Tag Archive | Birmingham

Thank you to our volunteers!

We are lucky at Birmingham Museums to have hundreds of volunteers support us each year. By the end of 2014 we will have had the help of over 600 volunteers! As the Volunteer Development Officer I feel incredibly lucky to work with such talented people and as an organisation we are so grateful for the generosity of our volunteer team!

Some of our University of Birmingham Meet the Expert volunteers

Some of our University of Birmingham Meet the Expert volunteers

Some volunteers join us for a day, like our fantastic Experts who run our Meet the Expert Days at Thinktank, inspiring the scientists of the future. Others are with us each week running guided tours, documenting our collections, working on conservation projects and much much more. You can read about many of our volunteers’ personal experiences through this blog.

So it was a real pleasure for us to host over 100 of our volunteers on 10th December at our annual Thank You party.

Eileen, David, Deborah, Yvonne and Margaret

Eileen, David, Deborah, Yvonne and Margaret

This year the event took place in our newly refurbished Edwardian Tea rooms at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. For us, this event is a chance for us to thank our team for all that they have done over the course of the year, but also a lovely opportunity to bring together volunteers from across all nine of our museums.

Some of the Castle Keepers from Weoley Castle

Some of the Castle Keepers from Weoley Castle

We had some lovely speeches of thanks from Ellen McAdam, Director of Birmingham Museums and  Simon Cane, Deputy Director, and a fantastic team of 15 members of staff volunteered to make sure our team were well looked after!

This year we had a photo booth (with plenty of fancy dress options) and asked our team to tell us why they volunteer. The results were heart warming and are a true demonstration of the passion and enthusiasm in our volunteer team!

Mince pies always help in the fight to preserve our heritage

Mince pies always help in the fight to preserve our heritage

Our goal for this event was to make sure every single one of our volunteers was thanked and understood how much they are valued within the organisation. So this blog post is for the members of the team who were unable to make the party.

Valentina, Angela and Carol from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Valentina, Angela and Carol from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

You are part of the life and soul of Birmingham Museums and we are so grateful for your time. We hope that you enjoy volunteering with us as much as we enjoy having you.

We also created a Thank You Board with messages from staff across the organisation who could not join us on the night. There are so many people at Birmingham Museums who wanted to thank the volunteer team who have made so much possible for us over the course of 2014.

Thank you board

Thank you board

So, to all our wonderful volunteers – thank you for everything you do for us and we look forward to 2015 with you all.

Alex Nicholson-Evans,
Volunteer Development Officer

West Midlands Open – Grins & Growls

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men,
He walked them up to the top of the hill,
And he walked them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.

Just like the grand old Duke and his men, we all face our ups and downs in life. Now unlike the Duke and his men, I rarely get to enjoy the middle ground, instead I have the unenviable ability to sublimate directly from high to low and back again in a heartbeat, completely skipping out the wonderful moment of being centred and experiencing serenity, harmony and tranquillity. So I was intrigued to explore how our very own, 2014 West Midlands Open, artists handled their own personal highs and lows and how they balanced them whilst creating their various works.

Robert Neil in front of his artwork 'John' with Exhibition Officer Katie Hall

Robert Neil in front of his artwork ‘John’ with Exhibition Officer Katie Hall

Robert Neil indulged my intrigue by meeting up with me to discuss his entry for the 2014 WMO ‘John’ and some of his other inspirational works.

Robert is an inspiration in himself, he comes across as a very pragmatic and rational soul who radiates confidence and belief in himself but in an extremely demure, charismatic, convivial and natural way; and this is reflected in his approach to his art.

Robert explains that his own journey of creating art has been one of growing confidence and comprehension in his work. Initially Robert found that he would accept more of his work because it was nice rather than right, but as his confidence and capabilities grew, he found he was able to sacrifice works that were not quite right for him. Robert admits that at the start it was difficult to make these sacrifices but goes on to enlighten me that his growing confidence enabled him to appreciate when to stop, when to go back and when to ‘scrap.’ Robert kindly laughs in endorsement of my paraphrasing him when I say, ‘so it’s like when you are less experienced; you don’t know what you don’t know.’ ‘Yes’ he retorts, ‘You have to forget about moments that have not gone right.’ ‘I used to get frustrated when things were not going to plan but now I am more confident to turn it against the wall and come back to it.’ I am intrigued and ask Robert if he literally ‘turns his art against the wall’? ‘Yes.’ He says. ‘I really do turn it against the wall. Actually, I now prefer to turn it upside down to get a different perspective, I can still see the general composition but not the detail, that way I can look at it as a whole and focus on the overall colour, texture and balance.’

9 Collages by Conrad Pack

9 Collages by Conrad Pack

Conrad Pack (‘9 collages’) agrees, ‘If I get stuck on a piece I just walk away, I will leave it alone and go and read.’ ‘It makes it worse if you keep on trying. Leave it and come back to it, then it will come around naturally.’ Conrad continues in his astuteness ‘Don’t stress if it goes wrong, if you do it all goes to pot!’ ‘You can get lost in your own anger and it becomes a vicious circle if you keep on trying.’ Conrad explains that he doesn’t work on just one piece at a time so if one piece is not working he leaves it and works on something else. That way he gets inspiration to perceive a different direction or angle to take and returns to it.

