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Monday, 30 August 2021

The Future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

 The Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery are committed to the reopening of Apsley House in Bath Road as soon as possible, until a viable option for housing the museum and art collections can be found. Currently there are plans to build a Cultural Quarter on the Kimmerfields site near the railway station, but this may be 10-20 years hence. In the meantime, in a town with a population of at least 220k, and rising, to lose our museum and art gallery would be a significant loss to the town, and others who visited Swindon to see the collections.

There have been several articles in the Swindon Advertiser on the proposal not to reopen Apsley House,  put the collections in storage, and sell the building, since this was proposed at the end of June 2020. The latest article published today, commentis on the repairs needed to Apsley House: 

I thought I'd have a look and find the last photographs taken in the gallery, they were taken at a lunchtime talk given by Katie Ackrill on 28 February 2020. They are a reminder of what a lovely facility we have in the 1960s extension to Apsley House which houses the art gallery, and of course the magnificent paintings, some of which were initially donated by Jimmy Bomford and many others purchased with the help of Richard Morphet who said the following about the proposed closure of the museum and art gallery:

 'Swindon's renowned collection of British art has been built steadily over many decades as a key resource for the people of the Borough and region. It is of great significance to many people and through its quality has developed a national reputation, works being requested regularly for loan to major exhibitions in Britain and overseas. The collection brings together fascinating works made by local artists over many years with art of international importance. Successive curators have displayed works from this rich collection in lively and thought-provoking groupings that provide enjoyment that is available to the whole community, benefiting its health and wellbeing. The need for increased display space has long been recognised. For the collection to be placed, instead, in storage of unknown duration would deprive both Swindon and visitors from further afield of a vital source of inspiration. I advised on Swindon's art acquisitions from 1966 to 2006. I would be deeply shocked were the collection to become inaccessible to the community for whose benefit it was built.'

If you haven't done so, please consider signing the petition to reopen Apsley House:

Meanwhile some photos of the last lunchtime talk:

Katie Ackrill above talking about 'Presence on White' by William Gear
and here's 'Night Sky' by Jack Smith, one of the initial paintings donated by Jimmy Bomford in 1960, cleaned and restored with donations from the Friends.
A big favourite of many, Sir Terry Frost's 'Grey, Red and Black Verticals, 1962. A gift of the Contemporary Arts Society in 1976
And here 'Once' by Richard Smith purchased in 1972 with the Support of the V&A Purchase Grant
And here's what we really miss as well, being able to look at a painting and discuss it with a friend.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Celebrating Michael Ayrton: A Centenary Exhibition

 On a recent visit to the Lightbox in Woking, I was struck once again by what a fabulous place it is, and how smoothly it appears to operate. I love their philosophy: 'At The Lightbox gallery and museum, we strive to put art and well being at the heart of everything we do'.They have three collections, the most significant being The Ingram Collection; two catalogues showing works in the Ingram collection are available from the shop, and are great to look at.

I'd specifically gone to see their Michael Ayrton exhibition: 'Celebrating Michael Ayrton: A Centenary Exhibition. Apart from the subject matter, what really attracted me to the exhibition was the fact that 'Roman Window' by Michael Ayrton was their featured painting in all their advertising.

There's the poster, with 'Roman Window' on loan from Swindon Museum and Art Gallery featured as THE image.
The gallery is light and airy, and had a long plinth down the middle for the sculptures, Roman Window can be seen at the end of the gallery with someone looking at it.
I picked out a few paintings to include, the one above is 'Cycladic Shore at Dusk' 1961
This was stunning 'The Red Chair (Portrait of Elizabeth)' 1954. Elizabeth was Ayrton's wife.
We're familiar with this painting on loan from Swindon
This painting 'Catalan Caged Birds' has been loaned to Swindon and often appeared in exhibitions in the gallery at Apsley House.

'Pond at Bradfields' 1953 is a charming painting of a child, who I think may have been a step child inherited when he married Elizabeth. 

Elsewhere there was an exhibition entitled: Night Shaking with the Ingram Collection', these 2 pieces were fabulous. The first by Dora Carrington, 'Iris Tree on a Horse' c 1920, 'one of the few depictions of a woman on a horse portrayed in such dynamic action'

This is 'Ghost Boat' 2003 by John Behan, the shadows it cast were tremendous.
So that was my recent visit to the Lightbox, as you will have seen from the poster above, the exhibition only runs until 8 August, this Sunday, but it's well worth a last dash there.

A link to the talk by Justine Hopkins about Roman Window appears below:

The information with the exhibition was good, I've included it here:



Looking back to decisions made in March 2019

 Although I often don't manage to write all the blog posts I'd like to do, I think most of the time I get something written down. Looking for the talk we had on Michael Ayrton, given by his step grand daughter, Justine Hopkins, I found a post written at a time when Swindon Museum and Art Gallery in Apsley House was at a cross roads after failing to be given HLF funding to build a new Museum and Art Gallery beside the Wyvern Theatre. The decision at that time was to invest in Apsley House and continue to use it as a museum and art gallery.

Here's a link to the post:

In March of 2019, the council’s Cabinet agreed:
  • 'to spend £400,000 on remedial works of the current building in Bath Road
  • to spend £100,000 to take the collections ‘on tour’ to venues around Swindon
  • To use £250,000 grant from the Local Enterprise Partnership to test the viability of a future project to create a combined new Wyvern Theatre, Museum & Art Gallery and ‘Civic quarter’. This quarter may be largely paid for by the sale or redevelopment of the Civic Offices on Euclid Street.'

    In February 2019, we had a talk by Heritage architect Michael Gray on the Wyvern Theatre. His fascinating talk was written up here. It's sometimes useful to look back to previous thinking and work out what has changed, especially at this time when there has been a proposal from the council not to reopen Apsley House, remove its collections and sell the building.


Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Sarsen Stone - our June talk

 We were fortunate to have Katy Whitaker giving our June talk via Zoom about Sarsen stone; I have looked Katy up on the Reading University PhD site 'The role of sarsen stone in southern Britain. An archaeological and ethno-historical approach to an ancient industry. Sarsen stone is found in various locations across southern England. And 'Sarsen stone is found in various locations across southern England. It played an important role in the building of some of Britain's great prehistoric monuments, including Stonehenge and Avebury in Wiltshire. It has been significant to communities from the Neolithic to the present day, employed in the manufacture of portable tools; used in both prosaic and monumental building; and as a key component of landscapes which today are managed in reference to sarsen's geological, ecological, and cultural importance. Yet unlike other stone types, sarsen has attracted little research in its own right. Invariably characterised as a local stone, its extraction, transport, use, and disposal, have not attracted the same kind of theoretical attention as other 'exotic' rocks. In order to redress the balance, this research aims to contextualise sarsen as a material rather than as a monument'. Funded by the AHRC through the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership.

I took notes during the lecture, and photos from the screen, and was very impressed by the context Katy put the Sarsen in, they played a very important role.

Sarsen stone is found mainly in south east England 

Katy went through their formation
where they are found
they have been used decoratively
as building materials and fence posts
Apparently 'Between 1798 and 1819, Whiteknights was the scene of vast extravagance and wild entertainments, all at the Marquis' expense. It became the most celebrated estate in the Country: magnificently furnished, displaying many great masters, with a wonderful wine cellar and an unrivalled library.
Old Totterdown is a site near Marlborough where there is an abundance of Sarsen stone. A particularly good recent paper by Katy Whitaker can be found here.
Lastly a view across the Downs with what look like a Sarsen stone in the foreground.
For a better idea of Sarsen stone, please have a look a video of the talk.

Monday, 2 August 2021

Book Launch of Pevsner Architectural Guide to Wiltshire

In June, I was invited to a book launch of the revised edition of the Pevsner guide to Wiltshire, I sent the invitation on to the Friends' membership, and signed up to the talk which was advertised like this:

 'Our latest revised volume, Julian Orbach's Wiltshire, will be published on 8 June, and we are delighted to be holding an online event to launch the book. On Tuesday 15 June, at 6pm, the author will be live in conversation with the book's editor, Charles O'Brien about his survey of the county, and they will be joined by James O. Davies, photographer. There will be an opportunity to ask questions at the end'.

 I will include the introductory slide from the talk, but after that, we were told we couldn't take any photographs, so I have included one of my own.

The indispensable guide to the architectural heritage of Wiltshire

With hundreds of buildings added to the new gazetteer, this volume offers a fully revised and updated guide to Wiltshire. From prehistoric Stonehenge and thirteenth-century Salisbury Cathedral, to Elizabethan Longleat, Palladian Wilton and landscaped gardens of Stourhead, the buildings of Wiltshire represent the best of every period of English architecture. Towns range from Marlborough with its sweeping High Street to Bradford-on-Avon, rich in the architectural legacy of clothiers’ houses. Villages include the exceptional Lacock in the shadow of its abbey’s remains as well as Avebury, where the houses sit within the famous stone circle. This volume, covering structures as diverse as garden follies and railway workers’ housing is an essential reference for visitors and residents alike.

The talk was fascinating and has opened a door on how we might look at a place, in this case Wiltshire, and more particularly Swindon where I live. The Wiltshire Pevsner book was originally published in 1963, dedicated to Nicholas and Paul, and describes Wiltshire as 'the county of the cottage'. Wikipedia says this:

'The Pevsner Architectural Guides are a series of guide books to the architecture of Great Britain and Ireland. Begun in the 1940s by the art historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, the 46 volumes of the original Buildings of England series were published between 1951 and 1974. The series was then extended to Scotland, Wales and Ireland in the late 1970s'.

 The lecture was given by Julian Orbach and Charles O'Brien as it says above. I was particularly interested in what they said about Swindon, describing it as a 'wonderfully fascinating place' The David Murray John Tower he described as 'the best tower block of its period' and Wat Tyler house 'cheeky naming of council offices'. He commented that things change so fast in Swindon, in 1998, Motorola's huge pipe got a special mention, as did the former Renault building in Westlea described beautifully on page 711 of the guide as 'The cathedral among Swindon's giant sheds, designed to store automotive parts, but disused for twenty years'. A bit further on 'It remains a beautiful expression of architecture and engineering in harmony.'

After the main part of the lecture, James O Davies who has taken the majority of the photographs talked to us about the way he manages to achieve his fantastic photos. Some of you will remember we were fortunate enough to hear about his photography in a lecture in December 2020, you can read about it here. It wasn't videoed, but was memorable. James said when taking photographs for the guide, he likes straight on views, uses tall ladders, needs to absence of cars, people and garden furniture to achieve a timeless effect.James will persevere to get exactly the effect he wants, enjoys problem solving and will use lighting to help in darker corners and under trees. For obvious reasons, I can't reproduce his photographs here, but I will say that one of the most fabulous of his photos was Oare House Pavilion taken at 10.45pm on Midsummer's eve. The building, designed by I.M.Pei of New York, 2000-4, for Sir Henry and Lady Kewick is a 'pagoda of glass' in the grounds of Oare House, and described by me here.

I didn't take my photograph late at night, but will include it here so you can see the site and magnificence of the building:

I'm very pleased with my Pevsner guide, and would encourage you all to go out and buy one.

And to click here and sign the petition to Save our Museum and Gallery: