📍Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, Westminster Hall

Hi all, happy Friday!

In light of the progressive movement in American politics this week regarding the historical milestones made by women in the midterm elections, I thought I would share an insight into the wonderful Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition I visited last month. 🗣🗳  When I left the British Museum earlier this year, I was kindly gifted membership to the Women’s Library as part of my leaving present (alongside tickets to see my idol, Stacey Dooley and an array of feminist goodies!). The Women’s Library LSE, based at London School of Economics, holds 500 archive collections and a significant museum collection of over 5000 objects, much of which dates from the late 19th century.

My first Women’s Library event was a trip to Westminster to visit the ‘Voice & VoteWomen’s Place in Parliament’ exhibition. The tour was lead by Mari Takayanagi, Joint Project Manager of Vote 100 and a fellow Women’s Library member. The major exhibition displayed at Westminster Hall was created to give visitors a better understanding of the campaign for votes for women in the UK and the representation of women in UK Parliament and politics.

The exhibition was split into 4 main sections: The Ventilator, The Cage, The Tomb and The Chamber. All 4 settings were significant in the ways that women could engage with and influence UK politics; from being secret observers in the 19th century to being active and present Member’s of Parliament in the present day.

  1. The Ventilator, 1818-1834:

The opening section of the exhibition introduced the octagonal structure known as The Ventilator which was originally designed to ventilate the Chamber in the House of Commons. 200 years ago, before it was acceptable for women to be actively involved in politics, a group of feisty, politically-minded middle class women found a secret attic space above the Ventilator and would clamber inside to listen to the debates going on below. This not only gave women a space to socialise but also the chance to listen to political discussions and gain an insight into policy-making like never before.

A partial recreation of the Ventilator was on display in the exhibition – visitors were invited to put their heads into the small window spaces and listen to reenactments of Parliamentary debates like the women of the 19th century would have done. 
  1. The Cage, 1834 – 1918:

In 1834, a large fire demolished the original Westminster building leading to a new Palace being built between 1840 – 1876. The new Palace of Westminster included a purpose-built ‘Ladies Gallery’ which meant that women could officially listen and watch debates in the Houses of Common rather than hiding in the Ventilator. The Ladies Gallery was nicknamed ‘The Cage’ because it had large, heavy metal grilles covering the windows, both restricting the women’s view and ensuring they didn’t ‘distract’ men in the Public Gallery. In the 20th century the space became known for protests by suffragettes campaigning for change and the metal grilles were eventually removed in 1917.

A reconstruction of the Ladies Gallery in the exhibition gave a sense of the rules, space and views that women would have experienced whilst listening to parliamentary debates from their newly designated area. The cream paneling represents where the heavy grilles would have been. 
  1. The Tomb, 1918 – 1963:

In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. When she joined as a MP there were no spaces reserved solely for women except for the Ladies’ Members’ Room. During the 20th century, more women were elected into Parliament resulting in women from Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties sharing the small Members’ Room. The cramped space soon became known as ‘The Tomb’.

Left: Quote from Ellen Wilkinson, 1928. Right: Barbara CastleMargaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams
  1. The Chamber, 1963 – Present Day:

As women’s voices and voting rights in the UK have increased, so has their role in Parliament and there have now been 491 female Members of Parliament in Britain; all of which were displayed on a large celebration wall in the final part of the exhibition.

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Visitors were invited to watch videos and listen to oral histories, collected from The British Library, of current female MP’s talking about their political role and their continuing fights for equality. The space highlights both how far we’ve come in terms of female representation in Parliament and voting patterns versus how far we’ve still got to go (a third of UK women didn’t vote in the 2017 UK General Election!) The exhibition ended with a pledging station where visitors could reflect on their place in politics and decide how they could get more involved in UK Parliament in the future.

As usual, I will follow this post up with another blog highlighting my favourite objects from the exhibition so keep an eye out for fabulous feminist content related to Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

 

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📍Poster Girls: A century of art and design, London Transport Museum

Poster Girls: A century of Art and Design at the London Transport Museum celebrates a century of exceptional poster art created by women. The exhibition shines a light on the incredible contribution that female designers and artists made to the world of poster design, with over 150 colourful, fun and unique pieces of artwork on display.

As you would expect from an exhibition at the London Transport Museum, the majority of the posters on display were designed for use on the London Underground, with many of the artists commissioning pieces for London Transport and Transport for London.