BarbaraGibson_SOMC1

Streets of my City #1 by Barbara Gibson

Enlightening me with her own personal outlook, Barbara Gibson (‘Streets of my City #1’) divulges, ‘What frustrates me the most is when I see others copying my work or ideas. It has happened to me a few times and it was not actually something I enjoyed.’ However Barbara still manages to find consolation in this. ‘It is not something that makes me feel angry, it is rather something I take into consideration. I can understand that my work has inspired others and even though I do not necessarily like to see my work being copied, I always take it as something that allows me think of new and improved ways in that my own work could be done and presented.’

Far above the clouds by Nita Newman

Far above the clouds by Nita Newman

Finally, Nita Newman (‘Far above the clouds #1’) affably amuses me when she discloses that she finds it worse when people like her work that she didn’t think was any good! Even with Nita’s intense passion for her work, she does sometimes resort to, also, ‘dumping’ some work she is not entirely happy with. Nita, however, is still valiant and prepared to show her works she is not fully happy with, just to get a reaction and feedback, facilitating her development and next step forward. Now that, I feel, is inspired! Nita enthuses that her work ‘feels like a friend or pet’ and she knows when to keep going in order to get it right. When it’s right, Nita knows it is right by illuminating expressively, ‘You just know when it is right, you just get a feeling, you know, that moment you go, woo woo!’

So it appears that our 2014 WMO artists, at least the ones I have spoken to, have an innate aptitude and talent for being pragmatic and level-headed when it comes to their emotions regarding their work.

These artists are successful in consciously vetoing their vexes and focusing on the practical and positive. They rebuff the path of despair and carve a new course to success. They recognise their frustrations and use this as nourishment to fruit new opportunities.

Perhaps if I spend long enough with these artists, I can climb that peak of potential along with them and absorb some of this optimistic sanguinity through osmosis!  Now where are my boots?!…

By PDB Mellanby

(Phil is a volunteer with Birmingham Museums Trust as a fund raiser and house guide at Aston Hall.  He has a penchant for West Midlands arts and heritage.)

The West Midlands Open exhibitions is free to visit and is on from 25th October – 15th February 2015 at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, more information: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3425

Contributing Artists Web Sites:
Robert Neil          –       www.robertneilartist.com
Conrad Pack        –       www.conradpackart.tumblr.com
Barbara Gibson   –       www.gibsonkochanek.com
Nita Newman      –       www.nitanewman.wordpress.com

Georgian Greetings from Soho House this Christmas

In 1644, only a century before Soho House was built, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas! Carols were forbidden and anyone caught cooking a goose or baking a Christmas cake or boiling a pudding was in danger of fine, confiscation or worse.

By the 1800s it was once again a time of celebration, having been reinstated by Charles II. The Georgian Christmas season began on 6th of December (St. Nicholas Day). Gifts would be exchanged both then and on New Years Day and the main feasting occasion was 6th of January (Twelfth Night, Epiphany). St Stephen’s Day was 26th of December and is now better known as Boxing Day as this was when servants would be presented with gifts and donations made to charity.

Soho House - The Georgian house in the snow.

Soho House in the snow.

The gentry spent the Christmas season in their country houses and didn’t return to their London addresses until February. It was a time of high celebration with gift and charity giving, balls, parties, games, gifts and lots of food. As families were already gathered together it was also an opportunity for weddings.

The Georgian Christmas menu would have included soup, turkey, goose, duck, and cheese. Mince pies have been eaten at Christmas in England since the sixteenth century, however they were made of minced meat. Only later was this replaced with dried fruit and spices. During this period Christmas pudding was better known as lum pottage.

The star of the show would have been Twelfth Cake, a version of present day Christmas cake. It was sliced and given to all members of the household including servants and guests. It contained a dried bean and a dried pea. The person whose slice contained the bean was King for the night; a slice with a pea indicated the Queen. Whoever won, regardless of their social standing and position in the household, was recognized by everyone as the evening’s King and Queen. By the Regency period, Twelfth cake became elaborate with added icing, trimmings, and figurines and it remained popular until the late Victorian period.

Georgian Christmas decorations ready to decorate Soho House.

Georgian Christmas decorations ready to decorate Soho House.

Decorating the home with holly, evergreens and mistletoe was well established and practiced throughout the Georgian period, however the Christmas tree was a tradition not yet adopted. It is widely believed that Queen Victoria is responsible for the popularity of the Christmas tree, as a tree would be placed in her bedroom each Christmas. After Victoria’s marriage in 1840 to Germany’s Prince Albert, it grew in popularity amongst the middle classes after the British press reported on the trees adorning Windsor Castle. However, it was George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, who brought the first version of the present day Christmas tree to Britain in 1800. She had it decorated it with gifts, dolls and tapers after her German traditions.

The yule log was chosen for the fire on Christmas Eve. Wrapped in hazel twigs and dragged home it was the centre piece and would burn in the fireplace during the Christmas season. Traditionally a piece would be kept back for the following year.

