Monthly Archives: July 2010

Touched by Art

The Sculpture Gallery

On Tuesday I welcomed a group of ladies and gentlemen from the Coventry Macular Disease Support Group. This is a support group which meets in Coventry regularly to share information and support each other through age-related sight loss.

Last year I was lucky enough to take part in some training to enable me to audio describe art works to visually impaired people. After meeting with the group I invited them to come to the museum for a visit. Firstly we explored the History Gallery. One of the things I love about my job is the things that you learn. They told me stories about living in Coventry during the Blitz and we reminisced about pink fridges. I showed them Coventry-made goods from the Great Exhibition of 1851 and some chain mail.

Then we visited the Discover Godiva gallery where I gave an audio description of two important paintings by John Collier and Van Noort. Although I suspect the real highlight was the cartoon about the Godiva legend which they enjoyed very much.

After that we went upstairs to the Sculpture Gallery, and armed with my list of tactile sculptures we explored some of the pieces up there. I always really enjoy the touch tour part of the visit because it gives me an opportunity to experience and learn about the sculptures in ways that are not otherwise possible. We explored the sculpture Michelangelo as a Boy.  The group were blown away by the amount of detail in the sculpture including the ribbing on his stockings and the pattern on his jacket. We also explored a few statues by Tim Threlfall which was wonderful because they are made of such diverse materials and although they look simple they are deceptively complex. Read the rest of this entry



Belsen Head by Raymond Mayson © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2010.

The Herbert has recently acquired two new art works as part of its permanent collection. The purchase of these artworks has been supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Collecting Cultures scheme. The Collecting Cultures scheme has allowed galleries all over the country to apply for grants of up to £200,000 to strategically enhance their collections in a specific field. The purchases have also been supported through grants from membership charity the Art Fund, who gave £24,000 in total towards the two works, and MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, who gave a total of £4,000.   

The two works are Belsen Head by Raymond Mason and Bloodlines by Iftikhar Dadi and Nalini Malani. Both works explore the impact of conflict, violence and division. These artworks are part of the gallery’s ongoing work towards developing collections which explore Coventry’s important links with themes of conflict, peace and reconciliation.  Natalie Heidaripour, Project Officer for the Herbert’s Peace and Reconciliation Gallery has been working hard to find two works that are not only visually striking but represent a theme close to the heart of the city. She has shared some thoughts on both pieces of work:   

‘Bloodlines is a visually stunning artwork of intricate detail developed by Indian artist Nalini Malani and Pakistani artist Iftikhar Dadi. It is possibly the first collaborative work between artists from the two countries. It was created in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of the partition of India. Using gold, crimson and blue sequins the panels map the Radcliffe lines, which defined the 1947 borders of Pakistan.  

Bloodlines has been made with thousands of sequins.

The partition of India is of key importance in British history and to communities living in Coventry, but is not currently represented in the visual arts collection. This artwork will address this in a meaningful way. Although specifically referring to the partition of India the work also has a much wider resonance, exploring the human impact of colonialism, civil conflict and division.’ 

‘Belsen Head by Raymond Mason was created in response to images released from the concentration camps at the end of the Second World War. The head lying back on a wooden plinth is seemingly screaming in pain or protest. The link to the now familiar images from the camps can be seen; however this work has a continuing resonance, reflecting the universal impact of hate and violence. This sculpture is a captivating work which has a powerful and moving effect on those who view it.’   

These works will be displayed in an exhibition in 2012 which will highlight new items bought through the HLF Collecting Cultures project which has benefitted many galleries across the country.

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Ruairi’s Work Experience Blog

Today we have a guest post from Ruairi, a student who has just completed his work experience with us.

