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Thursday, 24 February 2022

A Visit to View the Roman Wine Strainer

 Anyone who has been following the Roman Wine strainer restoration via blog post 1 and post 2, will remember that almost 20 years ago, a metal detectorist found a Roman Wine strainer and decided to donate it to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, then at Apsley House. The Friends offered to pay for the restoration of the wine strainer, and went to check up on its progress at the Wiltshire History Centre in Chippenham in January 2020, when it was almost restored, but not quite. On finding out that it had been restored, collected and was now back in storage in Swindon, I asked if the Friends could see it. 

The visit was arranged for Tuesday 15 February at lunchtime at Steam. It looks absolutely fantastic, especially when you consider it's 2000 years old, and looks just like something you'd use in the kitchen today, although in the last 50 years, we would have used aluminium or plastic. In Roman times, they would have had a range of alloys to use, but not aluminium because it needs electricity for its extraction. It has a green colour on it, so it contains copper, alloyed with something else.

Anyway here are a few photos of the wine strainer when we visited it, I'll start with my favourite photograph which shows the beautiful patterning of the holes:

and this one gives some idea of the bottom part of the strainer:

and this one shows it on its stand, specially made for it:

I'll add a few more, importantly one of the whole thing. I do like the handle, it's very simple, but rather lovely:

and a few more, with people in, this one shows Paula and Simon who hadn't seen it before
a different view of the wine strainer

Here are more people:
and this is a bit silly, it's a photo of me taking a photo, taken by Paula.

Not everyone was able to see the Roman Wine Strainer, I'm hoping it can go on display in a ceramics' cabinet at the Civic Offices

Friday, 11 February 2022

Questions and Answers

 This is a very difficult and worrying time for those concerned that Swindon is destined to be a dormitory town for others with no facilities within the town. When we were told the museum and art gallery at Apsley House was to remain closed, with no obvious replacement, we were very concerned and felt this was a very bad idea. In fact no one has said it is a good idea. 

There are many concerns felt by residents about this state of affairs, some of them were voiced by Carole Bent, in her second round of questions to the council, I felt it was helpful to publish them here:

Pls confirm what consultation was undertaken with the public prior to the decision being made to close Apsley House, the home of the Museum & Art Gallery.
The Council took the decision to move the collections from Apsley House to the Civic Offices, from unsuitable premises to improved accommodation.
The civic offices will provide improved accommodation suitable for the delivery of a modern museum service with improved accessibility and from a central location.
To provide the best possible outcomes for the collections, local residents and visitors, it was determined that the best solution would be to find a medium term solution, until plans for the Cultural Quarter can be advanced.
Over the years there have been extensive discussions about relocation plans for the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery.
Pls confirm what consultation / engagement was undertaken with the public to explore options to display our Art Gallery & Museum collections prior to deciding to keep Apsley House shut.
The Council took the best decision for the operation of the service and improving access for all visitors.
Discussion took place with the Arts Council as a key partner and our accrediting body, there has been extensive public discussion following the consideration of two reports at Cabinet in the second half of 2021.
Q3 )
Pls clarify where a full list of contents of the Museum & Art Gallery collections can be accessed by members of the public (as recorded on 18th March 2020 )
I understand that for security reasons, SBC may choose not to publicise the locations where these are being stored, but believe that it is fully acceptable for a list to be provided on request.
A full list of all items held in the collections of Swindon Museum & Art Gallery is not currently accessible to members of the public.
It is not a priority to create such a list at this time.
Similar lists do not exist for either of Swindon Borough Council’s other owned and operated museums (STEAM – Museum of the Great Western Railway and Lydiard House Museum).
To create a publically accessible list of all items within the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery collections would take a considerable amount of staff time, at a point where staff are actively working to create a fully accessible, centrally located museum and art gallery at Civic Buildings, which will offer better access to our collections than was previously available at Apsley House.
A list of the works held as part of the Swindon Collection of Modern British Art is accessible through the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery website
Swindon’s Collection of Modern British Paintings and Swindon’s Local Art Collection can also be viewed on the ART UK website.
Is SBC aware of decisions being taken to donate art works , intended for Swindon to other Towns / City Museums & Galleries instead - due to concerns over current plans ?
Is SBC concerned about the impact of this for the development of the collections / future bequests?
We are not aware of any decisions taken by owners of artworks over their intention to donate artworks to other museums or art galleries rather than to Swindon Museum & Art Gallery.
Since the decision was announced to move Swindon Museum & Art Gallery to Civic Buildings, we have received several gifts to our permanent collections.
Given that staff are actively working to create a fully accessible, centrally located museum and art gallery for Swindon, which will offer better access to our collections than was previously available at Apsley House, this should provide the reassurance necessary for future donors.'