As part of the season’s celebrations British Pantomime grew in popularity during the Georgian period, particularly among the upper classes. Carols as we understand them didn’t exist although some such as ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks at Nights’, ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ were beginning to gain in popularity.

Entrance hall of Soho House and portrait of Matthew Boulton decorated with evergreen

Entrance hall of Soho House and portrait of Matthew Boulton decorated with evergreen made by Asian women’s Textile Group and Soho House Volunteers.

This Christmas there are festive tours of Soho House which offer the rare opportunity to see the House decorated for a Georgian Christmas and to hear tales of how the season was celebrated over two hundred years ago (for details visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events). There is also a special evening at Soho on 13th December where there will be carols and readings, followed by an opportunity to look around the historic House decorated for Christmas with a choir singing in the world famous Lunar Room (for details of this event visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3501.)

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant

Volunteering at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter

Fly press, drop stamp, jeweller’s wig, Archimedes drill, draw bench; a few months ago these terms would have been completely alien to me but that was until I started volunteering at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter (MJQ). My name is Beth, I have a degree in medieval history, and every Tuesday can be found at MJQ being a volunteer guide.

Beth MJQ 3

As a recent history graduate I knew that if I was to entertain any hope of forging a career in Museums and Heritage I had to be willing to volunteer. With this in mind I began scanning the local Heritage sites and Museums for opportunities. There’s no lack of them I can tell you but I quickly stumbled upon an intriguing advert on the Birmingham Museums and art Gallery website (http://www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer). The advert was asking for guides to help out at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. I must confess before seeing this advert I’d never heard of the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter but having volunteered and worked in a range of places from being a medieval wench at Warwick castle to a custodian at the Great Hall in Winchester whilst I was studying for my degree I knew the importance of leaping at an opportunity when it presents itself (one such leap has also seen me gallivanting around as an authentically dressed Elizabeth I). What I can say is I’m glad I took that leap and I will tell you for why…

Right from my first visit to MJQ I was impressed, partly because it involved the most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had (that’s right, an enjoyable interview! Who knew?). By my second trip I was determined to be impressed and that’s before I’d even set foot in the museum. When I did get my much anticipated tour I was not disappointed.

For those of you reading this who’ve never visited the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter I feel that to call it a museum is a bit of a misnomer, its more like a giant time capsule taking you back to the golden age of jewellery manufacturing in Birmingham. My role as a volunteer is to take our guests around the abandoned works of a former jewellery firm, Smith and Pepper, including demonstrating some of the machines and techniques that would have been used when it was a business. After trading for 82 years they abandoned their premises in 1981, locking the doors and allowing all the old equipment and records to gather dust for the next 9 years at which point it was turned into the museum. The former owners even kindly left behind a jar of marmite just in anyone gets peckish during the tour. Of course I could go on in great detail, but if you want to hear the rest of Smith and Pepper’s intriguing past you’ll have to come and visit us in person for the full tour (for details on how to find MJQ click on the link: http://www.bmag.org.uk/museum-of-the-jewellery-quarter).

MJQworkshops20100091

I can’t deny that preparing to do my first museum tour was quite a nerve wracking experience. Most people would find memorizing 45 minutes to an hour’s worth of material and regurgitating this on demand a daunting experience and I was no different, although it helped knowing that no one was going to rush me into doing a tour before I was ready. As it happens I was pretty confident by my second week thanks to the constant prompts around the museum that help me to memorize all the stories of the people who used to work in this busy manufacturing business. I was a little more anxious when it came to working with the machinery in the factory but under the careful eye of the museum staff I’m getting there.

One of the joys of working at MJQ is how much I’ve learnt even in relatively short time I’ve been there. I now know a fly press can be used to cut out shapes in metal, for example those cute little charms you might find on a charm bracelet, if you want to impress a pattern into metal you’ll need a drop stamp and for those fine, fiddly holes to thread things through you’ll want an Archimedes drill (no electric drill here, thank you!). But is not just the information for the tours, but also from the many guests to the museum who share memories of working in similar factories or trades when they were younger.

MJQworkshops20100079

For those reading this and wondering whether volunteering is your kind of thing, my advice to you is give it a go, you never know what exciting things you might find out.

Beth Williams,
Volunteer Tour Guide at MJQ

If you’re interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums Trust, then find out more at: http://www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer

There’s No Dejection In Rejection…

How do you deal with rejection? Some, enviably, accept it, shrug it off and move on. If, however, you’re like me at the other end of the scale, you not only throw your toys out of the pram, but hurl them with indignation across the room and anyone in the vicinity should duck and cover! But that’s me, an emotional ‘pick & mix’, you never quite know what you’re going to get next, but you can be sure it’s always going to be something interesting!

I was initially inspired to write this article by Dan Auluk’s work, ‘”I am sorry to inform you…”’, showcasing his crumpled 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter. I was perversely excited to envisage Dan on the day he received his rejection letter, crunching it up and hurling it in the bin in a frenzied act of emotion. Only later, pensively feeling remorse, retrieving it, tenderly smoothing it out and truly reflecting on the words.

