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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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exhibition

Cockneys in Arcadia : Court Barn Museum

… beautiful Arts and Crafts hedgehogs …

hedgehog button

 

My local Arts and Crafts museum, Court Barn, is in its tenth year. To celebrate this anniversary, it is showcasing CR Ashbee‘s work from his time in Campden. This Romantic idealist uprooted his East End craftsmen and brought them to the Cotswolds in search of a simpler, healthier and more fulfilling life. The experiment only lasted six years but some of his men stayed and the craft legacy lives on in the town. This exhibition curated by CR Ashbee experts, Alan Crawford and Mary Greensted, is a beautiful collection of work and includes pieces not seen by the public before. I particularly liked these set of six enamelled hedgehog buttons from a private collection, c1904.

So, if you are in the North Cotswolds, do check out this wonderful little Arts and Crafts museum in Chipping Campden. The exhibition runs until July 9 and the Court Barn’s website for further information is here.

Creating the Countryside: Compton Verney

… fascinating, amusing and thought provoking …

compton verney
Turquoise Bag in a Tree, Hilary Jack, 2016

 

My favourite gallery space, Compton Verney, has a fascinating exhibition running at the moment which would repay a couple of visits as there is so much to think about. Creating the Countryside: The Rural Idyll Past and Present explores the way in which we create and imagine the countryside, largely as a pastoral idyll very much removed from muddy reality. The Neo-Classical house of Compton Verney itself is set in a “perfect” landscape created by Capability Brown.

Verity Elson‘s thoughtful curation takes us from Gilpin‘s picturesque with a Claude glass through Frank Newbould‘s wartime lithographs of a mythic England to Sony‘s eerie video game of a Shropshire village c. 1984, Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture. Wandering around the rooms, it struck me that the most interesting, incisive modern works were by women, including Hilary Jack‘s Turquoise Bag in a Tree, 2016 (photo at the top of the blog).

I particularly enjoyed Rebecca Chesney‘s commentary on the rural idyll with her two works: Snapshot and Death by Denim. The former is a Farrow & Ball paint chart inspired by her time spent in the Brecon Beacons National Park. She has created some great names for shades such as Ewe 38, Twine Blue and Hedge.  The latter is a fictional collection of ep

denim
Death by Denim, 2015, Rebecca Chesney

hemera based around the tragic death of a lad wearing Italian denim walking gear. (If like me you are occasionally surrounded by Gore-tex bores, you will get the reference … ) Further details of the artist’s work can be found on her website here.

The exhibition runs until 18 June 2017 and is definitely worth a visit.  If you haven’t been to Compton Verney before, I urge you to go.   The exhibition space and park are a delight and make a great day out for both art fiends, nature lovers and families.  There’s a cafe, an adventure playground for children, and new boardwalks and pond dipping around the lake.  Click here to be directed to their website.

Vasa Museet, Stockholm

vasa museum

… brilliant museum built around a C17th war ship …

Well, I could have spent the whole day in the Vasa Museet. This Swedish museum houses the only almost fully intact c17th century ship that has ever been salvaged and it’s an extremely well laid out and thoughtful museum with plenty to see for the casual and more historically minded visitor. There are the finds cases describing life on board and a film detailing history of the modern salvage operation; and there are recreations of the colourful (even gaudy) wooden carvings decorating this Royal ship and contextual models and displays explaining the history surrounding the disaster.

The 64-gun warship Vasa sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. It was simply too tall and too unstable to withstand a powerful gust of wind. It capsized after only 1,300 metres. In a letter to King Gustavus II Adolphus, the Council of the Realm wrote …“she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom …”

I particularly liked the c17th salvage display showing the technique used to bring up the valuable guns. “The diver was entirely clad in leather and had double leather boots. He stood on a platform of lead hanging under the diving bell,” reported a fascinated Italian priest in 1663.

vasa museum diving bell

The recreations of the extraordinary sculptures decorating this royal ship were also fascinating.

seventeenth century sculpture

So, if you are considering a Nordic trip, pick Stockholm! It has a lovely old city centre with lots of Viking gold in the National Museum, great Swedish design, very friendly people – and the finest c17th century warship in the world.

For further information, here’s the link to the Vasa Museet website.

Best of 2016 : 3 books & an exhibition

Looking back over the 32 book reviews I have posted in 2016, I’ve had a brilliant reading year : so much imagination; so much wit and adventure; scenes and characters that linger long after the books close.  If you follow my blog, you will know that I only publish reviews for books I would recommend and so my “Best of 2016” is really ALL my reviews.  Obviously.

However, if someone forced me to narrow it down, I would chose (in no particular order):

The Australian Urban Fantasy,  Vigil by Angela Slatter, for its dazzlingly inventiveness of plot and character combined with smart as a whip one liners.  My original post is here.

The intense, thrilling Nevernight by Fantasy virtuoso, Jay Kristoff, for delving so gloriously into the dark side of the genre.  The full review is here.

The fast paced and scary The Call by Peadar O’Guilin for its kiss-ass heroine and seat of the pants race to the end.  Here’s a link to my review post.

Although I didn’t plan it this way, they all have strong female leads and dark Fantasy backgrounds.  Whether it’s my preference or some 2016 zeitgeist, who knows?

And my very favourite visit of 2016 was to the extraordinarily inspiring Lost Library of John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians, a fascinating exhibition, crammed full of gorgeous exhibits and helpful explanatory notes.  I could have camped out there.  My full review is here.

I started this blog just over a year ago to share my love of books and to create an aide memoire for myself.  It’s great fun to write and I find the quality of my reading (and visiting) has improved with the focus of this blog.   I particularly want to say a big THANKS to Emily at Emily’s Bookshop in Campden for giving me so many ARCs and book suggestions.