Regarding the last answer, I will publish an email I received on this matter:

'Firstly, we are totally disgusted with Swindon Council's attitude to the Museum (and the Arts in general) and just don't want to hear any more about their woeful inadequacies.

It had been our intention to offer our Studio Pottery collection to Swindon Museum. (Over 600 pieces) This is now out of the question. So, we are now in touch with the Centre of Ceramic Art in York on this matter. '

I've included a couple of paintings by LS Lowry, Winter in Pendlebury and A Procession, in an exhibition 3 years ago at our gallery.

Work Starts on New Home for Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

This was the Swindon Advertiser headline to an article published the day after my letter to the Advertiser asking what was happening to Swindon Museum and Art Gallery which closed for good on 18 March 2020. We didn't of course know it was closing for good at that time, with no plans at the end of June 2021 for reopening until the cultural quarter building has been completed.

I've included the link to the article explaining that the whole top floor of the Civic Offices will be converted into Swindon Museum and Art Gallery as agreed at Cabinet on 1 December 2021:

The photo the Advertiser used for the article yesterday was of one of our rallies outside Apsley House:

Wednesday, 9 February 2022

What's happening with our museum?

 Last week, the Save our Museum and Gallery group, SoMAG, decided we needed to give an update on our museum and art gallery which remains closed to the public. In a town identified as having low cultural engagement, why close the museum and art gallery, without plans for another one, except in the distant future? We sent this letter to the Swindon Advertiser, which they kindly published today:

'Whatever has happened to the wonderful things we used to see in our Museum and Art Gallery?

Like many venues, Apsley House, the building that housed Swindon’s beloved “crocodile” and the Egyptian mummy, closed because of the pandemic. Unlike other venues, it remains closed. Swindon Borough Council’s leaders say a new museum and art exhibition facility should be built in the centre of town, as part of a planned cultural quarter. So the collections have been put into storage, and Swindon residents can see a few of the artworks via worthy but small exhibitions called Art on Tour.

Swindon Borough Council’s leaders admit it will take at least ten years for the new facility to be built. The Save our Museum and Art Gallery (SoMAG) have asked the council to ensure that the collections have a suitable home until then. In December 2021, the Cabinet decided to convert the entire top floor of the Civic Offices into a museum and art gallery. So far, so good. But something does not add up.

In March 2019, the council estimated it would cost £1,864,000 to convert the first floor of the Civic Offices. It now claims it will cost £400,000. We have asked how the cost of conversion can have fallen by £1,464,000, but had no answer.

Our rapidly growing town is already identified by the Arts Council as having low cultural engagement. This is shameful. A significant part of our culture is locked up somewhere, out of sight.

For two months, we have been trying to meet the Culture Councillor, Robert Jandy, to discuss when we will have a museum and art gallery fit for the town. Swindon risks becoming a dormitory town, with huge housing estates and no facilities. Instead, let’s create a place we can all enjoy, and let’s start by valuing what we have got. Swindon Museum and Art Gallery remains closed and it is not good enough.

Linda Kasmaty

Chair of the Friends of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery(FSMAG)  and Save our Museum and Gallery (SoMAG)'

Here's a link to the letter in the Swindon Advertiser: 

Letters: What's happening with our museum? | Swindon Advertiser 

With this photo standing outside the Civic Offices before a council meeting:

Friday, 4 February 2022

A Celebration of Colour: A Display of Artworks and Ceramics in the Civic Offices

Since Monday 31 January, there has been a display of artworks and ceramics in committee room 3 on the ground floor of the Civic Offices, it's open to all, so please do go and have a look. I visited on Monday when there was no overhead lighting, the 8 artworks were only lit by light from the ceramics cases. I thought Gillian Ayres might have been upset to see her painting 'Florestan', a wonderfully bright and vibrant piece barely discernable in the gloom, on the right in the photo below. Interestingly, the camera phone brightened the room up so it doesn't look as dark as it was at that time.

The painting on the left is Nicholas Horsfield's 'Oval 1979 Evening, Downstream towards Vernon' 1979. Both paintings presented by The Contemporary Arts Society.

There are 3 cases with ceramics in them
on slightly different themes related to the celebration of colour theme. I haven't got a list of the pieces, although in the cabinet above, Kate Malone's jug bottom left really stands out
There are some lovely ceramic pieces in the exhibition
It would be very good to have a guide to our ceramic's collection, something some members of the Friends would be amply qualified to put together.

