Saving the Chinese Wallpaper

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The delicate task of the removal of the Chinese Wallpaper in the Saloon of the Royal Pavilion begins this week. Follow the fascinating progress here on the blog.

Day 1 - 

It’s the final testing for Allyson McDermott and her brother Adrian to develop the methodology for removal.

Day 2 - 

Starting to carefully remove the wallpaper from the wall.

A public appeal has been launched by the Royal Pavilion & Museums to raise the £35,000 required to conserve this historic paper. To make a donation or find out how you can help call 01273 296994.

For more information read The Royal Pavilion Chinese Wallpaper Appeal

Disaster, dreams and drama – six months as blogger-in-residence at the Royal Pavilion and Museums

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Young people in art workshop The title alone made it a job to aspire to. Blogger-in-Residence at the Brighton Royal Pavilion and Museums.  By my reckoning, that makes me about one step down from Royalty.

Sadly even dream jobs have to come to an end and after six months, it’s time to hand over the title of Blogger-in-Residence to a new blogger-in-waiting.

For the last six months, I’ve felt extremely lucky to have been given special access to all aspects of the Royal Pavilion and Museums. I’ve wandered around the galleries, delved into underground tunnels and discovered new places in a city I thought I knew very well.

Blogger-in-Residence Caroline Sutton in the tunnel between the Museum to the Dome.

Blogger-in-Residence Caroline Sutton in the tunnel between the Museum to the Dome.

I’ve also met some fascinating people who are passionate about their subjects whether it’s gilding on paintings or helping some of the most disadvantaged people in our city to access our city’s treasures just like everyone else.

As Blogger, I’ve delved into such an array of subjects such as WW1, female artists and the immortality of a tiny sea-creature called Connie.

I thought the role would be interesting but what has most surprised me is the huge eclectic mix of subjects and stories the museums encompass. The world really is all in there from the beautiful and shocking Grayson Perry vase to the passion around football in a tiny village in Africa to the heartbreaking final letter of a son to his family in WW1.

The Royal Pavilion is marvellous, of course but my eyes have been opened by the endless, moving shows which take place across Hove Museum, The Booth, Preston Manor and of course, Brighton Museum.

Forget the idea that museums are old-fashioned dusty places. The Royal Pavilion and Museums is a vibrant, multi-faceted, pulsing world of energy. Beneath the cool, calm façade is a host of busy, busy people planning, talking, creating and uncovering great art and history to share with us.  And they do want to share it, with all of us.

It’s not about clever academics caught up in an ivory tower. Instead all the people I’ve met are desperate to show the rest of us the fascinating stories behind the items in the collections.

A wardrobe with the label Disaster Cupboard on itMy role was to write whatever I like about the buildings, staff, collections and anything which I’m inspired by. I’ve written about the psychology of collecting, The Keep where the cities archives are kept, a WW1 drama performance by young people, taking children to museums and the art of designing a museum show. And what was in The Disaster Cupboard.

I’ve also created some Pinterest boards of all the things I’d like in my own house from the Royal Pavilion and the Brighton Museum art and craft collection as well as tweeted and blogged about football when England were knocked out of the World Cup. I’ve met lots of the people who visit the museums and asked them why.

Some groups of people don’t think of a museum as part of their lives. They’d never step inside, sometimes through fear, apathy but mainly a sense it’s nothing to do with them. It’s shocking but many born and bred Brighton residents have never been inside the Royal Pavilion despite its silhouette representing Brand Brighton in every council logo.

Like most people I have no specific knowledge about art or history. When I look at a painting, I’m not sure if I’m getting it. So I wrote a post about how little I know about art and I met up with the Fine Art keeper who gave me a master class on looking at art when you don’t know anything about it.

People viewing the Dr Brighton exhibition on the seafront

The Dr Brighton exhibition on the seafront

My interest in history has been patchy too. I can be as bored as the next person when faced with a room filled with artefacts. So I considered it my job to find the interesting in the galleries and bring it alive.

To be honest, it’s not that difficult. Museums are not like they used to be. They are much more fun, irreverent and entertaining. There’s less to read and more interactivity. They’re in the business of entertainment these days as much as education and research.  Museums have to sing for their supper to get grant funding and they need to illustrate they are reaching their targets. Like all organisations, they need to have a strong digital presence too.

