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Fly Girl's Cabinet of Curiosities

curated by Thornton Rigg

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museum

Snowshill Manor

… fascinating collections and beautiful gardens …

Snowshill Cotswolds

Snowshill Manor is rather like a over stuffed toy box.  There are simply too many things, too many rooms, for anyone to take in on a single visit. This is not a criticism but take my advice, don’t try a studious approach and examine every last cabinet and corner, your brain will start to protest and you’ll be there for hours. Instead roam around, ignoring much and stopping only where your fancy wills. Believe me, you’ll thank me after the 21 rooms over 3 floors crammed full of THINGS.

Charles Paget Wade was rich and whimsical.  His eclectic collections are theatrical and fascinating. There’s the gloomy, atmospheric Green Room stuffed with Samurai armour and the attic of A Hundred Wheels, full of carts and bicycles; a small landing full of Dolls’ Houses and Ann’s bedroom of C17th furniture.

Cotswolds Arts and Crafts Garden

One of my favourite architects, Baillie Scott, designed the small and intricate Arts and Crafts style garden which emphasizes garden rooms over sweeping lawns.  As Wade put it : “a delightful garden can be made … by using effects of light and shade, vistas, steps to changing levels, terraces, walls, fountains, running water, an old well head or statue in the right place, the gleam of heraldry or a domed garden temple.” This pretty much describes the formal part and there are also orchards and vegetable plots to prowl around. Wade’s collections spill out over the gardens with a model village, Wolf Cove, set around a pond; agricultural machinery in a byre; and statues, clocks and inscriptions artfully positioned to maximum effect. My favourite garden historian, Tim Mowl, warns it is  “outrageously, loveably twee, a fantasy game of mock medievalry … carefully contrived nookery … ” and, in my view, is therefore the perfect place to spend a Summer’s afternoon.

Snowshill is a National Trust property. For more details about opening times and special events, here’s their website.

Quotations from : Historic Gardens of Gloucestershire by Timothy Mowl. Tempus Publishing, 2002.

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.

A Griffin, a Fire Demon and a Monster.

… C17th extravaganza …

ommegriffinThere’s a side to C17th Europe which fascinates me: the Courtly emphasis on masquing and processions.  These theatrical displays employed the finest painters, writers and architects, cost fabulous amounts and, being largely ephemeral, can only be caught via hasty sketches, terse descriptions and the occasional commissioned painting or engraving.

In London’s V&A we are lucky enough to have The Ommeganck in Brussels on 31 May 1615: The Triumph of Archduchess Isabella. It was commissioned by the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella to celebrate an Ommegang. This was an important civic procession honouring Isabella as Queen of the procession and the scene shows the ten pageant cars that formed the most spectacular element of the parade.

These must have been the equivalent of the big budget movie extravaganzas of their time with fantastical beasts, special effects and royalty on display.

There’s huge unicorns and griffins made from wickerwork and painted canvas; special effects like this demon who holds a fire club, a fizzing hollow reed packed with charcoal and gunpowder;

ommefire

and a scary backwards monster waving a bladder (?) to amuse the crowds.

ommeback

The V&A has a marvellous interactive programme of the work where you can zoom in, roam around and read details about various elements of this large painting.  The work and the computer display can be found in the Europe 1600-1715 Galleries but can be overlooked as it’s in a low lit corner.

There’s another scene of this festival in the Prado.  It appears they got the boring religious procession whereas we’ve got the lighter side of the affair. Huzzah.

A dragon, a skull and a king from the Ashmolean.

The Ashmolean in Oxford is such a gem of a museum with wide ranging collections and an exciting schedule of temporary exhibitions.  It’s large enough to get lost in yet small enough to be friendly.  Since its renovation in 2009, the updated displays and thoughtful curation in the main galleries make it a pleasure for children as well as adults to browse around.  However I always seem to end up in the quieter, old style galleries of  “things in glass cabinets”.  Away from the crowds, you can find some wonderful pieces and here are three I would like to share …charles-ring

The museum has a very special finger ring collection.   Most of these were originally owned by C.D.E. Fortnum (of Fortnum and Mason) who presented over eight hundred to the Ashmolean and include this beautiful miniature of a rather world weary Charles I.

In the next gallery, there is a display of timepieces amongst which are a couple of small skull watch cases.  Popular the C17th, this one is inscribed with various Memento Mori latin phrases; my favourite, which I hadn’t come across before is : While you live, live to live.  The hinged lower jaw opens to reveal the dial. ash-skull

In the middle of a Renaissance picture gallery, and therefore easily missed, is a cabinet of old gaming boards including this gorgeous Italian piece from the c15th.  No explanation on how to play it though …gameboardash

I often think it would be great to produce a regularly changing “I-spy” booklet for museums to get people wandering about abit more … what do you think?

If you would like to know more about the Ashmolean, here’s their 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 Coffin Works : Newman Bros.

… a delightful slice of manufacturing history …

newmanbros-025-1-469x1024When Joyce Green, the last owner, shut the door on “the Coffin Works” in 1998, her dearest wish was for the place to become a museum and, after a 15 year campaign to save it, you can now wander around this virtually untouched factory and imagine what it would have been like to work here.

The enthusiastic and informative guide explained in the Stamp Room that the factory didn’t make actually make coffins at all but the furniture, the metal fittings, which decorated the wooden boxes.  He demonstrated how the metal was stamped and cut into shape with bench and drop presses whilst we marvelled at the dust, noise and total lack of any safety guards.

Upstairs in the Shroud Room, the lines of sewing machines were still left waiting for the women who made the “frillings” for the inside of the coffins and samples of the silk shrouds were laid out on display, including a rather natty one in the claret and blue Aston Villa football club.img_1877

With their telegraphic address as “Shroud, Birmingham”, Newman Brothers was a leader in its field in the c19th and c20th and provided coffin furniture for famous people such as Winston Churchill; however the business slowly declined due to the increasing use of plastic furniture and changing tastes in funerals.

To me, the most delightful room of all was Joyce Green’s office.   This woman started out as an office junior in 1947, methodically bought up all the shares and eventually owned the business – a remarkable achievement for the time.  She was obviously a tremendous character and it’s because of her vision, we can stroll around this factory today.img_1881

Newman Brothers is in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham and further details of opening times and exhibitions can be found at their website here.

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

 

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