Posters are displayed chronologically from 1910’s to the present day; with a focus on how each new era offered changing styles, approaches and designs which are reflected in the artworks. The display also focuses on the positive impact London Transport had in showcasing female talent in an industry that was, like many others, predominantly male.

Creative minds such as Ella Coates, Nancy Smith, “Herry” Perry and Dora Batty created bold, colourful, eye-catching posters to advertise the London Underground as quick and cheap transport choice. Many of the posters would market the Capital’s main attractions, like the ones below.

Foxgloves; Kew Gardens by Dora M Batty, 1924 (1983/4/1639), Country Joys from Camden Town Station by Herry Perry, 1930 (1983/4/2940), Bluebell time in Kew Gardens by Margaret Calkin James, 1931 (1983/4/9210), Travels in time on your doorstep by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1937 (1983/4/4963) and Regents Park Zoo by Arnrid Banniza Johnston, 1930 (1983/4/3038) 

The exhibition continues downstairs; documenting posters from the 1950’s to the modern day. The first thing you see is a wall covered in miniature versions of underground posters which was truly sensational.

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As you look closer you can pick out posters marketing everything from London Zoo to Borough Market, Hampton Court to London Museums. Below are a few of my favourites:

Top left: Hampton Court by Hanna Weil, 1963 (1983/4/7458), Bottom left: London’s museums by Carol Barker, 1979 (1983/341), Right: We Londoners by Dorrit Dekk, 1961 (1983/4/7270)

Although there was a lull in female representation during the 1940’s-50’s (possibly due to World War II), in the 1980’s, London Transport ran 2 major campaigns to reignite the fire for women in the Poster design market. Art on the Underground and the Simply series was influenced a lot by women and they play a major role in poster art and design. My 3 favourite contemporary posters were: Simply East London by Tube and bus by Sarah McMenemy, 2000 (2000/14610), Borough Market by Ruth Hydes, 2010 (2017/444) and Winter fun – shopping by Anna Hymas, 2016 (2017/380)

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Aside from the #Vote100 Suffragette displays that keep popping up across the UK to celebrate 100 since the Representation Act 1918 was passed, Poster Girls is the first exhibition I’ve been to that it is solely dedicated to the work, perspectives and successes of women. Isn’t that absurd?! I felt pretty overwhelmed walking around & taking notes knowing that everything I was seeing was created by a woman, every name I wrote down belonged to a woman.

I think the sector could learn a lot from the London Transport Museum in terms of how to create exhibitions focused on underrepresented groups in society. From writing more inclusive interpretation, doing more in-depth research into collections, looking at how exhibition content is developed, who/what is represented and ultimately, who at the top of the organisation, is making the decisions about what is exhibited…

Poster girls: A century of art and design, located in the Exterion Media Gallery, is on display until January 2019.

Happy Museum Musings!

Em xo

📍Altes Museum, Berlin pt.2

So, I promised you a second instalment of my visit to the Altes Museum and here it is! Aside from my star objects from the Numistmatics Collection (which I found surprisingly interesting!), there were lots of other fascinating objects housed in the oldest museum on MuseumInsel. These are some of my favourites!

Highlight objects:

  1. Cauldron attachments: Heads of Griffins, Samos, Greece, around 640-630 BC. Heraiom, acquired c.1914, Bronze.

2. Greek bronze helmets from 7th century BC. Greece, Italy, Egypt; acquired 1904-5. Bronze, 700-600 BC.

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3. Relief with Heroes and worshippers – Chrysapha/Sparta. Greece, acquired from the Sabouroff Collection. Marble, c. 540 BC. These reminded me of the Assyrian reliefs on display at my former workplace, the British Museum. Kings such as Ashurbanipal would have walls leading up to their thrones decorated with scenes of them overseeing construction work or participating in lion-hunts to showcase their power. The design and regal feel of these reminded me so much of those that will be on display for the next major exhibition at the British MuseumI am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria which is on display from 8 November 2018 – 24 February 2019.

4. Gold jewellery from Tarentum, Italy. The find consisting of gold hairnet, necklaces, armlet in the shape of snakes – (very Taylor Swift-esque 🐍), earrings and a finger ring showcase the complete set of jewellery of a rich Tarentine woman. They were most probably left as grave goods upon her death in the late 3rd century BC.