Wishing you all a productive and creatively filled 2017.


 

 

 

 

The Pen Museum

… quirky little gem of a museum …

pen-museumA quirky little gem of Birmingham’s industrial history, the Pen museum is a small museum in the Jewellery Quarter run by volunteers.  It is about to re-launch after a Heritage Lottery grant,  however when I visited as many  exhibits as possible seemed to be crammed into one room.  It gave the impression of a rather dusty but fascinating sweet shop.img_1870

Based in a former pen factory , the museum celebrates the pen trade during the 1800s, and the lives of the manufacturers and workers whose expertise placed Birmingham at the centre of this worldwide trade.  A guide showed us how a steel “pen” (the nib) was made: stamped, cut and rolled using traditional machinery.  During my visit I learnt that in the 19th Century, 75% of everything written across the world was with a ‘Birmingham’ pen.  At one time, there were around 100 factories in the Jewellery Quarter area. The development of the steel pen reduced the cost of writing and enabled the spread of literacy throughout the world.

The museum also houses a range of objects associated with the pen trade and the history of writing, including inkwells, escritoires and period retail packaging from all over the world.nibpacket

Well worth an hour of your time.  For further information about the museum and news of their re-launch, visit their website here : penmuseum.org.uk

 

The Essex House Press : Court Barn Museum

… beautiful display of Fine Press illustration …

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This is the third in a series of exhibitions celebrating CR Ashbee and the Court Barn’s collection of Essex House Press books.  The press was started by the arts and crafts designer and architect, CR Ashbee, in 1898 after he took over some of the staff and equipment of William Morris’s  Kelmscott Press which was then closing down.

Like other Private Presses of the time, the Essex House Press was dedicated to fine hand printing in the face of the growing mechanisation of publishing.   Between 1898 and 1910 the Essex House Press produced more than 70 titles with some truly beautiful illustrations, some of which are featured in this lovely little exhibition.

Some of my favourites are here including Paul Woodroffe’s  1906 Frontispiece to duchessThe Flight of the Duchess by Robert Browning.

So, if you are in the North Cotswolds, do check out this wonderful little arts and crafts museum in Chipping Campden.  The exhibition runs until the end of November and the Court Barn’s website for further information is here.

Erasmus Darwin House

A charming museum that carries a delightful punch …

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Lunar Society, I popped into one of my favourite little museums of the Midlands: Erasmus Darwin House opposite Lichfield Cathedral. Erasmus was the grandfather of Charles anda successful doctor, scientist and poet.  This free museum, set in his private house, has a suitably eclectic and very hands-on approach to this c18th polymath.IMG_1460

There’s the Inventions Room where you can play with his Speaking Machine and Canal Lift; the Study with its Evolution Game and a working microscope; and the Exhibition Room where you can dress up as a Georgian.  Great for children and curious adults alike.

For more information about the museum and the events it is running, click HERE.

 

 

Sicily, culture and conquest : British Museum

… intriguing and inspiring wander through this most multicultural of islands … 4002

A gem of an exhibition – just about the right size – tracing the varied history of the Mediterranean’s largest island from its Phoenician and Greek settlers through successive waves of Romans, Muslim Arabs and Africans, Normans, Spanish and eventually the Italians.

As other commentators have said all this open minded cultural mingling is a refreshing change from “the Mafia and Montalbano” cliche that the island now carries.  I was beguiled by the alluring exoticism of the mix of exhibits: a projection of a decorative ceiling, ancient rock art,  a stunning mosaic Madonna. Each one a jewel like the Sicilian oranges described by C12th poet Abd ar-Rahman, who served the court of Roger II, as “blazing fire among the emerald boughs”.

Illustration: A map of Sicily from Al-Idrisi’s Treatise, c AD1300–1500.   Photograph: © The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Until 14 August 2016 : Room 35
£10, Members/under 16s free

Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee

… fascinating  books and doodles make a great browse around one of the C16th’s finest minds …

deeThe Royal College of Physicians holds the largest single collection of John Dee’s books in the world.  This enigmatic Elizabethan was a mathematician, an astrologer and advisor to Queen Elizabeth.   As an occult philosopher, he devoted much of his life to the study of alchemy, divination and Hermetic philosophy and built up one of the finest libraries of 16h century England. Unfortunately, whilst travelling, Dee left his library in the care of his brother-in-law, who sold or “caused (…) to be carried away” most of the books.  A large number passed to a book collector, the Marquis of Dorchester, whose family presented them to the RCP after his death in 1680.

The books displayed here include some of his student text books with lovely annotations and sketches,dee2 including this rather fabulous ship found in the corner of a page of Cicero’s Opera.  Other works show the ingenuity of c16th printing making with foldout paper diagrams in The Elements of Geometrie, Euclid, and a manual on writing in code with “Volvelles” or wheels which still spin around to jumble the letters.  Alongside books from their collection, the RCP have managed to borrow various objects from the British Museum, the Ashmolean, the Science Museum and the Wellcome Institute.   These include John Dee’s obsidian Scrying mirror and crystal ball; and various paintings and engravings of the man.

This is a fascinating exhibition.  It is small yet perfectly curated, crammed full of gorgeous exhibits and helpful explanatory notes.  It is a great browse around one of the C16th’s finest minds and I urge you to go!

There is a great introductory video by the rare books librarian, Katie Birkwood, and some other interesting articles on the RCP’s own website which you can access here.

The Royal College of Physicians is a short walk from Great Portland St Tube station.  The show continues until 29 July 2016, Monday-Friday only, 9am-5pm. FREE ENTRY

 

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