Here are the rest of the artworks:

Above, an old favourite on the right, Mark Lancaster's 'Cambridge' , 1969, purchased in 1971, partnered with a new acquisition by Emily Drake.
Above 'Sunset Over Essex' by Pen Dalton, a gift from the artist through the Centre for British Painting in 2013
Above left 'Drift' by Julie Umerle, also a gift from the artist through the Centre for British Painting in 2013, and on the right 'Burnt Gorse' painted in 2011 by Simon Carter, a Gift from the artist through the Centre of British Painting
This painting  is 'Three Over Two' undated by Andrew Crane, a gift from the artist through the Centre for British Painting in 2013. Analysis of the artworks appears on the labels beside each one, so it's worth having a look. 
Members of the Friends are still reeling and express disbelief that Swindon Borough Council closed down the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery for good before they had a credible alternative. I receive emails about that, here's the latest one received this week:

'Yes, Apsley House Indeed. We can't believe it's gone or why it is that we have such an uncultured council. Massively depressing for Swindon's art community after so many years of promise of a new building. It's the sting in the tail (of the croc??) this substitute of a museum by bite sized outreach exhibitions that won't attract attention, only pointing up the fact that they have no home.'

I emailed a friend who I knew had been, she said: Visited the Civic Offices yesterday. 'Thought the ceramics were fantastic but as you say it’s difficult to see the paintings in the gloom.  The room is on the north side of the building, no chance of the sun getting in at the moment, so not sure why both blinds and curtains were closed. The view is of a maintenance yard and van parking so perhaps the aim was to blot that out. Wondered whether the overhead lights should have been switched on - possibly not suitable but if they are covered by diffusers they might be OK.' 

With a town over almost a quarter of a million people, the fact we no longer have our museum and art gallery is a disgrace.

Wednesday, 2 February 2022

Art and Archaeology by Neil Redfern

 For our January talk, we were given an illustrated talk by Neil Redfern, Executive Director of The Council for British Archaeology who gave us a fantastic insight into his thoughts on archaeology. I can say that if I had heard that talk as a teenager, I would have taken an archaeology degree. In short he's the bees knees when it comes to how an archaeologist looks at the world.

Neil started by explaining that archaeology is not about preserving finds in an archive, but thinking creatively about heritage. He has worked for Historic England, based in York for over 20 years. The photographs above taken from my computer screen show their remit includes pre historic sites, monastic sites, ruins, national parks, 1960s flats in Sheffield that are Grade 2* listed.
The next slide showed the uniform an inspector for English Heritage, the forerunner of Historic England looked like in 1913. One of the things hotly contested at one time was the notion that trees were bad for archaeological sites, and above you can see a bronze age barrow with trees on it. Now trees are left where they are growing, because thye are seen as part of the landscape.
Above are some words associated with archaeology and explaining what it encompasses.
Above is a slide showing 3 views of Whitby Abbey, this has been subject to 'gatekeeping', a process where the site is 'tidied up' from the original condition it might have been in at the turn of the last century, surfaces evened out and grass laid and mown so visitors can easily walk round without tripping up.
Other examples of this process include Berkhamstead Mott and Bailey Castle where the moat was enhanced by resculpting in the 1920/30s, and trees were removed. Helmsley Castle also has had sculpted earthworks. Sandal Castle is perhaps the most fascinating example of changes made to ruins. The old print shows three windows and Wakefield in the background, which it isn't quite, and present day photos show one of the windows has been filled in, presumably to give the structure strength? The site has also been excavated and sculpted making it stark and sterile.
Neil talked about many sites being at risk from arable cultivation, and then talked about not preserving, but creating from archaeological sites. At Hanging Grimstone dig, medieval rooftiles were found that had been on a dovecote, after the dig, rather than than putting them back again after the dig was finished, they were used to paint on, the results are seen below.
And more here
I hadn't heard about the Lego lost at sea in 1997 which is now being washed up in Cornwall, but collecting the Lego is a lovely project 
Some recommended reading for us all..
Neil's reduced lexicon to include the words he feels essential to the archaeological process
Hatfield Colliery is an important landmark, and an example of how the art of loss can be used creatively via storytelling and finding what is important in a community. What they value. Being inquisitive, curious, storytelling and using creativity are essential to the process of archaeology. These notes have got a bit rambly, do watch the recording of the talk, apologies for my bit at the beginning, I don't have the necessary skills to edit recordings. 
Thank you for such a moving talk.