Gold hairnet: This exquisite gold hairnet was part of the gold haul and has an old, reused medallion with the head of Medusa as the centre piece. Found c.1900 in Tarentum, Italy. Acquired in 1980. Made and used in 230-210 BC.

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5. Jewellery from the Geometric Period:

Fragile golden bands with depictions of stencilled figurative patterns were most likely places around the heads of the deceased. Because the markings are difficult to see with the naked eye, the museum have scanned and recreated the stencilled bands to make the decoration clearer for visitors to get a better look at the intricacy. This simple but effective touch really helped the objects to stand out and be more accessible.

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6. Scythian Gold body ornaments and mirror. The largest Scythian jewellery ensemble outside the countries of origin.

The final special exhibition, Fleish (Flesh/Meat) was also very endearing. Themes such as Rost/Food, Kult/Cult and Körper/Body explores human relationship with meat and how it sits in a precarious space between life and death. The exhibition poses interesting questions about the conflicts of meat in society, how it it seen to some as repulsive but others as nutrition and ultimately how we as humans think about it in the modern day.

This was by far one of the most exquisite museums I’ve ever visited. The space was used so well and it didn’t feel overly repetitive as the statues, gold, numismatics, grave goods were distributed throughout the galleries rather than in one space. I spent hours exploring this museum and would recommend you make the time to do so too if you’re visiting beautiful Berlin 🏛🇩🇪

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to Light📍Getty Images Gallery, London

Last week I was exploring London and stumbled across this little gem whilst walking in the autumnal sunshine. The Getty Images Gallery is London’s largest photographic archive, holds one of the greatest collections of photos in the world. For context, Getty Images, the head US company founded in 1995 by Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, has a collection of 80 million photographs and more than 50,000 hours of film stock.

The current exhibition on display at the London gallery is Tony Vaccaro: From Shadow to LightThis is Vaccaro’s first exhibition in the UK in over half a century and includes photographs taken during his time serving in World War II, living in post-war Europe alongside those he took of celebrities, artists and creators for global media.

Born Michelantonio Celestino Onofrio Vaccaro in Pennsylvania, December 1922, “Tony” Vacarro, is an Italian-American photographer who is well-known for his photographs taken during the Second World War when he served in the US Army. Against orders from army officials, he smuggled his beloved camera into battle. He would strategically position his camera lens through a torn button hole on his jacket to take images. He would also salute with one hand whilst secretly pressing press the shutter with the other to capture an image!

During ‘down time’, Vaccaro would take photographs of his fellow Infantry members which led to numerous reprimands but after an Army Major expressed an interest in his work, Tony was allowed to continue with his photography; under one condition – gun first, camera second. During this time, he produced almost 8,000 photos and went to extreme lengths to produce his images stating: “When I was not on a night mission, I processed my films in four army helmets and hung the wet negatives from tree branches to dry.” Many of his photos were destroyed or seized by authorities so only 25% of them still survive.

Unfortunately the lighting in the exhibition meant that there were reflections on all glass surfaces so the photographs I took (below) aren’t very good but I have found the best online links to the photographs which are included in the photo caption:

Firing Line in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany, 1945

Upon being honourably discharged from his position in 1945, Tony decided to stay in Europe rather than move back home to the US to begin a careers a professional photographer. During this time, he captured life in post-war Europe; covering issues across Germany and Western Europe.

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Kiss of Liberation, St. Briac Sur Mer, France 1944 – “Sargeant Gene Costanzo kneels to kiss a little girl during spontaneous celebrations in the main square of the town of St. Briac, France, August 14, 1944.” – Tony Vaccaro

With post-war America came a new age of popular magazines and celebrity; which Vaccaro took full advantage of. He travelled the world for 30 years, taking some of the most recognisable photographs of the 20th century; working with public figures from Sophia Loren and Pablo Picasso to Georgia O’Keefe and Hubert de Givenchy.

Top left: Picasso, Mougins, France, 1966. Bottom left: Marimekko Umbrella, (Tony ended up marrying the model at the bottom of this image)
Top right: Georgia O’Keefe with Cheese, New Mexico, 1960, Bottom right: Sophia Loren, actress, New York City, NY 1959.

