Monthly Archives: October 2010

Day in Manchester

Today’s Guest Author is Robin Johnson, Senior Learning Officer.

I recently attended the Museums Association annual conference in Manchester. The MA arrange seminars and a trade show for delegates who attend for free and are not taking part in the main conference sessions. I got very excited whilst listening to the plans to redevelop and reinterpret Dover Castle’s secret wartime tunnels. These are due to re-open in time for the 71st anniversary (yes, it’s deliberate apparently) of the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. You will be able to virtually shoot down a German bomber via a fantastic projection system in the tunnels. Upon hearing this news I wasted no time in quickly texting my colleagues and began the arrangements for a professional “away-day” next year. See here for info about Dover Castle.

One of the more interesting trade stands was for ‘OOKL’, a website which has the very ambitious aim to “Provide access to every object in every venue on the planet”. In order to do this they are relying on members of the public to mass upload content (i.e. photos of objects) onto their website. It is early days, but the website looks great so far.

Testing out one of Manchester Art Gallery's latest interactive exhibits!

As always with these kind of events, the real value of the day was the (and I shudder to even write the word) ‘networking’ opportunities it presents. I did manage to speak to a lot of people – some I knew well from my university days and some who were new to me. I particularly enjoyed all the conversations about the future of Renaissance in the Regions  – it seems no-one is exactly sure. Although at the time of writing I am cautiously optimistic.

To end the day, we visited Manchester Art Gallery. I have always been a big admirer of their Clore Interactive Gallery and I greatly enjoyed their new interactive exhibit using mirrors to create the effect that you are doing a star jump. As you can see from the photo, it may remind older readers of a famous Dick Emery move from the 1970s….

Robin Johnson, Senior Learning Officer

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Secret Egypt: Part 1

Hi this is Chris Kirby, and welcome to the Secret Egypt blog. This is the first of a series of posts in the build up to our exciting new exhibition on ancient Egypt which will open in February 2011. This project began as an idea over six months ago to create a new kind of exhibition around the well trodden subject of ancient Egypt.  The Herbert itself has a very small collection of Egyptian objects so to create our exhibition we wanted to bring in loans from some of the finest collections of Egyptian objects in UK.  In total, over 200 objects make up the proposed show. These are being brought together through the generosity of Birmingham Museum, the British Museum, the Ashmolean, Manchester University Museum and Bolton Museum.  Each of these museums had collections of special interest: for Birmingham it is the intriguing group of objects which make up the Wellcome collection as well as the previously unviewed stone fragments from the Amarna excavations of the 1930s; for the Ashmolean and the British Museum it is their stunning art treasures which span the Middle Kingdom to the Greco-Roman Period; for Manchester University Museum, its significant collection of mummies and related funerary equipment  and finally Bolton, its particularly important collection of ancient textiles and mummified animals.

Why did we want to bring an ancient Egypt exhibition to Coventry?  Well, although I am now a senior manager overseeing the collections and programmes at the Herbert Museum, for many years I worked as a field archaeologist in Egypt excavating at sites such as Memphis, Amarna and Luxor. Six years on my passion for ancient Egypt remains as well as a desire to share this fantastic subject with the public. My colleague on the project, Ali Wells, who is one of the Herbert Museum’s Keepers of Collections, also has a background in Egyptology and recently helped to set up Bristol Museum’s very successful ancient Egypt gallery.

Feats of endurance! – excavating at Western Thebes in the 1990s.

With Secret Egypt, Ali and I wanted to create an exhibition that looked at the popular subject of ancient Egypt in an unusual way. At the same time we wanted to offer the people of Coventry and visitors to the city a show that celebrated the wonderful aspects of this ancient civilisation. The approach we adopted was to explore the way ancient Egypt is portrayed in modern media such as films and books and question some of the popular ideas that they conveyed.  We wanted to question, for example, the ideas around the ancient Egyptians apparent obsession with death and the popular idea of the mummy’s curse.  We then wanted to use real ancient Egyptian objects to reveal a truer version of ancient Egypt that had previously appeared ‘hidden’ from a mainstream audience.  Over the next few weeks Ali and I will be sharing with you some of stages of work we are going through to make Secret Egypt a reality. We look forward to sharing the secrets of our museum work with you!

Seshat, Mistress of Secrets, Luxor Temple

Chris Kirby

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Painting Conservation, Part 6

After successfully flattening distortions in the canvas using moisture and pressure I have introduced a heat-seal adhesive to consolidate the edges of the tears which are now nicely in alignment.