And that’s why this post can help keep these institutions alive. As Blogger-in-Residence (it’s OK, you can stop curtseying now) I’ve tried to muscle my way into the social conversation to say, come along and visit. These museums aren’t boring, they are for you too and I can guarantee you’ll find something of interest when you come along.

Egg collection Booth MuseumThere are still many corners of the museum I’ve yet to visit and explore. I’ve fallen in love with Preston Manor and urge you to visit if you haven’t yet.  I wanted to find out more about the craft collection at Hove Museum.  I didn’t even touch the surface of the Booth Museum collections some of which made me feel tearful in their fragility and beauty.

I’ll leave them to the next Blogger Jools Stone who is lucky enough to be spending the next six months exploring RP&M his way. Good luck Jools, you’ve just landed the best job in town.

Caroline Sutton, Blogger in Residence

 

 

Old bits of pottery? Find out why I’ve grown to love Willetts Popular Pottery at Brighton Museum.

Willetts Popular Pottery CollectionThe Willett Collection of Popular Pottery collection is one of the key collections of the Brighton Museum donated by the founder of the museum in 1903. It can be found in the first room to the right of the Brighton Museum as you go in.

And here’s my guilty secret. I’d take a swerve to avoid that room if I could when I 2014-10-10 13.09.05 visited the museum or would walk through as quickly as possible without stopping.

Why? Because I couldn’t stand the look of the pottery with the figurines with beaky faces and bulging eyes. The room looks busy and all the items seem to clash and collide in front of me.

It seemed wrong to feel this way about a room which clearly has a lot of importance to the museum, so I thought I’d fight my natural revulsion and find out why it is so important.

I met Cecilia Kendall, the curator in charge of  the pottery  and she talked me through the collection to see if I could be cured of my antipathy.

The pieces were collected by Willett over many years who would buy them from auctions and individuals. Sounds like the people who inhabit day-time telly on shows such as Bargain Hunter or Cash in the Attic.

The pieces he collected were not the most expensive porcelain which, in those days was made in China. Willett collected earthenware pottery usually made in Britain which was bought by the middle-classes to decorate their homes. It was the start of ‘conspicous consumption’ and the pieces represent a showing off of their homes.

What makes the items so interesting is that they reflect the fascinations, obsessions and socio-political history of those people in a way which is very revealing.

It’s a little like we wear t-shirts with slogans or buy souvenir mugs or key-rings to commemorate events, celebrities we like or political issues we care about. Imagine someone has collected all the Keep Calm and Carry On/drink tea/love Justin Bieber/have a cupcake merchandise which is everywhere at the moment. While you may cringe, they would give a snapshot of life in the 20th century in our country. The Willett’s collection viewed in this way does actually give lots of insight into our ancestor’s lives.

Willetts insisted on the collection being displayed in certain themes and so it comes under headings such as Military Heroes, England and France and Crime.

The religion section shows this funny item of a vicar fast asleep while his clerk reads the sermon, which shows a surprising disregard for the religious profession who took much of the nation’s money in taxes called tithes and were notorious for over-indulging in food and drink.

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Another which captured me was this mug with a frog and a newt inside  to catch out unsuspecting guests.

mug with a frog and a newt in it

A mug with a frog and a newt inside to trick the unsuspecting guest

Cecilia and I had a good chat about why I find it so unappealing and we wondered if it is our culture’s current obsession with minimalism and clear lines. It was significant that the only thing I could imagine displaying in my house was a simple sculpture of a horse – all in white.

Many people these days wouldn’t dream of having ‘ornaments’ in their home preferring to have white walls and little on display. But we do bare our allegiances with the books, magazines and CDs we may display. Now that these are becoming obsolete as everything becomes digital, our passions, interests and tribal bonding become public as Likes on Facebook and our views on Twitter.

This collection highlights how people need to show to their friends and family what they care about or feel about in a visual way. A little like the old TV show Through the Keyhole, these items provide a clue to the personality and interests of the owner and for us, looking back through history, an understanding of what ordinary people really valued.

My trip to the Willetts Pottery collection was fascinating as my horror at the jumble of old-fashioned trinkets has reached a deeper understanding. Once again, my investigations into the world of museum collections has taught me that they are not places to race through on the way to the cafe. Instead, stopping, reading and simply looking at one thing will probably bring more pleasure and insight than trying to see everything in one go.

 

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