But upon meeting Dan and listening to his story, how wrong could I have been. Dan explains to me how, from the age of 18, he used to keep all his job application rejection letters, taking pride in watching the pile grow, knowing he was being productive in applying for job opportunities rather than wasting his time procrastinating. So keeping his 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter was a natural reaction to him. In fact, Dan kept his 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter in pristine condition, right up to the week prior to the 2014 West Midlands Open, when he was inspired to crumple it up, fully embracing his enactment of frustration by actually throwing it in the bin, before finally submitting it as his entry.

Dan Auluk with his West Midlands Open rejection letter

Dan Auluk with his West Midlands Open rejection letter

Dan continues to explain how surreptitiously, he longed for another rejection for his 2014 West Midlands Open entry as Dan now ironically feels that the message of his work has been negated, simply in the act of being accepted into the exhibition. Go figure! The inspired mind of an artist is always a marvel.

Rejection is ‘part of life’, says Dan and should be ‘collected’. He never gets overly concerned about rejections for his art, ‘as at the end of the day it is solely down to the choice of the selectors’ and not a reflection of his art. As rational as Dan is, he does, however, admit to me, a slight feeling of hurt, when upon seeing a review of his work in the 2014 West Midlands Open he suddenly became aware that the 2010 West Midlands Open rejection letter was simply addressed as ‘Dear Artist’ and left unsigned. It took four years for Dan to notice that one, which he now finds rather amusing; as do I! Did you notice the cold, soulless style to such a potentially emotive letter? Go take another look.

Nita Newman with her artwork Far above the clouds #1

Nita Newman with her artwork Far above the clouds #1

I also met with Nita Newman (‘Far above the clouds #1’) who exudes absolute passion for her work as she explains the inspiration of viewing the world from so many different perspectives with multifarious layers. Despite her enthused and effusive fervour, Nita still does not allow rejection to affect her. Nita is surprised when people get upset about a rejection to a particular exhibition, ‘It’s not because your work is bad, it’s just not appropriate for them’ she explains, ‘just take it with a pinch of salt’. Sometimes Nita does feel that her work would fit into an exhibition she visits but has the positive outlook of ‘hey ho, there is another day!’ ‘Is art important?’ she asks rhetorically, ‘not in the greater scheme of life, family and friends are more important’, ‘it’s better to focus on the best bits in life’.  I love this about Nita; passionate yet practical.

Rockface – N. Spain by John Thirlwall

Rockface – N. Spain by John Thirlwall

John Thirlwall (‘Rockface – N. Spain) enlightens me with how ‘rejections make me feel a wee bit low, but it passes quite swiftly. It’s not important enough to worry about, it’s just someone else’s (misguided! – he say’s tongue in cheek) judgement after all’. ‘Acceptance and rejection goes with the territory, it’s a case of ‘c’est la vie’ in my case’.

Shadows by Steve Evans

Shadows by Steve Evans

One of our other amazing artists, Steve Evans (‘Shadows) describes how he has also experienced his work being rejected for open exhibitions but reveals that ‘whilst I found it disappointing, I didn’t have an overly emotional reaction. During my engineering career I had been involved in countless bids and interviews, some successful some not. So, I guess I realised that you just have to dust yourself off and carry on.’

So where are the ‘Drama Queens’, Van Gough ear slashing, crazed Salvador Dali, eccentrically emotional kind of artists I expected to find? Well it appears that our artists are still deeply passionate about their work but have developed a much more peaceful, pragmatic and positive philosophy for towards rejection, which I very much admire, respect, envy and now aspire to.

I came away from my encounters feeling humbled by these artists progressive and sanguine attitudes and in a nice way, somewhat chastened! So come on Phil, time to put this learning into practice; deep breath….. aaaand, relax!….

By Phil Mellanby,
Volunteer

Phil volunteers at Birmingham Museums Trust as a fundraiser and house guide at Aston Hall. He has a penchant for West Midlands arts and heritage.

The West Midlands Open is a FREE exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery from 25th October 2014 – 15th February 2015, for more details visit: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3425

 

Contributing artists websites:

Dan Auluk – www.danauluk.co.uk
Nita Newman – www.nitanewman.wordpress.com
John Thirlwall – www.johnthirlwall.com
Steve Evans – www.axisweb.org/p/steveevans

Birmingham Stories: The First World War

Birmingham Stories is a series of blog posts exploring the experiences of Birmingham men and women during the First World War through the Museum’s collection.

Harold Hall

Harold Hall in his RAMC Uniform, December 1914

Harold Hall in his RAMC Uniform, December 1914

Harold Hall was born in Woodgate on the outskirts of Birmingham in 1893. At the age of 14 he began working at Cadbury’s in the Biscuit Department. When war broke out in 1914, Harold volunteered for the Army but he was classed as unfit for military service. Harold had lost a finger in an accident when he was 15 years old. At the beginning of the war men volunteering for the army were often rejected on the grounds of poor health, sight, or bad teeth. They could also be rejected if they were not tall enough. Undeterred, Harold then enlisted as a Private with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) on the 24 November 1914.  The RAMC were a non-combatant corps of the armed forces who undertook a range of orderly and medical duties on the home front and overseas.

