Monthly Archives: February 2011

An introduction to Trapezius and a welcome to Flora Parrott and Lisa Gunn to the Herbert blog

It’s been a little while since I last blogged; this has mainly been due to the fact that we’ve been installing our new Egypt exhibition. It really has been a whole Herbert team effort leaving little time for anything else. However now that ‘Secret Egypt‘ has launched to great success, it is time to turn to my attention to other projects and exhibitions occurring in 2011. 

Next up for me is a really exciting contemporary art exhibition which is being created by two very talented artists. This post is my chance to introduce you Flora and Lisa, explain a little about the exhibition and to let you know that they will our be added to our guest bloggers for the next few months.

First a little about each artist. Lisa Gunn may actually be a name known to many of you who have already visited the Herbert, we actually have a work of hers hanging in the ‘Art since 1900‘ gallery. For those who haven’t had chance to visit us yet, here’s some background information. Lisa was born and grew up in Coventry and studied for her BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Coventry University before moving to London to study for a Masters in Printmaking at The Royal College of Art.

Lisa’s work is primarily concerned with her personal and physical relationship to her own body and the trauma it has suffered after she experienced severe spinal injuries from a road traffic accident. The accident left her dependent on a wheelchair. It is through her art we can see her struggle to come to terms with the loss of mobility, and be accepted within a society that often ignores the less abled and views them as imperfect.

She explains further:

‘I believe my body art has become more about the abject body over time through personal life experience… an aesthetic response to the intense physical and emotional sensations that have arisen from physical trauma. [It is] about overcoming adversity. I believe the works emanate strength, resilience, vitality and the power to overcome social stigma.’

Flora Parrott also graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2009; in fact this is where she and Lisa met.  Her work focuses an artistic response to physical sensations, often those that are instinctive and performed without thought. In her own words she explains:

‘The idea of holding in a breath and trapping the air in your lungs is something I find simultaneously immensely calming and appealing as well as claustrophobic and suffocating. Wrangling with the desire to be in opposite states at the same time makes me visualise static forms that are stuck in a tense sort of inertia – on the brink of bursting.’

Her works will often mix printmaking, collage and sculpture to produce a presentation of a physical experience – what happens when you breathe or your muscles relax and tense.

For the Trapezius exhibition, the artists are creating brand new works which continue to explore their own influences as artists but will focus on the human spinal column and its ability to heal and repair itself over time. Both artists were also inspired to include objects from the Herbert’s own natural history collection and, in a very special event, they will project some of the works from the exhibition onto the ruins of the original Coventry Cathedral, further strengthening the exhibition’s connection to the City.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what you might see in the exhibition; I’ll leave it up to the artists themselves however to explain their own practice and works in more detail. During the months of February, March and April, Flora and Lisa will each be blogging about the development and installation of the exhibition.  The aim is to give you a unique insight into the preparation and installation of an exhibition at the Herbert and allow you to get to know some of the artists that we work with a little better. 

Dom, Exhibitions Officer
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February half term is coming!

Finally after months of preparations we are ready to open our doors to the hundreds of families we are expecting over the next few months. We have already had our first schools through the doors earlier in the week, but next week it will be the turn of our family visitors as they explore our Secret Egypt exhibition and take part in our hands-on family activities over February half term and beyond.

Egyptian ActivityMy main priority as Family Learning Officer was to provide a variety of workshops that will encourage our families to explore and engage with the themes within our Secret Egypt exhibition. This is not always as easy as it sounds as there are so many different ages, tastes and abilities to suit! This is where working as part of the Learning Team is of great benefit as all our research for the schools sessions, including many visits to other galleries and museums, has helped to positively shape the plans for the family programme.  Here I was able to identify what topics to focus on, what had the most potential to be developed into creative workshops and what would further encourage learning outside of the classroom.

I have tried to use all this new knowledge and research to work on the content for the next 20 workshops which cover all the holidays from now until June, early years sessions and the ‘bring your dad’ event day!.

