already have several Harold Dearden paintings in the collection because Harold Dearden was quite a presence in the town, this is what it says on the Sulis Fine Art website about him:
'Harold Dearden studied at the Rochdale School of Art under H. Barrett Carpenter from 1905-1910, then at the Royal College of Art, London under Gerald Moira. He was head of the Swindon Art School for over 30 years. His work is in the Museum of London and the Swindon Art Gallery.'
We held the unveiling on Thursday 16 August from 5.30-6.30pm toasting the painting while Sophie gave a short talk about interesting aspects of the painting.
 Above Stef Vincent kindly removed the cloth revealing the painting, and then Sophie pointed out that since the scene depicted Regent Circus in 1945, it gives us a fascinating snapshot of Swindon at that time.
 There was a good crowd in attendance
 and a slightly different angle including Stef and Erik Burnett-Godfree
 After Sophie's talk, we held a short commemoration of 25 years since the Friends were formed. I'd photocopied some pages from the first Journal which recorded what our Patron, Desmond Morris, had said about the art gallery being too small to host traveling exhibitions. Erik was the only person present last Thursday who admitted to being there 25 years ago, so I asked him to read out what was said in the Journal and talk about what he could remember of that night in 1993.
That was followed by a short update on future plans by Rod Hebden, Director of the Trust, who asked if people would kindly make their suggestions about where the museum and art gallery should be situated known to him via the various links on this link by 27 August. This is the consultation part of the options appraisal, so it's important people have their say.
The Harold Dearden painting was very well received by those present, and for those who weren't, it will appear in the next exhibition in the gallery which opens on 12 September, here's a photo of the painting:
Yes it's a rainy day in post war Swindon with a good feel for what it might have been like.

The Landscape Around Us!

The third Summer Workshop, this one funded by The Arts Society Kennet & Swindon, encouraged children attending to build a picture using coloured tissue paper glued to a card backing. Examples of different sorts of landscape were given on an A4 sheet, and they were surrounded by landscapes on the walls of the gallery.
It seemed that all children attending created something they were pleased with, although maybe the the concept of landscape is quite difficult to grasp as a child. I think it might be a bit like talking about the wonderful views in the Lake District to a child in the back of a car, it takes a while to understand the idea.
Creating a picture with tissue paper is an impressive skill in itself, so here are a few photos of works made on the day:
 I really like the photo above because although we avoided photographing children's faces, this girl had a face on her T shirt, giving rather a surreal effect. Children are shy of helpers at the workshops, and so it's not possible to find out much about why they produced the pictures in the way they did. Although the picture below produced by a 3 year old is entitled 'Messy Me' which gives a clue to how he felt about it.
 In the one below, the coloured tissue paper has been stuck over the frame
 and this one is constructed of screwed up tissue paper which gives a 3 dimensional, uneven quality to the picture.
 Here are siblings posing with their pictures
 and a couple more siblings
and a close up of the one on the left featuring a much loved toy
 I think this boy took the task seriously and achieved an excellent landscape.
Don't miss the final workshop this Wednesday 22 August 11am-1pm. It's entitled 'Put Yourself in the Picture!' and involves drawing a self portrait on a ceramic tile or on paper and then decorating a ceramic frame to put it in.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Summer Workshops

There are 4 Summer Workshops for children being held in the gallery this summer on Wednesdays from 11am-1pm, these have been funded by the Friends and The Arts Society Kennet & Swindon and have proved very popular.
Here's a copy of the flyer:
 As you can see, we've had prehistoric puppets
 and some photos I took of the prehistoric people being dressed up rather interestingly and standing in front of their dwellings.
 It's a shame it's no longer possible to photograph the children thoroughly enjoying what they were doing, but here's one holding up the puppets
 I also took some photos last week of  the fossils children made from modelling clay
 again it was a case of 'hands only'

 and with this child, they thought I wanted to photograph their hands!
The next workshop is the one sponsored by the Arts Society and encouraging children to build colourful landscape pictures.

Family Archaeology Day

On Saturday 28 July, I went to help with the children's workshop being held in the gallery. It was a fabulous day with lots to see and do. Here are the details advertising the event beforehand:
'Join us for a FREE day full of archaeological activities for all of you interested in what might be buried beneath our feet!
There will be Archaeology talks (at 12noon, 1pm & 2pm) with our experts to celebrate the improvements to our Archaeology Gallery and for you to find out more about Swindon’s rich archaeological collection.
The Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service will be on hand to showcase the skills and techniques they use to take care of archaeological collections.   Try out some new skills like using x-rays to see through years of mud and corrosion…
You can also ‘get crafty’ with our free children’s workshop where you can make your own Roman Sword or spell your name out on a beaded Roman bracelet.
Cotswold Archaeology will also be with us on the day to identify any small finds you have hidden at home.  Bring along any interesting artefacts you’ve unearthed and our experts may be able to tell you what it is.
And, if all of that wasn’t enough, Wessex Ulfolc, an early medieval reenactment group, will be with us, bringing history to life.
And don’t forget, it’s all FREE!
 With thanks to the Wiltshire Conservation and Museum Advisory Service, Cotswold Archaeology and Wessex Ulfolc for their support.'
I took some photographs of the day, the first one shows a member of the medieval reenactment group with Olivia and Helen posing with their swords
 and the same soldier encouraging people to come into the museum, what a stance
the children's activities were to make a Roman bracelet and to decorate a sword in a Crafty Roman workshop
 Beads for the bracelets
 and sparkly jewels for the sword decorating

 and here are a couple of swords
 outside refreshments from Coffee and Flowers along with some great house plants and flowers, they're a really interesting small Swindon based business.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Mike Yates talk on the Role of Ceramics Collectors