Home Front Hospitals

RAMC at Dudley Road Hospital

RAMC at Dudley Road Hospital

In August 1914 parts of the University of Birmingham campus, including the Aston Webb building, were commandeered by the Territorial Force to become Territorial General Hospitals.The University was known as the 1st Southern General Hospital. In May 1915 City Hospital, then Dudley Road Infirmary, became an annex of the 1st Southern General. By May 1917 it was established as a hospital in its own right, known as the 2/1st Southern General Hospital.

The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross, The Journal of the 1st Southern General Hospital RAMCT, Birmingham, No 3

Numerous other smaller annex hospitals and convalescent homes were established in Birmingham. They were often run by a combination of the RAMC, the Red Cross or St John’s Ambulance. They could also be sponsored by local businesses and individuals.

Harold working in the kitchens at Dudley Road Hospital, 1916

Harold working in the kitchens at Dudley Road Hospital, 1916

Harold trained at the 1st Southern General Hospital before moving to Dudley Road Infirmary in 1915 where he worked in the kitchens.

Dudley Road staff band, 1916

Dudley Road staff band, 1916

Harold was a member of the Woodgate Valley Prize Band.  In August 1916 he joined a newly formed Dudley Road staff band. The band regularly performed for patients at the hospital, and on military parades. They also performed at the funerals of soldiers who died in Birmingham hospitals, many of whom were buried in Ludgate Hill Cemetery.

Service overseas

Before the introduction of conscription in 1916, Military Tribunals were established in 1915 as part of the Derby Scheme. The tribunals aimed to free up more men for military service overseas. When Harold attended a tribunal he was deemed fit for overseas service.

In August 1917 Harold left England for France. He was initially attached to the 1st Highland Division Second Field Ambulance.  Harold was a stretcher bearer. In an interview in 1981 he described what his role entailed.

‘[A normal day on duty at the Line] There would be the walking cases…there would be the stretcher cases…and when they were gassed…all sorts of sickness amongst them of various forms…they all had to have attention, didn’t they….see…[My job was] To follow up and take care of casualties…as they arose…to bring them to the [First Aid] Post and carry them across trenches and all that sort of thing…’

Advanced Dressing Station of 51st Highland Division Field Ambulance on the 20 November 1917

Advanced Dressing Station of 51st Highland Division Field Ambulance on the 20 November 1917

Harold Hall served during the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. This photograph depicts the Advanced Dressing Station of 51st Highland Division Field Ambulance on the 20 November 1917. In an interview in 1981 Harold described what was happening in the photograph.

‘They were First Aid Posts used by us for stretcher bearers and we has to get the casualties off the stretchers and and put them on that windlass thing there and the German prisoners there were releasing the handles to let the stretchers slide down the ramp into an underground hospital which was in a German dugout. The surgeon and doctors were down there and they were doing amputation and all sorts of things on the casualties as they came in …see…they were in a pretty bad way…the chaps you were sending down there…the walking cases…we could get them away…but we couldn’t get the stretcher cases away…where immediate operations were needed…to save their lives…’

Harold and George, Christmas 1914

Harold and George, Christmas 1914

Harold probably volunteered at the same time as his friend George ‘Stanley’ Payne, who was also from Woodgate. Stanley was killed at Marfaux in France on the 15 July 1918. He was serving with the 15th Field Ambulance. He died when the First Aid Post he was working at received a direct hit from a German shell. Stanley was 23 years old. During the First World War 743 officers and 6130 soldiers in the RAMC were killed.

Harold Hall donated his collection of personal memorabilia associated with his First World War service in the RAMC in the 1980s. To see more objects relating to Harold’s First World War service with the RAMC or Birmingham hospitals during the First World War please go to BMAG Flikr.

Birmingham Museums are interested in collecting objects relating to Birmingham people during the First World War. Did your ancestor serve in any of the following areas either on the Home Front or overseas?

  • RAMC
  • Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
  • Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD)
  • Red Cross
  • St John’s Ambulance
  • YMCA
  • Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU)

Please contact enquiries@birminghammuseums.org.uk

Jo-Ann Curtis,
Curator (History)

A Lot of Hot Air

 The gas lights in the Industrial Gallery

The gas lights in the Industrial Gallery

Apart from being one of the most striking architectural features, the gas lights that hang over the Industrial Gallery are an important reminder of the Museum’s roots. They are beautiful to look at and vital to telling the story of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. However, they are also mysterious and we are still trying to find out exactly how they functioned.

The Gas lights above the Industrial Gallery during the 1960s

This picture shows the Gas lights above the Industrial Gallery during the 1960s. During this period they were not visible from the gallery.

The gas lights have a number of different names. The term ‘Gasoliers’ comes from French ‘chandelier’ and is frequently used in literature about the museum. However, my favourite name is ‘Sun-Light Burners’. This was used to describe them in the minutes made at meetings about opening a gallery. Apart from being vaguely poetic I prefer this term because it accurately reflects their job.

The top of one of the lamps in the Industrial Gallery.

This is the top of one of the lamps in the Industrial Gallery.

There are seven gas lights in total. Two in the Edwardian Tea Room, three in the Industrial Gallery, one in the Round Room and one above the Vestibule reception area (in every room of the original gallery). They were manufactured by Messrs. Strode and Company from London for the cost of £488.