Facing tissue half-removed from left hand tear after treatment.

The picture has now been placed face up and the facing tissue has been carefully removed.

Jackson: Facing tissue removed.

The painting post tear is as follows:

The right hand side of the Jackson painting post-tear.

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Mysterious Knocking in Foleshill Church…

Foleshill Church around 1890-1910.....the site of those mysterious knockings...

With Halloween approaching I couldn’t miss an opportunity to mention a broadside (poster bill) from the History Centre collection about strange events at St. Lawrence’s Church, Foleshill.

The broadside, dated approximately 1827-1830, describes how parishioners heard loud knocking inside the church which could not be explained. The knocking was reported to have been heard over several days in different parts of the church.

Rather than deter the church goers of Foleshill the mysterious knocking really captured the imagination of the local people. There were constant visits to the church and the congregation swelled. However just like Chinese whispers, news of a few knocks soon transpired into airborne pews and sightings of hobgoblins!

Despite having a church “crammed to excess” Reverend Thomas Coker Adams was evidently less than impressed with the sudden surge in church going in Foleshill. The broadside reports him sternly admonishing the congregation for their curiosity and questioning their motives for coming to church.

Broadsides were displayed in prominent places and initially used for royal proclamations and

The broadside that would have been displayed at the time about those spooky knockings!

official notices. As printing processes developed they were frequently used to publicise elections, speeches, criminal trials, fairs, sporting events, advertisements, songs and poetry. The use of broadsides declined as newspapers became more affordable for ordinary people following the reduction in and eventual removal of the newspaper tax in 1855.

This particular broadside is just one from a large collection of broadsides that would have been displayed in the local area. The collection is useful for researching local, social and family history. Broadsides are available to view in the History Centre Research Room on production of a valid Archive Reader’s ticket or identification.

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“¿An illuminated script?”

I have been asked to take part in Coventry Pecha Kucha Volume 1 and share some of the bizarre facts I’ve picked up over the years about Coventry.   This lead me to realise how much I’ve learned through working at The Herbert, so here are ten bijou factettes I’ve learned through the Herbert Illumination talks which take place every month:

1) Far from being a commercialised American import, Trick or Treating still happens in an unbroken tradition in some places in England, for serious prizes too.  The craze started returning to England earlier than I thought too, with British newspapers having articles on how to make costumes in the 1920s or 30s.

2) The central figure in the Keresley Miners Wife’s Support Group banner is in a strong tradition of women leading people to victory, such as the goddess Nike or Liberty.

Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People'

John Yeadon's Miners Wife's Support Group Banner, on show in the Herbert's History Gallery

3) Littlewood’s catalogues and shops were built on their football pools empire.   The pools meant they had a wide network of people who could be trusted to collect money and who were already well know in their local communities.  This is vital for the weekly collections for catalogue shopping.

4) The excellent cheesemakers Fowler’s of Earlswood made use of the early days of the railways by guaranteeing any farm close to the railways a good price for their milk, enabling them to supply the rapidly expanding city of Birmingham with fresh milk.

5) Ralph Beyer based the letter shapes he used in Coventry Cathedral on painted letters from Roman catacombs.  This echoes one of his mentors, Eric Gill, who rather than learning Roman lettering in the usual way, from a cast of a cast of a cast of Trajan’s column, went back to the originals and found subtleties lost in the reproduction process.

6) In the 1950s the English Folk Dance & Song Society effectively re-constructed the Playford dances, originally published in 1652.  They decided (for no good reason) that before the dance started, everyone would rise up on the balls of their feet.  It you rose to far, they stopped the dance and tried again, and if you didn’t rise far enough the also stopped it and started again.

7)The wonderful woodland alongside Coventry’s Memorial was planted as a commercial enterprise to provide timbers for naval shipbuilders.

8 ) In Victorian times, sentimental paintings of rural cottages found a huge audience as rural workers moved to the growing industrial cities and wanted a reminder of their past lives.

9) When a car runs through a puddle the splash is actually travelling forwards, so stand behind the puddle if you want to stay dry!

10) Look at many canal bridges in Coventry and you’ll notice panels of more modern bricking and faded yellow painted circles.  This is because during the Blitz, many water mains were damaged, so canal bridges had sections knocked out of them where fire fighters could lower hoses into the cut.   The circles helped people find them in the black-out.  This one is on Stoney Stanton Road.

Canal bridge showing replaced brickwork and marks showing where to drop hoses

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