Monthly Archives: November 2010

Lunch Break in 1896

My colleague Andrew has been busy the last two weeks finding information and photographs for a television programme about the history of the British bicycle manufacturing industry.

For me the downside of all Andrew’s hard work was a less than thrilling hour scanning photographs of the interiors of various Coventry bicycle firms but one photograph of workers outside the Coventry Machinists Company really caught my eye.

Commerce Dinner Hour at Coventry Machinists

The photograph is from Commerce February 26, 1896 just one of several cycling journals in the History Centre Cycling Collection.

Originally manufacturers of sewing machines, the Coventry Machinists Company was one of the most advanced bicycle manufacturers in the country. At their Cheylesmore works off Little Park Street over 10,000 people were employed. By 1896 up to 600 Swift bicycles and tricycles were produced every week and dispatched all over the world. The company had sales offices in Holborn, London and in Paris and supplied specially designed bicycles for the British Army.

The age of the boys at the front of the photograph is really striking. Some may have been as young as 11 (the school leaving age 1893-1899). There are no women on the photograph as their lunch was likely to have been in a separate part of the factory to the men but many were employed by the company for light production work and for the lacing-up of dress guards of ladies’ bicycles.

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Painting Conservation, Part 7

After a short break I have continued cleaning ‘Boats on the Shore’ over the past two weeks. The first image shows the picture almost half cleaned and the second shows the two remaining areas to be cleaned.  



The picture below shows the cleaning completed. Next week I will begin work on filling the paint losses in the area of the consolidated tears.


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Paul Thompson, Keeper of Collections (By day anyway….)

Lisa and Paul (in ARP uniform) taking cover in the Herbert's Anderson Shelter

Today’s guest blog is from Paul Thompson, Keeper of Collections.

The telephone rang and I gingerly picked it up expecting trouble – however, it was an enquiry from the front desk. Someone had brought in an object for identification and, as I had a hot cup of tea in front of me cooling, I thought I would go and see what it was! It turned out to be a 14th century medieval tile with a pattern, so I gave as much information as I could and then returned to my desk. I sat there with my tea and thought back over the last few weeks of my curatorial life here at the Herbert.

Secret Egypt has taken up a good deal of my attention. I’ve been searching for suitable images and thinking about how they will be displayed in the final exhibition next year.

I gave a paper on recent archaeological work undertaken in Coventry at the Society of Museum Archaeologists conference which the Herbert hosted in mid-November. I wrote a new talk about Iron Age and Roman remains never before encountered within the city as well as the expected medieval remains. It was well received by all. On the final conference day, I took a group around the city to show them our three cathedrals, St. Mary’s Guildhall, Golden Cross, Stone House and Whitefriars. These events are always networking opportunities and a chance to catch up on current archaeological academic gossip. Read the rest of this entry

Secret Egypt: Part 2

Martin Grahn measures up the objects (c) Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

We first started working on Secret Egypt autumn 2009 and this is when we made our first visits to lending museums. The majority of our objects are coming from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. As a curator I love working with objects, so I have found it hard choosing all these amazing objects and then not seeing them for nearly a year!

For most of this time we have been working with photographs of the objects, which can be misleading. Recently conservator Martin Grahn and I visited Birmingham’s stores to measure up the objects for mounts. It’s funny how time alters objects in the mind. The animal mummy coffin I’m measuring in the picture is smaller than I remembered, but the gold leaf decoration more delicate. I genuinely can’t wait until the exhibition is open and everyone can share the experience of seeing these objects close up (and I can stop boring friends and family by talking about Secret Egypt and show off all our hard work). 

I'm sure this was bigger..... (c) Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

Ali Wells, Keeper of Collections

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Peace and Youth

This November has seen an odd collision of events.  We host a number of events as part of Coventry’s annual Peace Festival, which attract many familiar and some new faces to the talks.  Sunday 14th November was both Remembrance Sunday and the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.   The sense of respect for the fallen, veterans’ military pride and peace activism sit side by side and it feels taboo to explore the contradictions, despite my feeling that Coventry’s Blitz is a symbolic moment in the shift in warfare over the last 100 years, from 80% of causalities being soldiers to become 80% civilians.

Artist Presha Dem teaching air-brush skills.

The other dimension, which has made this year remarkable, is our Street Art exhibition.   The ‘in your face’ essence of street art, even in a comparatively refined gallery context, sits strangely with the respect being offered veterans in the Herbert and the neighbouring Cathedrals.