Today has been my first day at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum for my work experience. Although I haven’t actually been involved in any sort of work related tasks, it has been, all in all an interesting day. I have had a guided tour around the museum in and around the site meeting the staff and memorizing the locations in which I will be working in the future. I was shown the various exhibits around the museum as well, for instance the Elements exhibition which had some very interesting exhibits like the temperature panels which, as the name suggests, projects temperatures from certain environments around the world such as the Arctic and tropical rainforests.

Today I have been doing varied work. For instance, in the first half of the day, I was painting a play area for children in the Studio. And in the second half of the day I was photographing historical artefacts for the Herbert website. But it was raining outside so I had to put the camera in my bag and at the end of the day, I forgot to take it out! So I was completely oblivious to the fact that I was holding some very expensive equipment on the way home!         

On Wednesday, I was continuing painting in the studio. Which was nice because I saw the progress that was being made inside it. The paint colour was supposed to be brown but it looked a lot more like a pinky sort of colour.           

On Thursday morning I was helping out in a presentation to a primary school. It was about the book “Why?” by Nikolai Popov. Which is about the pointlessness of war…. Which is an odd topic to be discussing with primary school students but they handled the topic quite well and they looked like they enjoyed themselves.

On Friday morning I was helping out in the archives (or the History Centre). I was mainly tasked with finding documents underground and handing them to the people looking for them. But the most interesting thing was seeing a letter written by Anne Boleyn to the Lord Mayor of Coventry and another letter written by Queen Elizabeth the first to the Lord Mayor of Coventry regarding Mary Queen of Scots which had been amazingly well-kept.  And that afternoon I was doing odd jobs for the Front of House receptionist: putting posters up, taking posters down, restocking shelves, etc. which wasn’t as boring as it sounds, actually.
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Big TreeTopping Out

View of In the Big Treetop during the final stages of installation

Most museum work is planning, but every so often I get to do the business – actually mount an exhibition.  “In the Big Treetop” is an installation for children and adults to explore together; it doesn’t have valued objects like most exhibitions, but instead has large structures which have to be strong enough to survive six weeks of lively play. 

We used cake to lure our staff into the Big TreeTop before it opened . . .

Because this is an annual fixture, the process begins with the evaluation of last year’s exhibit.  The planning started seriously in December and our technician began constructing the design in May.  Then two weeks of building and painting in the gallery and finally the public arrive. 

What happens then is the “Death of the Author” moment – all our ideas are rendered unnecessary as the public reinterprets the space and invests it with their own meanings.    

For the first time this year we have chosen not to have an area for displaying visitors’ work, which has been a coincidental mechanism for communication between visitors – so the interpretations might be different every day.   It will be an interesting chance to explore how this might impact on the sense of community that can exist amongst our regular audience. 

Enough of this seriousness . . . we have a magical gallery full of very happy children and parents and that is all that matters! 

View more photos of In the Big Treetop on our Flickr page: 

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Samuel Watson

Detail of clock face

  Today’s guest blog is written by Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections. 

The Watson Clock on display in What’s in Store

 One of our prize objects is back on display after an absence of five years. It is a magnificent longcase clock made by Samuel Watson of Coventry around 1690. It came off display in 2005 when the redevelopment of the Herbert began and then it was sent away to a specialist clock conservator to have some work done on it, but now it has gone on display in What’s in Store

Samuel Watson was one of the most well known clock and watchmakers of his time. We don’t know much about his life, but we know that he was sheriff of Coventry in 1686. He called himself Mathematician in Ordinary to King Charles II, although there is no evidence that this post really existed. However we do know that he made a clock for the king in 1683. In 1690 or 1691 Watson moved to Long Acre in London. The last known mention of him is around 1712, when he submitted a proposal for an instrument to allow ships to measure longitude at sea.  