 This has included:

  • Working on the content first and then with the designers on the look and layout of a family trail that encourages visits all the permanent galleries, promotes the use of our Secret Egypt family break out space (more details below) and also combines with an art and craft activity that we will then use to create a fantastic Egyptian display to show our other visitors!
  •  Ordering stacks of unusual and exciting materials, cutting up decorative papers, metals and card, working out templates and making examples, all to make sure we are all prepared for our very popular art and craft sessions.
  •  Co-ordinating the use of our Studio space so our family visitors can use it as an extra activity/break out area. Here we have designed a make-and-take activity that can be done without the need for a facilitator! So, if the activity room downstairs or the exhibition becomes too full, then there is always an area for families to go and do something.
  •  Learning about our 3000 year old Egyptian artefacts and how to use this information for family object handling sessions. Our families will get the chance to handle genuine objects and try on costume that would have been used by ancient Egyptians.

Printing off hundreds of trails, writing up marketing content and working on a timetable for our family activity facilitators has meant for a very busy 6 months. I am now really looking forward to the families coming in and being able to enjoy the benefits of a lot of hard work for such a fantastic exhibition!

We look forward to welcoming you!

Mel, Family Learning Officer
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Goodbye from Robin

It with a mixture of pride, sadness and excitement that I leave the Herbert after nearly 16 years service. I am tremendously proud of what we have achieved here – especially in the last 5 years with the new development and the success of the learning team’s education service to schools and  families.

An inspiring team of people!

I am very sad at having to leave all my colleagues and team-mates. I’ve enjoyed a fantastic relationship with the staff here and I will miss that massively. This is particularly the case for the members of the Learning Team who I know I will miss enormously. I have been very lucky managing such committed, professional, talented and inspiring museum professionals over the years.


With the Triangle team, accepting the award for 'Coventry Kids in the Blitz'.

I have enjoyed many highlights in my time here – the winning of the Museums & Heritage Award in 2005 with Triangle Theatre for ‘Coventry Kids in the Blitz’ was a great achievement, topped off by being invited to speak about it at a museum theatre conference in Canberra, Australia!  

Also, the winning of the Guardian Family Friendly Museum of the Year in 2010 was testament to the efforts that the whole staff here have made to welcome families and interpret our collections for them. Alongside our nomination for the Art Fund Prize this has to go down as wonderful recognition of our standing in the museum world now. 

I was extremely humbled by the winning of the Outstanding individual Award, at the recent “Best of the West” museum awards. Thank you so much to my colleagues who nominated me – I am deeply appreciative. I must admit it does feel a bit like one of those “lifetime achievement” awards they give to old actors just before everyone thinks they are going to die!

Winning the Guardian 'Family Friendly' award!

Finally, I get so much pleasure just walking round the Herbert and seeing schools, families and general visitors getting enjoyment from our fantastic galleries, workshops and facilities.

I am very satisfied that I am leaving the Herbert in a very healthy state, with so much to be proud of. Thank you again to all the team at Coventry Heritage & Arts Trust.

Robin Johnson

February 2011.
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It’s here at last!

Robin and Rachael dressed as their alter egos, Anubis and Perenbast

It has long been anticipated, but the wait is over and Secret Egypt has arrived!

The whole museum has been working hard at getting Secret Egypt on its way and ready for the grand opening, which happened last Thursday and was a huge success, so now it’s time to get under way with the flow of school groups who have booked on to visit us.

The learning team travelled around the country last year visiting different museums, looking around ancient Egyptian galleries and observing their schools sessions, all in the hope of achieving an enjoyable, engaging and exciting schools programme for the Herbert. The process of bringing this knowledge together with our own ideas, experience and interests has resulted in two Active Learning sessions, with one focusing on Life and Death in ancient Egypt and another one about hieroglyphics, called Scribe School.

Ancient Egypt is one of the most popular topics covered in the Key Stage 2 curriculum, so we were expecting the interest in Secret Egypt to be high and are thrilled at the various schools we have attracted from Coventry, Warwickshire and further a field.

Hand crafted resources made by the learning team

As part of the preparation for these sessions the learning team have been busy reading, painting, writing, typing, emailing, training, sewing, knitting, shopping, cutting, tidying and even dressing up! It’s fair to say we’ve been a busy bunch over the last few months and the workload is not going to lessen for the duration of the exhibition as we physically deliver the school sessions, but it is one of the best things about being on a learning team, because we’re certainly kept on our toes, and no two days are the same.   