The lamp above the Round Room.

This is the lamp above the Round Room. I imagine this lamp in particular would have looked like the sun when lit.

The purpose of having gas lights was revolutionary. It reinforces the argument I made in my previous blog entry about how Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was an institution designed by the people and for the people. In the 1880s Art Galleries were the domain of the middle classes. As well as being a place to see beautiful objects they were also a place to be seen by your peers. Because museums were lit only by sunlight they were only worth visiting during daylight hours. Working class people, generally, did not finish work until the evening and therefore would not be able to see the exhibits.

By providing gas lights Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery enabled these people to view the exhibits too. This explains why the term ‘Sun-Light Burners’ applies so well. The Museum was established specifically to inspire the artisans, therefore it would have been a huge mistake if they could not view the things specifically displayed to inspire them.

When the gallery opened in 1885 it was on top of the newly municipalised city gas offices. Nowadays there are only two things to remind us of this: the Foundation Stone in the main entrance and the gas lamps.

One of the Lamps above the Edwardian Tea Room

This is one of the Lamps above the Edwardian Tea Room.

So the practical considerations: how were these lights lit? Naively, when I first considered this question I imagined a Victorian man leaning over the iron work on the balcony of the Industrial Gallery with a large wooden stick, prodding the lamp from a distance and hoping for the best. Obviously, this was not the case. In the case of the lamps above the Vestibule and Round Room, they were winched down to a gentleman below who would light it, shout up to say it was ready, and then be winched up again very early in the morning. It is clear to see that the entire structure would have moved because today they are hidden away in the ceilings. When stood in the roof space this sort of movement is also evident from the design of the lamps themselves.

The mechanism used to winch the lamps down so they could be lit.

This shows the mechanism used to winch the lamps down so they could be lit.

For the lamps above the Edwardian Tea Room and Industrial Gallery the procedure less obvious. There are winching mechanisms in the roof space but the outer structure of the lamps is clearly static. I am currently waiting to see the original blue prints, which will reveal the procedure but at the moment my best guess is that an internal part was winched down to the floor where it was lit and then brought back up.

Close up of the pipe where the gas came out.

This is a close up taken of the pipe where the gas came out.

The one question we, as Visitor Assistants, always get asked is ‘do they work?’ As the lamps used Town Gas, which is no longer used, it is impossible to tell. Also there are a plethora of conservation issues connected to having gas lamps and oil paintings in immediate proximity so it is probably for the best that we don’t use them today!

So the importance of these architectural features is huge. They remind us of the connection to the gas offices. They are a visual symbol of the equalising effect Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery had on the cities communities when it opened. They also fill everyone who sees them with curiosity and invite questions that we still cannot fully answer.

Olivia Bruton
Visitor Assistant,
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Artist in Residence Jodie Wingham – Week Four

My final week as Artist in Residence at the Museum is now over, the past month has gone so quickly, packed full of new sights, events and meeting new people. During my residency I have been researching pieces within the collections, this research will now be used to create a new piece for BMAG to go on display in January. Continuing with my own practice, interested in the act of looking, the residency has encouraged me to focus on the history behind ‘the gaze’ concerning Women and their image. This is something that became prominent during my research where many of the prints and drawings I looked at depicted women carrying out private acts, often within interior settings, documenting these for the viewer to enjoy. My progress and the ideas behind my new work and its development will be documented by the BMAG team in the coming weeks, please keep an eye out!

I have now moved out of my studio, a space I have made my own during my time here. Not only used as a space for my daily practice I have held workshops for the public and opened it every Wednesday afternoon for visitors to come in and see what I have been up to.

My studio space from outside

My studio space from the outside

Me inside my studio

Me inside my studio

Inside my studio

Inside my studio

Another view from inside my studio space

Another view from inside my studio space

On Friday the 17th of October I held one final printing drop in session, visitors were invited to take inspiration from the woodcut prints of Sir Edward Burne Jones I found in the collections and create their own Lino printed bookmarks.

Here is my own finished bookmark:

My own finished bookmark

My own finished bookmark

It was great fun to help others create something that they could take home and use, everybody enjoyed the Lino method of printing and made some great finished bookmarks.

People taking part in the booking making workshop

The booking making workshop

Two bookmarks produced during the workshop

Two bookmarks produced during the workshop

The public facing studio has provided me with a wonderful space suited to my practice, through the glass panel I was able to watch passers by enjoying their visit as well as watching them watch me work. I thought I would play with this idea of the watcher and the watched by covering the glass with semi opaque plastic with peep holes cut away.

Peep holes from the outside

Peep holes from the outside of the studio

I invited the audience to peep through these observing stations to view inside my studio and view myself, in the process photographing this action. It has encouraged me to question the act of looking within a gallery setting, where looking is actively encouraged. This is not limited to the artwork on display alone but it can also be a place to watch other visitors too! I became aware of this within an engraving called The Exhibition at the Royal Academy, 1787 engraved by Pierto Antonio Martini (from the painting by Johann Heinrich Ramberg), where the focus of the viewer is not purely on the gallery display but on the characters themselves within the exhibition.