Street Art shows work that is almost universally anti-authoritarian, and much of it is social commentary and calls for peace, often revealing hypocrisy as incisively as Gillray or Hogarth. Street Art is attracting a huge number of visitors, including younger people who so rarely visit galleries, and they are responding strongly to the content, putting the lie to the idea that young people only want the vacuous culture which is sold to them.

Working on the shirts.

Mohammed Ali’s installation portrays people who have been labelled both terrorist and freedom fighter.  Ghandi’s role in history is settled, William as Ouderland is less clearly decided, and when Mohammed talked about Salah Ad-din (Saladin)’s humanity upon liberating Jerusalem in 1187, I realised the weight of historical ideology I hold around the word “liberate”. His work also includes two moving images of Coventry’s Cathedral, and a disturbing piece in which falling bombs are rendered with a beauty resonant of Islamic lattice work.

As a community project linked to Mohammed’s forthcoming event “Breaking Down the Wall”, I was working with young people involved in the “Rep Ur Endz” project – about pride in representing

The CV6 tag on the sleeve.

their districts in the city. The day after we had 2400 visitors to our Blitz family event, I asked the young men about their thoughts about remembrance happenings.  The reply “I haven’t noticed anything” left me wondering how so much civic endeavour can fail to touch thoughtful young people.

These young men are not ‘dis-engaged’ with issues of peace however. The final t-shirt proclaims “Rep Ur Endz CV3” . . . but their preliminary sketches for artwork show a sense of responsibility  and connection to the broader world.

Early artwork sketches – Rep/ Palestine Ur Endz.

Breaking down the wall: featuring Mohammed Ali painting and poets live in the Herbert takes place on Friday 19th November 7pm.

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Exclusive Interview with one of our Street Artists

Here, Pahnl, one of the artists involved in our Street Art exhibition, talks to Dom about his artwork and the things that inspire him.  You can see his animation at the Herbert until January 16th.

Name: Pahnl

Where you lay your hat: Oxford

Occupation: Artist / Graphic Designer

How long have you been involved in the Street Art Scene? What made you pick up that first can of spray paint? I first started using stencils in 2003 and I started painting in the street three years after that. A mate got me interested in it and, although he stopped soon after, my passion for street art has only continued to grow since then.

How would you describe your artwork and inspires you?

My art is an amalgamation of signage-styled figures, comics and graphic design but on a small scale. I use little characters and animals to play with spaces I find in the street, hopefully making someone smile in the process. As a result, inspiration for street work comes from the street itself and it’s rare that I’ll paint a spot that I’ve not seen beforehand because I like to tailor my art.

How did you come to work with the Herbert?

One of The Herbert’s exhibition officers, Dominic Bubb, initially contacted me with regards to a personal commission and I happened to mention an animation I was working on. At that point I didn’t know Dom worked at The Herbert, it was just a by the by sentence but it was the beginning of a fantastic experience.

How did the idea for the animation develop?

The images of a dog running around the city at night simply came to me  out of nowhere as I listened to the track I used for the animation. I must’ve played the track over and over again thirty times because with every repeat, more scenes and ideas came to mind. The use of animation isn’t native to street artists but with the likes of Blu and Lichtfaktor pushing the envelope, I understood it’s potential.

After that, it was a matter of working out how I could actually portray all this idea; I considered photomontage or rotoscoping but I’ve always had a fascination with how light can be used and I came up with the idea for exposing the image of a dog into the photograph. The answer was a stop motion, long exposure animation using stencils with light. Thankfully I’m adept with a camera and I had experience with storyboarding narrative via my love of comics.

The animation was basically a combination of everything I love.

Is it true it took you over 300 hours to produce?

Give or take a day away from that total, yes. I think the idea was conceived sometime in August 2009 and I gradually storyboarded (textually), scouted locations and slowly started designing each stencil. Then from July of this year, right up until 2am on the day of the show’s launch, the work I did was more substantial as I cut all the frames, shot the scenes and edited it together.

Dogs and cats seem to feature a lot in your work, are you a fan of our canine and feline friends?

I think it’d be a bit strange of me if I didn’t like cats and dogs considering the amount of time I spend staring at them in the process of making my own work, haha.

I’m drawn to them as motifs because I like to think of them as polar opposites and I like to play them off with each other. There’s a tension between those two animals and they’re very different in nature. Dogs are messy, happy and crude, whereas cats are devious, subdued and sly creatures.