The exhibition was curated by Shawn Waldron, a Curator at Getty Images, who worked alongside Tony Vaccaro’s studio to create this wonderful exhibition which showcases some of the finest photography I’ve ever seen. The humility and connection Vaccaro captures in his images is really special and his personal relationship with subjects is very apparent. The exhibition has just been extended for another month so you can catch it until 28th October. I’d recommend you make a detour if you’re in Central London before it closes.

Happy Museum Musings.

Em xo

📍Curson Lodge, Silent Street: Ipswich, Suffolk

Each September, Heritage Open Days organises a free weekend of events and activities at over 2,000 heritage sites across England. The weekend involves over 5,000 events and is run by 4,000 volunteers! The aim is to open up the doors of places that celebrate local heritage to the community with sites including museums, stately homes and heritage buildings. Some of the sites are always open to the public but utilise the weekend to raise awareness or increase access to their site, others are often closed to the public thus opening up a rare opportunity to experience the site. And this year, we were blessed with not one but TWO weekends of heritage open days!

I was born in Ipswich, a multicultural town in Suffolk, East of England. I have always been interested in our local history; visiting (and working) in local museums, reading my grandad’s local history books and going on tours with my mum as a youngster. For 25 years I have been passing the beautiful building that is known as ‘Curson Lodge’ on Silent Street and thanks to #HODIpswich2018, I finally got to explore inside!

This beautiful Tudor building, which spans 1-9 Silent Street and 45-47 St Nicholas Street, was built in two phases during the late-15th and early-16th centuries. The white and black corner property has been recognised as one of the most complete examples of an early Tudor inn anywhere in Britain. In 2006, the Ipswich Building Preservation Trust undertook essential restoration and conservation on this late medieval Grade II* listed building thanks to a generous grant from the Ipswich Borough Council.

According to a report by Leigh Alston, the inn was built to accommodate the extra guests and servants of those staying in the Palace on the opposite side of the road. The house, owned by Lord Curson, was visited by the likes of King Henry VII and Catherine of Aragon therefore a space was needed to house their royal parties. Mr Alston states that at the beginning of the 16th century the inn had an extension built – a new hall to the left of the parlour section in Silent Street and a large room with a new separate entrance was added to the part of the property on St Nicholas Street. The extension included features such as carved ceilings, a side-purlin roof and a jetted gallery at the back of the building.

On a wall downstairs, numerous layers of wallpaper dating from the early-19th to mid-20th century were found during the restoration. Although the plaster had to be replaced and the wallpaper recovered for conservation reasons, there were photographs showing what the layered wallpaper underneath looked like.

Layered wallpaper found underneath the panelling in Curson Lodge

The first floor parlour shows an early-19th century renovation. In true Georgian fashion, the original Tudor beams have been hidden by pine mouldings whilst a fireplace was added for extra comfort in what would have become a family home. The first family documented to have lived in the property were the Crispin’s; a family of tailors who moved in to the property in 1841. Since then, the house has been occupied by Greengrocers, Scholars and Bootmakers. The last use of the building was as a book shop called “Claude Cox Books” which ran out of the property from 1985 – 2016.

The house is often referred to as Wolsey’s birthplace and although is true that Thomas Wolsey was born in Ipswich, he was actually born above a Butcher’s shop on the opposite side of the street, not in Curson Lodge!

Getting to explore such a a local gem thanks to Heritage Open Days was wonderful and I can’t wait for 2019’s adventures – when HOD will be running for a whole week!

Happy museum musings!

Em xo

📍Altes Museum, Berlin

Hallo!

After venturing to visit the Museum für Naturkunde, I spent the rest of my time in and around Museum Island and it might just be my favourite place on earth. Everything is so magical; the architecture, the views, the history, the food. If I could, I would live there forever!

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First up was the Altes Museum, the oldest museum on Museum Island. Originally known simply as ‘The Museum’, the name changed to Altes Museum in 1855 due to a new museum being built. And of course, the only logical way to differentiate between the two was to call the old museum the Altes (Old) Museum and the newer museum, the Neues (New) Museum! 😂 Makes sense right?!