The Exhibition at the Royal Academy, 1787, by Pierto Antonio Martini

The Exhibition at the Royal Academy, 1787, engraved by Pierto Antonio Martini

Thank you everyone who participated, here are some images of those who decided to have a peak:

People looking in two

Another person peaking through the whole

Another person peaking through the hole

I would like to work with these images further, the blurred outlines of the viewers interests me as you have to fill in the missing information. I have experimented with these few images digitally, as seen below, but I would like to eventually turn them into prints.

Digital experiment

Digital experiment

Looking through the peep holes visitors could observe me inside my studio:

From outside looking in

From outside looking into the studio

I keep returning to this circular shape to frame my images, over the coming weeks I will explore how I can create a sculptural structure that forms this shape on which I hope to print upon. For now, here are some previous experiments into this form:

Circular form experiments

Circular form experiments

Finally I want to thank all the staff at BMAG who have given their time generously to view works, arrange events and help me to develop my ideas for this residency to produce a new commission for the Museum. I can’t wait to get started and look forward to its completion.

Jodie Wingham,
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence

Memorial to Birmingham’s Boulton

Bust of Matthew Boulton

Bust of Matthew Boulton in the Drawing Room at Soho House museum

On Friday 17th October staff and volunteers from Soho House Museum attended a special service at Westminster Abbey. The service was to commemorate a memorial stone dedicated to Matthew Boulton.

Staff and volunteers outside Westminster Abbey

Rachel West (Deputy Property Manager), John (volunteer) and Samina Kosar (Property Supervisor) outside Westminster Abbey

This is not the first time Boulton has been memorialised. Brummies are familiar with the gold statue on Broad Street that depicts Boulton, his business partner James Watt and Soho’s master engineer William Murdoch.

Matthew Boulton was a master manufacturer in the 18th century and along with other members of the Lunar Society has been credited for developing concepts and techniques that laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution.

There are several other places throughout the city of Birmingham that memorialise Matthew Boulton. Matthew Boulton College opened in 1957 in his honour, and Boulton Road in Handsworth is a stone’s throw away from Soho House, where he lived for 43 years and which displays the first of three blue plaques.

Soho House Museum with blue plaque

Soho House museum with blue plaque

Sarehole Mill in Hall Green was leased by Boulton between 1756 and 1761. He probably used the mill to produce sheet metal until all production moved to the new Soho Manufactory in the 1760s. Today the mill displays a blue plaque recording Boulton’s time spent there. Steelhouse Lane in Birmingham city centre also has a blue plaque. It was here that Boulton was born and his father had a toy, button and buckle workshop.

Blue plaque on Steelhouse Lane

Blue plaque on Steelhouse Lane where Boulton was born

In 1788 Boulton established his Soho Mint and in 1797 he won a contract to produce Britain’s copper coinage. During the next two years his mint struck 45 million coins. Boulton was able to provide the Royal Mint with better machinery and coins from his workshops were exported around the world. Most importantly, his coin designs were so good it hugely decreased forgery, thus enabling the working classes a secure form of payment for a day’s work.

On 2nd November 2011, in recognition of their advancements in engineering and coinage, Boulton and Watt were immortalised by the Bank of England on the fifty pound note.

£50 note

A £50 note with portraits of Matthew Boulton and James Watt on the back.

On 10th March 2009, he along with other industrialists and inventors was honoured with the issue of a Royal Mail postage stamp. The stamp bares his image alongside the Soho Manufactory – home to his Sheffield Plate, Sterling Silver tableware and Ormolu ornamental wares.

Matthew Boulton is celebrated in St Mary’s Parish Church, Handsworth. Boulton, Watt and Murdoch were all buried in the churchyard. The church was later extended over the site of his grave. In recognition of this, inside, on the north wall of the Sanctury is a large marble monument to him, commissioned by his son, Matthew Robinson Boulton.

Marble bust inside St Mary’s

Marble bust inside St Mary’s Parish Church, sculpted by John Flaxman

Very active in public life, Boulton was involved with Birmingham Dispensory (which provided the poor with medicines), the General Hospital and established Soho Manufactory’s insurance scheme. This provided financial support for his workers who were sick and became the model for later schemes.

Order of Service from Westminster Abbey

Order of Service from Westminster Abbey

In the Westminster order of service The Bidding reads:

‘We come to add another illustrious name, that of Matthew Boulton of Birmingham, to the long list of distinguished men and women from the United Kingdom and from overseas who are buried or memorialised in Westminster Abbey.’

‘James Watt was given a memorial 189 years ago, within a few years of his death in St Paul’s Chapel […] Now an omission will be corrected. Matthew Boulton, without whom his achievements might not have been recognised, will be memorialised beside his business partner.’

Matthew Boulton memorial stone in Westminster Abbey

The Matthew Boulton memorial stone in Westminster Abbey

Boulton and Watt’s Smethwick engine, the world’s oldest working steam engine can be seen at Thinktank Museum and the Archives of Soho House, including thousands of Boulton’s letters can be viewed by appointment at the Library of Birmingham.