So what will pupils be learning about as they come to the Herbert for the schools programme? Well, here a few facts and snippets of information to give you an idea:

Me looking very happy with my felted stomach!

  • The ancient Egyptians didn’t think the brain was a very important organ, so rather than carefully preserving it in canopic jars or place it back into the body as they did with the heart during mummification, they would simply pull it out of the nose, throw it away and sometimes they even fed it to cats! EURGH!
  • The process of mummification could take around 70 days altogether – that’s the same length of an average school term.
  • The ancient Egyptians strongly believed in a number of Gods and also in carrying amulets with them in life and death to protect them. The most famous of these amulets are the eye of Horus and the Scarab beetle, but a favourite of ours in Bes. He’s a little dwarf-like figure who would protect children and families. His amulet was often placed in people’s homes and their bedrooms.
  • Only 1 out of every 100 ancient Egyptians were able to read and write and they were always boys who trained as scribes.
  • Hieroglyphics were first translated because of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which features the hieroglyphic, demotic and ancient Greek languages all saying the same thing.

Well that’s it from me for now… hope to see you at Secret Egypt!

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New Acquisitions 2010

Every year the Herbert adds more objects and works of arts to its collections. These are usually donated by members of the public, but one or two are purchased or in the case of archaeology, excavated.

We have an Acquisition and Disposal Policy which sets out the type of things that we collect.  We always refer to this policy before deciding whether to acquire something.

So what were the highlights of our collecting in 2010?

The most high-profile are works of art purchased as part of the Collecting Cultures project. These works are all on the subject of peace and reconciliation and have been bought using money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Fund and a small amount of our own funding. Among these is Belsen Head, by Raymond Mason. Mason created this haunting sculpture shortly after the Allies liberated the concentration camp at Belsen in 1945. Items acquired as part of the Collecting Cultures project will be shown in an exhibition here in 2012.

In July we were given a Sunday School banner and a hymn book from the Methodist chapels in north Coventry. The banner came from Alderman’s Green Methodist Church and was carried in church processions. The hymn book was presented to Bell Green Methodist chapel by in 1839 by John Arlidge, who was the manager of nearby Wyken Colliery.

Our More Than Two Tones Exhibition, 2009

Also in July we were given a collection of medals and documents with a fascinating story behind them. They relate to Antonio Obis, who was a Spanish citizen who fought for the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. When the republicans were defeated he was exiled to France. In the Second World War he was recruited into the British Army and served in the Commandoes. After the war he settled in Coventry.

Following on from last year’s successful More Than Two Tones exhibition, Ray King gave us the green corduroy waistcoat and trousers that he wore on stage in the 1960s. Ray was one of the first successful black singers in Britain. He helped to introduce ska music to Britain and had a big influence on the Two Tone movement.

William H. Brooke - Old Bailey Lane

Finally, something that we haven’t yet acquired. We have been offered the chance to buy an album of watercolours of Coventry painted between 1819 and 1820 by William Henry Brooke. This is probably one of the most important single collections of images of historic Coventry. The album contains views of many key buildings, including Whitefriars Monastery and St Mary’s Hall, with detailed studies of architectural features, such as stained glass windows and carved stone work. Many of the buildings shown have now been demolished.

We are now trying to raise the money to buy this album. We need to raise £12,000 to purchase it and make it ready for display. If you would like to help, please make a donation online here

or send a donation to:

Coventry Heritage & Arts Trust Ltd (FAO Emma Maclellan Head of Development)
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Jordan Well, Coventry CV1 5QP

Huw Jones, Keeper of Collections
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Painting Conservation, Part 8

At the end of last year I filled the areas of loss in the tears on Jackson’s ‘Boats on the Shore’ with a proprietary filler which is easily reversible. (The tears were above the rock on the right.) 


I then retouched the areas of filling using dry pigments in a medium. See below: 

This work was completed in December 2010.

The frame is in very poor condition and I’ll be working on that in 2011 and re-uniting it with the picture.


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Baby it’s cold…..inside!

