We’ve been extremely busy in the last couple of weeks – sadly we’ve had to say farewell to the Gruffalo but we’ve repainted the Gas Hall in blue and red, unpacked a lot of Photorealism paintings and started to hang them on the walls. The paintings are really astonishing to see up close and it’s exciting to see the exhibition start to take shape. It’s not finished yet but our technicians are hard at work getting everything ready to open this Saturday!
‘Photorealism: 50 years of hyper-realistic paintings’ opens on Saturday 30th November and is on until 30th March 2014. For more information about the exhibition please visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=2740
Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over the candlestick
November 25th is Catterns day; the feast day of St Catherine who is the patron saint of lacemakers, spinners, ropemakers and unmarried women in general (spinsters). It was a day of celebration for lacemakers who had reasons to be thankful to two Catherines on this day; the patron saint Catherine of Alexandria and also Queen Katherine of Aragon who did much to invigorate England’s lace industry whilst she was living at Ampthill Castle, Bedfordshire, in the early 1530s.
In the 1800s lacemaking was a major part of life in the counties of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire and many children went to lace schools to learn the trade. Lace was a luxury product often selling for extortionate amounts of money but the people who made it lived in poverty with many of them suffering from sight related problems owing to the intricate nature of the work. November 25th marked the beginning of the winter season and meant that candles could be used to give them some extra light. However, because they were making such expensive items, lacemakers needed to be very careful not to get any dirt on to the lace they were making. One well-placed candle is better than many; plus as candles were themselves costly items, one candle was often as much as a lace school would wish to pay for. To improve the quality of light from a single candle it was placed in the centre of a number of flasks which held pure water. This helped to refract the light and illuminate a much wider area. Traditionally the water in the flasks should be from melted snow, which perhaps gives us a clue to a time when colder Novembers were the norm.
One feature of Catterns day celebrations was the jumping of the candlestick. One student leapt over the stick whilst the others chanted the rhyme: Jack be nimble; Jack be quick… given that our candlestick is over a metre tall this called for some pretty spectacular athletics.
Curator (Applied Art)
I used to think I had the best job in the world, education & outreach officer at Birmingham Archives & Heritage; a sublime mix of delving into the past through archival documents and photos and working with young people and community groups to document their lives and our changing city.
Then in January I answered the call for volunteer millers at…
I have spent the last month researching the collections during my residency here. I have now finished at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) and moved back into my studio. I’ll be channelling these ideas into a new commission for BMAG for January. The residency has encouraged a new direction for my work, where my public facing studio encouraged conversations and interactions with staff and the public. These daily conversations have fed into my artistic process and encouraged me to rethink my relationship with ‘the gallery’, and the editing process that I go through while making work. It has also given me an insight into the direct art historical context of the materials I use, and how drawing and works on paper have been used.
The studio itself has been a significant influence on how I’ve been working.
The view looks out onto Victoria Square and Town Hall.
The space has been used for both workshops with the public and my daily studio practice.
These sketches are the beginning of the exploration into my new work, which evoke familiar motifs of journeys, place, and landscape.
During my time here, I have looked at a huge range of landscapes and topographical views in the collection. I also spent some time with photographer David Rowan, who showed me the work he had done documenting the view from the roof of the building, and also how the roof and dome at BMAG have gradually been restored. This has pushed me to think more about the importance of viewpoints within a changing city.
I keep coming back to this painting within the collection, titled ‘Birmingham from the Dome of St. Philips Church’, painted by Samuel Lines in 1821 (the church is now a cathedral).
It was made from the dome, which is inaccessible to the public now. The dome was then the highest point in the town, and still seems very high – it is said to be the same level as the cross on St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is a fascinating perspective on the city and I was captivated by the idea of recreating this view today.
This week I met with Catherine Ogle (Dean of Birmingham) and Rob Hands (Head Verger at St Philip’s). Rob and I climbed the precarious tower to the top of the dome, then compared the views. Thanks to a compass and a selection of historical maps, I worked out the angle from which Samuel Lines created his painting. The original painting was made pointing southwest – I overlaid old and new maps to give a rough idea of the angle.
I will be spending the coming weeks exploring the idea of this view, or ‘prospect’, and its historical and cultural significance. The BMAG team will be documenting my new commission and its development. For now, here is a view of the clock from inside the tower and the gravestone of Samuel Lines himself, in the graveyard of the Cathedral.
I’d also like to add a huge thank you to all the staff at BMAG who have been generous with their time and resources to help me develop this residency and commission.
Sarah Taylor Silverwood,
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence
As it is Halloween it’s timely to look at a rather unusual bowl currently on display in the Industrial Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. It is a small, deep bowl, about the diameter of a pudding dish and all over the external surface there are carvings of animals and curious oval mounds which look a bit like walnuts. The carvings are both technically proficient and full of emotional appeal. The backs of the animals are smooth from handling over the years and the snake’s body curves round the bowl in a way which almost gives the impression that it is alive. All in all it is an intriguing object but sadly that does not mean that we can be 100% certain about what it is.
The bowl came to the Museum as part of a collection of over 7,000 wooden objects built up over several decades by Edward Pinto. He called it a Witches’ Brew Bowl and put its date at somewhere in the 18th century. This may all sound rather vague but wooden objects are notoriously difficult to date with pin-point accuracy. They do not tend to reflect changing fashions in the way ceramics or textiles can and unless they come with a supporting historical context it is possible to end up attaching quite a wide range of dates to them.
Although he did not acquire the bowl from a Witch he had good reasons for giving it this name. All the creatures carved on the bowl represent remedies used in medicine before the middle of the 19th century. Powdered toads and snake flesh were believed to be a cure for poisoning and dried toads were used to treat plague victims. Syrup made from snails was good for coughs and colds and blood from dragons, or perhaps more usefully lizards, was said to clear boils. The curious ‘walnut’ shapes probably represent brains. Powdered animal brains were used for a number of complaints; mice were believed to be especially good for the teeth.
However, the carvings also represent animals which were associated with witchcraft. Belief in traditional cures, methods and witchcraft were still very much a part of life in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was especially true in rural areas where people were not so influenced by the fashionable, new ideas about medicine which were starting to gain a foothold in the larger towns. A bowl like this could therefore not just represent traditional medical practices; possibly, drinking from such a carved bowl could act as a protection against witchcraft.
We will have to leave you to make up your own mind…
Curator (Applied Art)
For more Halloween themed images please look at the spooky x-rays on our BMAG Facebook page.
It’s just over a month until Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting opens in the Gas Hall and we’re busy preparing how it’s all going to look using our model. It’s a lot smaller than the real Gas Hall but still big enough that we have to keep it in two halves! Here’s a sneak preview of how it might all look and some of the fantastic paintings that’ll be in the show…
Photorealism opens Saturday 30th November 2013 and is on until 30th March 2014. For more information about the exhibition please visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=2740