The museum specialises in Greek and Roman antiquities so included the standard object that you’d expect: statues, helmets, statues, grave goods, statues, pottery and MORE STATUES! 🗽🗿

Aside from marble busts, there were lots of other really beautiful artefacts on display inside this museum of grandeur. I surprised myself by spending a good 30 minutes reading every text panel and inspecting each coin in the Numismatic Collection vault. I actually think it may have been my favourite room… 💶

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Honestly, until last year I didn’t even know what the word ‘numismatic‘ meant! But one of my first assignments in my role at the British Museum was to write a donor report for the Defacing the Past: damnation and desecration in imperial Rome exhibition. The exhibition, curated by Dario Calomino, presented ‘coins and other objects that were defaced, either to condemn the memory of deceased Roman emperors or to undermine the power of living ones’. Objects included a Suffragette defaced penny and the bust of Germanicus Caesar with his nose removed.

Whilst writing the report, I did lots of wider research into numismatics, the BM’s Coin Collections and even went on a BTS tour of Greece and Rome to improve my own knowledge (and make it seem like I knew what I was talking about!). I really think this prior understanding bettered my experience at the Altes Museum as it helped me understand this collection better. I know it sounds really self-indulgent but I find it very satisfying when I know something about an object or collection or person and find information relating to it – it makes me feel less intimidated by the academic language and more included in the museum.

My numismatic collection highlights: 

Left: Magnesia am Sipylos, Amazone nuit Peltaschild und Mauerkrone, Ihr gegeniber kykele, 197-217 N.Chr, Top right: Bank note: Röm. Republik: Aes Signatum280-242 v. Chr, Bottom right: Syracuse: Späte Dekadrachmen, Signatur: Kimon, UM406 V.Chr

A really great UK based group to get involved in if you’re interested in numismatic material and the like is The Royal Numismatic Society.  Established in 1836, the group and its members share a passion for coins, medals and other currency material. The Society recently sponsored an exhibition called ‘Currency of Communism’ at the British Museum. Another great resource is the Money and Medals Network, a group based at the British Museum and in association with the RNS, BNS and a number of key partners. “The Network aims to act as an information exchange for museum professionals within the UK whose collections include coins, medals and other objects relating to monetary and economic history and numismatics”.

In my next post I’ll feature some of my other favourites from the Altes Museum…

Happy museum musings, folks

Em xo

📍Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin

On day 2 of my stay in Berlin I ventured out of Museum Island and to the Museum für Naturkunde to visit my first Natural History Museum of my trip 💚 Although it is a little out of the way from Museuminsel I think it’s definitely worth it.

It is housed in a similar building to the NHM in South Kensington, London. Made of Portland-esque Stone, decorated with animal statuettes (and it’s equally as huge). The entrance is also similar, with the looming dinosaur skeleton centrepiece (although I know Dippy is on tour around the UK).

The interactives in the main hall were really cool (see above). Look into the binoculars and the dinosaurs come to life; showing you what they would have looked like and loved like when they were on earth. I thought this was a really great addition as it is difficult to imagine what these skeletons would’ve looked like roaming the earth so to actually visualise it was pretty mind blowing 🦖🦕

In the museum, there were two rooms that really stood out for me and I actually squealed with excitement when I found them! First, the spirit jar display room! (My favourite museum subject) and my goodness it was the best one I’ve ever seen.

The jars, filled mostly with sea creatures and reptiles and are showcased on shelves from floor to ceiling. What is great is that these could have been in storage or behind closed doors but the Museum have chosen to allow them to be on show, despite a working room being in the centre, so that visitors can experience such a phenomenal collection.

My second favourite gallery was the taxidermy room. If you know me, you know how much I love taxidermy and natural history! The room was different to anything I’ve ever seen before as it explains how taxidermy collections are created.

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Each display case documented a different style of taxidermy including:

  • The reconstruction of extinct animals
  • The skeleton collections
  • The bellows and fur collections
  • Bird skin collections
  • Impression of a fish

As someone who loves taxidermy specimens I think it is so important to understand the processes that go into creating the specimens that you see on display. Breaking things down can help visitors to learn better and I certainly learnt so much from this room. It also supports people’s understanding of how decisions are made for each specimen – what materials can be used, how it can be stored or displayed and what conditions need to be thought about when acquiring natural history objects.

This museum is a really great example of a natural history museum that is a vital educational resources for a variety of audiences. They have spaces in the upper galleries for school groups and I can see why – the place is the perfect space for young visitors and teaching the school curriculum.

Happy museum musings,

Em xo