Whilst very seasonal, the recent cold weather caused a heating pipe to burst in the History Centre Reading Room. We have been closed since the beginning of December and the last few weeks here at the History Centre have been trying for both customers and colleagues.

We expect to be closed to the public for a few more weeks whilst repair work on the heating continues. However we are making exceptions for students who have dissertation deadlines looming and for customers who need to access building plans for emergency purposes.

But there is no escape from the cold here at the History Centre! Putting other items away I had a wry smile at this news cutting about the demolition of an 18th century ice-house in Styvechale.

The chilly article in the local paper

The ice-house was part of Styvechale Hall, home of the Gregory family who owned the land for over 400 years. The ice house would have been used to store the family’s food just like our fridges today. According to the article the ice-house was filled with ice from local ponds and brooks cut during the winter. The thick walls of the ice-house prevented the ice from melting too quickly. Our weather this winter would have been perfect!

The ice-house was large enough to be recorded on past Ordnance Survey maps – the map below shows the ice-house and Styvechale Hall in 1925.

Styvechale Hall was demolished after World War II but the ice-house survived until 1963 when houses in Knoll Croft, off Knoll Drive were built.

Map detailing the location of the Ice House – click to enlarge


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Building Secret Egypt

With only two weeks to go the installation of the Secret Egypt exhibition is gathering pace.

It is amazing to see all those things that we have been discussing and drawing up on paper becoming a physical reality. It’s also an anxious time – is everything going to fit?  Do we have all the right equipment to do the job? Have we enough people to do all the things that need doing? On this last score there seems no need to worry as the staff of the Herbert have come together magnificently: Curators, conservators, members of the learning and outreach teams, site management assistants and volunteers have been working together to paint, build and move cases and props.

Conservator Martin Grahn checking a mount for one of the loans from Birmingham Museum

Secret Egypt has also been one of the most ambitious exhibition designs consisting of striking coloured banners to denote each section , nearly 30 major large graphic panels  with colourful images,  a vast landscape backdrop showing the Nile valley,  and many labels for the interactive and objects. Yet to come is the work of the creative lighting designer which will produce the theatrical setting to display the two hundred plus objects.  Put together we hope this will create a magical world which will both entertain and educate.

As all the work on Secret Egypt is going on we hear that school bookings for the facilitated sessions are doing extremely well with the first two months of the exhibition almost completely booked. So if you are a teacher from the school who hasn’t booked yet you might want to contact us soon!

Little did we know when we first had the idea of putting on an exhibition about ancient Egypt how events would turn so dramatically in Egypt itself.  Our thoughts go out to the people of Egypt with the sincere hope that a peaceful and long-term solution can be found for the current troubles. A sad casualty of the unrest has been some of the remarkable treasures in the Cairo Museum including statues of Tutankhamen. Ancient Egypt is an important part of the heritage and identity of the modern country and it is hoped that everything can be done to safeguard its priceless artefacts for future generations both in Egypt and the rest of the world.

You can view more pictures of the installation on our Flickr page.


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Object of the Month – February 2011

1950s evening dress

This 1950s evening dress is one of the star items on display in our All Dressed Up exhibition. The exhibition features men’s and women’s outfits from the 1890s, 1920s and 1950s.

In 1947 the French designer Christian Dior launched his New Look, inspired by the full skirts and corseted waists of the 1890s. After the clothes rationing and utility wear of the war years, women were eager to return to a more romantic and feminine look. Popular Hollywood film stars also had a huge impact on the way women wanted to dress.

In the 1950s a more glamorous and sophisticated style developed for evening wear which was a welcome change fromthe neat pencil skirts and sweaters of everyday wear. Fashionable evening dresses were often strapless with a boned bodice, narrow waist and a full skirt held out with layers of stiff petticoats. They were worn with stiletto heeled shoes and matching handbags.

In All Dressed Up, as well as this dress you can see more glamorous evening dresses, gentlemen’s morning and evening suits, underwear from the 1890s – including a corset – and a range of shoes and other accessories. They are displayed alongside paintings from the Herbert’s collection and a Triumph scooter!

All Dressed Up runs until 27 March at the Herbert and admission is free.

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