Detail of case

We actually have two clocks made by Samuel Watson. One is a bracket clock, which is on display in the History Gallery.  But the longcase clock is the really impressive and intriguing one. It’s much larger than usual longcase clocks. Its case is an unusual shape and is very ornate with beautiful marquetry designs of flowers and birds. It is this case which is the intriguing part of the clock. Read the rest of this entry

Herbert Looks For New Friends

Sir William Craven of Coombe Abbey (1638-1695) by John Hayls purchased with assistance from the Friends in 1984
No, it’s not Ben! It’s Sir William Craven of Coombe Abbey by John Hayls purchased with assistance from the Friends.

A special message from Ben Goodwin, Marketing and Communications Assistant:

As the person responsible for new members joining our Friends of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum organisation, I have to say it’s been wonderful to actively see how supportive the people of Coventry really are.

This is Ben!

The Friends help to raise funds for the museum, help acquire new items for the collections or enhance other aspects of the organisation’s facilities. It’s also a social organisation that provides a forum for people to meet, be entertained and work together towards a good cause. 

Since we re-launched the organisation a couple of months ago, many people have come forward and, not only have they joined the Friends, they have offered their own time, services and vast expertise. This has come in various forms, from administrative support at the Herbert itself to members offering special talks in their chosen subject areas and others are utilising their contacts to further promote the group.

I know we are a popular attraction within the area, but, when people interact with us in the way I’ve just described, you understand how much the people of Coventry recognise the Herbert as an important place in our city. They have an emotional attachment to a place that’s more than just a museum; it’s a place for the people of Coventry and its visitors to meet, celebrate and explore their cultural and creative past, present and futures.

There are many benefits of becoming a Friend including a discount in our shop, unique guided tours and talks, VIP invites to exhibition launches, a Friends newsletter and priority entry to special events. However, in the words of the Friends Chairman, Pete Walters, ‘what people get out of this organisation is unquantifiable. The sense of pride and achievement in seeing a campaign come to fruition is amazing.’

I couldn’t agree more with Peter, as, to me (admittedly, I’m biased!) the Herbert represents the heart and soul of the ever-changing city around us. Those who join the Friends want to be part of the gallery; people who will represent and cherish what the gallery stands for.

I’m very proud to work at the Herbert, but it adds an extra sparkle to my role, knowing that there are such dedicated people across the city who are willing to engage with us in their free time. Their efforts make our offer more varied and colourful than anything that could be achieved on simply staff-power alone.

Be a Friend!If you’d like to join visit, pick up a leaflet from the museum itself or call Ben Goodwin on 024 7629 4736 for more information.

To celebrate the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum’s 50th Anniversary, there is a 50% discount on all Friends of the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum memberships.

Friends prices under the current offer see annual memberships available at £16.25 for Adults, £13 for Concessions and £25 for a Family.

Please note that this is a time limited offer, so make sure you purchase your memberships on or before July 31st 2010.
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Recent work of the Conservation Team

Martin hard at work cleaning a medieval pendant

The Conservation team has been getting out and about a bit recently. Both Jill and Martin have been out assessing potential items for the collections – as far afield as London and Surrey – some have been accepted, others not.  Meanwhile I swanned off to Scotland for fun. However, I’ve also been working with Learning Team, resulting in a couple of talks to 8-year-old school children. It’s been interesting trying to explain what we do at a level they can understand – they did say their heads were a bit full….. Martin provided material for activity sheets, so that’s 3 groups hopefully thinking a bit more about how to look after things.

The Building Management System programmers have been in to discuss how we can get the best performance for the environmental controls now we’ve seen how it behaves in reality. I’ve learned an awful lot over the last couple of years, and in many ways will be sorry to hand the job of liaising with the Council Engineer over to our new technician when he starts, but there are other things I need to be doing.
Both Martin and I have been condition reporting items for the Robert Longden exhibition. The photographs (my job) are really evocative, and drew me in to look at them properly as images – usually it’s a quick glance in ‘over-view’, then switch to detailed inspection mode. These days when going round other exhibitions, I find I’m missing out on enjoying the objects because I can’t stop myself inspecting mounts, condition, etc!

Very detailed and delicate work!