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant,
Soho House

Artist in Residence Jodie Wingham – Week Three

It is my third week at the Museum, and it has been a busy one before I leave on the 17th of October. This week I visited the Museum Collections Centre in Duddeston, home to all the objects not currently on site at Museums across Birmingham, I ran a ‘Big Print’ workshop on the 4th of October in my studio as one of many activities taking place within the Museum as part of Fun Palaces, and I have been working on my ideas for the Final work.

During my time at the Museum I have been carrying out research into pieces held at the Museum to generate a new piece of work in response to what I have seen. Taking inspiration from artists such as Hans Sebald Beham and Helen Chadwick who have used a circular shape within their work, I have been playing with this circular form as a basis to my work. When looking at these artists I became aware of the effect the circular form had on me as a viewer, the shape draws your attention into the image having associations with an old fashioned peep hole of which to view others through.

Vanity by Helen Chadwick

Vanity by Helen Chadwick
© The Helen Chadwick Estate, Courtesy of the Zelda Cheatle Gallery, London

Here is a piece I am working on that incorporates this circular frame:

Jodie's work in progress

My work in progress incorporating a circular frame

I have been playing with the use of coiled newsprint paper to form a circular surface on which to screen print upon, I am interested in the distortion of imagery to create a closer inspection from the viewer. During my residency I have seen many images that observe women carrying out certain actions from bathing to changing to sleeping, all private and quite intimate acts however, they are on display for us to observe. It is the subject of women and their image which I think I will focus on as the basis to my piece.

Jodie's work in progress

My artwork using a coiled newsprint paper

I wanted to learn more about how other artists have used photography within their work to stage certain acts and how they use technology to distort the images they work with. Two artists that do this are Mohammed Bourouissa and Semyon Faibisovich, artists who have pieces held at the Museum Collections Centre (MCC). It was a great opportunity to view the pieces in person and see the techniques used by the artists.

Semyon Faibisovich’s images examine contemporary urban life in his home town of Moscow and particularly the lives of those at the bottom of the social ladder. Using a mobile phone, Faibisovich takes photographs of people on the streets and uses these low resolution images to make his oil paintings, enlarging the images to life size and then painting over the image creating pixelated distortions. This was clear when up close to the works entitled Repose, from At the Stop series, 2009 and Sick on the Way?, 2008 from the same series.

Repose by Semyon Faibisovich

Repose © Semyon Faibisovich

Close up of Repose by Semyon Faibisovich

Close up of Repose by Semyon Faibisovich

Sick on the Way? by Semyon Faibosovich

Sick on the Way? and close up of the artwork (right) © Semyon Faibosovich

Mohammed Bourouissa is an Algerian photographer who uses staged photography to create images that appear real, often depicting moments of physical or emotional tension through the careful arrangement of people and their gestures. They leave you questioning what has happened in the image or what will happen, I like the suspense he creates leaving you wanting more. I saw La rencontre (The Meeting) and Le toit (The Roof), 2005-2007 during my visit to the MCC and both looked at this tension between the characters depicted.

La rencontre (The Meeting) by Mohammed Bourouissa

La rencontre (The Meeting) © Mohammed Bourouissa

Le toit (The Roof) by Mohammed Bourouissa

Le toit (The Roof) © Mohammed Bourouissa

After viewing these specific pieces I spent the rest of my time exploring the vast number of objects and works stored within the centre, it is very easy to get carried away! These are just some of the things I came across:

The butterfly collection at the Museum Collections Centre

The butterfly collection at the Museum Collections Centre

The Museum Collections Centre (MCC) has a huge natural history collection, with examples of taxidermy ranging from delicate butterflies to a brown bear! Although not relevant to my practical work it was fascinating to see such an array of animals dating back from the 1800’s.

The MCC holds open afternoons for the public on the last Friday of every month and are open for pre-arranged tours and study days, for more information or to make a booking visit: www.bmag.org.uk/Museum-collections-centre.

Display at the Museum Collections Centre

Bottle display at the Museum Collections Centre

Oliver Cromwell's Death Mask

Oliver Cromwell’s Death Mask at the Museum Collections Centre

Finally, thank you to everyone who came to ‘The Big Print’ drop in session to have a taster of what you can achieve through printmaking. From 11-4pm the studio was full of people experimenting with polystyrene prints and mono printing, some fantastic work was made which people could take home or add to the ‘Big Print’ wall in my studio to remain till the end of my residency.

The Big Print poster

The Big Print poster at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG)

The ‘Big Print’ wall in the activity zone studio

The ‘Big Print’ wall in the activity zone studio at BMAG

Some examples of work made on the day

Examples of prints created in the session

A print made during the 'Big Print'

A print made during the ‘Big Print’ workshop

Next week will be my final as artist in residence at BMAG, it has gone so quickly! I am keen to hold one last printing workshop, this time with adults, taking place on Friday the 17th of October between 12.30-2.30pm. We will be making bookmarks inspired by Edward Burne-Jones intricate woodblock patterns I came across in the collections using a Lino print.

Here is one of Edward Burne-Jones’s designs in the collection originally made for the boarder of a book to get you started:

One of Edward Burne-Jones’s designs

One of Edward Burne-Jones’s designs

Jodie Wingham,
Whitworth Wallis Artist in Residence