What’s next for you?

Whilst I was working on the animation, I told myself I didn’t want to touch animation for a long, long time afterwards but now it’s complete, I’m tempted to return to it sooner, rather than later. Despite the fact I spent so much time thinking, designing, cutting, photographing and editing every part of the animation, there’s something fascinating about seeing an idea come alive.

Other than that, I’m interested in dipping my toe into vinyl toy design but that will be a slow process of learning…and mistakes but I’m eager to explore new mediums for the characters and world I’ve created. I also want to start painting larger and more complex works, both on and off the street.

Where can people see more of your artwork?

There’s a lot of stuff around Oxford, albeit small, and then there’s stuff all around the country but my website,, is probably worth a look in.

Interview by Dominic Bubb, Exhibitions Officer

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Experiment S

Crowds Gather for Beginining of the Launch

Okay,  so I said I would get back before the launch and I didn’t, and even though we had a barn storming 2,000 people turn up to our Street Art Launch and get down to Jason Fury’s Hip Hop vibes,  I still didn’t make it back here to share the effect of the planning we had noted in advance.

If you didn’t make the launch and are a little curious you can watch a record of the night here through Mohammed Ali’s eyes.

It appears that stage 1 of Experiment S is complete. We planned and targeted new incoming students through print, email, press and bribery (sweets) and provided a quality product. The results have been quite stunning.

We now have a regular flow of students within the building interacting with our cafe, collections and of course the three Street Art Exhibitions that kind of hit the nail on the head with content.

Stage two of this new direction in audience development is to get a moderate repeat performance for the two events we have coming up for Mohammed Ali – Can Graffiti Art Really Change the World talk with luminary Henry Chalfant and Breaking Down the Wall Live with spoken word and live art that should be a really nice vibe in the gallery.

Crowds Mob the V A Street Art Exhibition

The real challenge of course is sustaining student interest in our offer when Street Art moves out and something with less obvious connections moves in.

We will always be a family friendly venue and need to generate a dual focus – if done effectively, holiday periods where many students are absent would be flowing with families and when families with older children are at school and work our local student population would help us keep up those numbers.

If we look at the positives of what we experienced in our successful family audience focus it would lead us to an approach of total saturation of ‘student’ content,thinking, programming, offer, appeal, marketing, learning, interest, inclusion, media running through everything we do in order become really student friendly.

Let’s hope this can be pulled off by our amazingly talented teams across all departments…

… another time.

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Rep Cov, Repping Cov – Representing Coventry

The 'REP COV' banner on display at Coventry train station

You may have noticed the banner that mysteriously appeared at Coventry train station with the words REP COV tagged by Herbert and wondered what it was all about?

Or noticed the banner on railings of Coventry University outside cathedral square saying REPPING COV.

Repping Cov

With many of our temporary exhibitions we work with local groups to create community responses.  These are usually shown in the museum alongside the exhibition.  However in this case we wanted to capture the spirit of street art by putting the banners up in public locations.   Huge thanks to Virgin Trains and Coventry University for giving us permission use their locations.

This week my colleague Bring Colour has been working with young people from Positive Futures youth groups to create street art banners.  At an early stage of the design process one of the youth people wrote the words repping cov.  As I have left my youth far behind me I had to ask what he meant.  The young man explained very patiently that it means representing Coventry because that is what we do.  Then he initiated me with a fist bump.  This was picked as a theme for the banners.  In this session the young people wrote or drew some of them designed cartoon characters which were included in the final design.  Some cartoons were of themselves, friends or made up characters but all of them are repping cov.

In the next stage of the design process the young people covered the banners in colourful tags writing their names, tags or whatever was important to them.  The banners were covered in oranges, greens and yellows.  After this the cartoon characters were turned into paper cuts placed on the banner and black paint was sprayed over the surface so that when the paper cuts are removed the outlines of the characters were left behind.  Then the young people drew on details with marker pens.  As a final touch stars were added.


When we showed the final results to the young people they exclaimed in awe-struck voices “Sick”.

I am told that means they are pleased and found the banners to be very good.  Judging by the admiring looks from passers by at the university and the train station the people of Coventry are enjoying them too.

The Street Art exhibition runs until 16 January 2011 and features artworks from the V&A and  the emerging arts from the Street Art scene.

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