Martin has been cleaning a medieval horse-harness pendant in preparation for one of the series of Collections Conversations in What’s in Store where he’ll be talking about conserving objects. Here he’s scraping off overlying corrosion plus the earth incorporated into the corrosion to get back to the original surface layer, using a microscope to see the fine detail. The x-ray image which Martin is using as a guide shows a lion feature; traces of gilding and enamelling have also survived the long burial. Using his private interest, Martin has also been choosing coins from our collections and recessing them into plastazote (inert foam) to fill more drawers in What’s in Store – these drawers are gradually being completed as we get material.

Talking, travelling, waterways and summer fun!

Family enjoying craft activities at the Herbert

 In my previous blog I mentioned the work the Herbert learning team have been doing to prepare for upcoming temporary exhibitions and the schools programmes we offer to go along with them. Well that is all still happening, but I thought I’d give you a catch up on how things have been going. 

1. The From Here to There exhibition is now approaching its final week of being on display and so far I’ve gone through 13 guided talks around the exhibition and have another 5 to go, which all means it’s been a very good success. This was the first time we have catered guided talks around an arts exhibition to Secondary schools, so it was new ground for us, but the school groups who have visited have all said how they felt the benefits of the insight into the art works and how useful it was to the pupils’ development and research work, so hopefully it is an area we can explore again in the future. I have personally thoroughly enjoyed leading on this project, as I have an arts background myself and I am a particular fan of Tracey Emin and Marc Quinn, 2 of the featured artists. 

2. Our travels around the country have continued in our quest to research how museums are delivering the subject of Ancient Egypt to school groups. Two of my colleagues recently visited the British Museum in London and I have just visited Bolton with another colleague to meet with one of their learning officers. It did require both of us being on the train at 6am and 3 changes along the way, but it was well worth it, as Bolton museum is one of the sites who are going to be lending the Herbert artefacts to contribute towards our Secret Egypt meeting so it was very interesting to see how they bought the topic to life with the use of handling collections, costume and different activities around the gallery. 

Read the rest of this entry

Life Afloat….

The exhibition An Inland Voyage: Life on the Coventry and Oxford Canals features the evocative photography of Robert Longden. It opened at the Herbert on the 26th June and Exhibition Officer Dominic Bubb caught up with the curator of the exhibition and great grandson of Robert Longden, Stephen Pochin.

Name: Stephen Pochin

Occupation: Father, artist, photographic re-toucher, curator

Can you tell us a little about the exhibition?

Robert fortunately caught these working scenes just before the waterways were transformed into destinations for leisure. In so doing, he has left us with a precious document, of the people and their uniquely (for this country at least) intertwined domestic and working life.

How did the idea for the exhibition develop and how did you come to work with the Herbert?

I was never that interested in my family history or in the ancestor worship that usually comes with genealogical research. As a child I was always aware of Robert’s archive, but it didn’t occur to me that it would have any wider relevance. Then a couple of years ago I turned 40 and became a father, and last year my mother commenced medical treatment. As I reconsidered my role in life, my family history took on a new lustre, and I began to see Robert’s work in a newly resonant light.

I thought the archive deserved some public exposure. Being an artist and photographer myself helped me to appreciate both Robert’s technical achievements, and the means required to restore and re-present the archive. Read the rest of this entry

Our new Flickr group

In the run-up to Face to Face, our upcoming photography exhibition, the Herbert has launched a new Flickr group. Woo-hoo!

Why’s that good for you? Well, all images uploaded to the group will appear on an in-gallery screen for the duration of the exhibition.

Face to Face features a series of large-scale ape portraits by photographer James Mollison. We’re encouraging participants to use their cameras to explore some of the exhibition’s themes, particularly those surrounding our relationship with, and our treatment of, the natural world. This is also an excellent opportunity to try your hand at animal portraiture!

To join or find out more, visit:

We hope to see you (and your pictures) there soon!


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