Mike Yates recently curated a ceramics' exhibition at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, kindly loaning many of the ceramics in his personal collection to the show. The result was a fascinating collection of ceramics which got first place in Ceramic Review's top shows list, and attracted many visitors to come and look at it. The museum's curator Sophie Cummings kindly agreed for the exhibition to remain in place for another two weeks to enable us to ask Mike to give a talk about it, which he kindly did last week despite almost losing his voice.
The talk covered some major collectors, Mike's experience of collecting and his knowledge of ceramicists and how museums have acquired ceramics collections. I took a few photos which I'll add here, and then below the photos are some handy notes giving details of the talk.
 Above Slide of Bernard Leach pot with iconic 'leaping salmon' decoration, and below Mike Yates with a table behind him laden with more ceramics from home.

 Above slide of William 'Bill' Ismay and a small part of his collection, and below Slide of cutting from 'The Times'. Lucy Rie and Hans Coper pots from the Alan & Pat Firth collection.
 Unfortunately this slide hasn't come out very well at all, but this almost shows Mike holding an African pot from the Nupe people of central Nigeria, two things to note, the pot has a round base and so had to be placed in sand to be upright, and also the casual way in which Mike was holding it with one hand!!
The next pot seen below is a Janet Leach pot, the only justification for including another very dark photo, is to compare the shapes of the two pots, and you can see similarities from their silhouettes
Below Mike is holding an Ian Auld pot
 Below a slide showing Peter & Margaret Thomas' studio, Tweedmouth, north Northumberland. I've included this because anyone in the audience I'm sure would want to visit this studio.
 Mike brought two of the Thomas' jugs with him, the one seen below tells part of a story of Mike and his wife Emma's life on the jug.
I really enjoyed Mike's superb talk, and know lots of the audience did and would love some notes on people he was talking about, so here are some useful notes:

Mike began by outlining the lives of three ceramics collectors, Eric Milner-White, Dr John Shakeshaft and William 'Bill' Ismay. Milner-White, a cleric, bought his first ceramic piece in 1925. His collection contained important works by William Staite Murray, Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, the Japanese potter who had helped Leach set up the Leach Pottery in St Ives.  When he died Milner-White was Dean of York Minster and he left his collection of some 350 pots to York City Art Gallery. John Shakeshaft was an astrophysicist at Cambridge University who began collecting ceramics in the early 1970's. He left his collection to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. William 'Bill' Ismay, a Wakefield Librarian, was possibly the most important collector of 20th century British studio pottery. He knew, and visited, countless potters in their studios and built up a collection of some 3, 600 pieces from over 500 potters, which he kept in his small two-up, two-down terraced house. Bill died in 2001 and his collection went to the Yorkshire Museum, near York.
Shortly after Bill Ismay died, it was decided that his collection should join the Milner-White collection and funds were raised to form the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) in York, which opened in 2016. Anthony Shaw, a London-based collector gave over 800 items from his collection 'on permanent loan' and these pieces formed one of CoCA's opening exhibitions. Another early exhibition was of ceramics which had been decorated by Pablo Picasso. This collection, some 100 items, had been formed by Richard Attenborough and his wife, who would visit Picasso during their annual holidays in the south of France.
Mike pointed out that many people believe that collecting is a male only obsession, but Lady Attenborough had been actively involved in building this collection. Ann Carr was another collector who knew the potter Michael Cardew - she allowed Cardew to use her house on the Greek island of Naxos when he wanted to write his autobiography - and she bought many of his later works. These were left to Aberystwyth University who already had a large collection of Cardew's earlier work.
The Swindon collection had also benefited from the generosity of two ceramic collectors, Mark Golder and Brian Thompson, who have donated a large collection of contemporary pieces to the Museum - a wonderful gesture.
Mike then mentioned two important private collections which, sadly, were not left to public institutions. The first had been formed by Mike O'Connor, Head of Art at Christ's Hospital School, in West Sussex, the second by Alan and Pat Firth. The Firths' began collecting in the mid 1960's, firstly buying a work by Hans Coper, which they found in a Stratford-upon-Avon craft shop. They had spent £27,000 on their collection, which sold at auction for just under one million ponds.
Ian Auld, one-time Head of Ceramics at Camberwell School of Art, Ian's partner the ceramic artist Gillian Lowndes, and Margaret and Peter Thomas were, as Mike explained, the four people who taught him most about ceramics. We were shown beautiful examples of their work and it was obvious that these were treasured items to Mike. Mike told us that Peter Thomas had suggested various other potters whose work Mike might like and it was this that set Mike on his own collecting journey.
Finally, Mike just had time to briefly mention the current ceramics exhibition, "Timeless Secrets", which he had been asked to curate.
During questions, Mike was asked which potters he would suggest that people could collect. He replied that people had to make personal choices and that it depended on what people liked! He has now added that would-be collectors might like to have a look at Alistair Hawtin's book "A Guide to Collecting Studio Pottery" (A. & C. Black, London.2008). Now slightly dated, it is nevertheless the best place to start.