Monday, March 28, 2011

Change is afoot.

This week we're going to be moving out of our offices, and into some temporary offices. It feels like a really big change, and for most of us it is the first really tangible step towards the redevelopment of the Art Gallery & Museum. Change is most definately afoot. The removal people arrive tomorrow.
Main office at Cecil Higgins Art Gallery

Boxes everywhere.

Staionery cupboard, now empty.

We're surrounded by boxes and empty shelves. And everytime you realise you need a calculator or a paperclip you find they have all been packed already. Luckily the kettle is still available! I'm sure anyone who has moved house recently will know this feeling.
There is a lot of sadness as we leave these old buildings behind. But we are also very excited about the progress we're making, and the fact that building work will be starting soon. I'll be sure to keep you all abrest of developments as the project continues! In the meantime, I've been struck by the volume of odds and ends left in the buildings. Museum folk are possibly not the best at throwing things away. Moving office has been a much needed, and possibly overdue prompt to clear out some of the clutter that has gathered over the years.
A giant key left on empty shelves.

A ladder and a fan ignore each other.

Lots of odd things

Watering can

Watering can with table lamp and giant vinyl clock!

There will be many more big changes to come, and we look forward to them with optimism, excitement and gusto.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Castle Quay Weekender Saturday 19th March – Sunday 20th March

Posters for Castle Q
We are all very excited here about the Castle Quay Weekender happening this weekend in Bedford’s cultural quarter. An entirely volunteer run festival, it is taking over the empty shops that surround the gallery and museum and filling them with art, music and poetry and hopefully lots of people.

We have loved watching the Castle Quay come to life over the last few weeks. With the Theatre of Widdershins filling Castle Lane display cases with puppets, the colourful ‘We are Bedford’ logos everywhere, stripy deckchairs, art installations, sound stages and three new pop up galleries, Castle Quay is looking its best ever.
Castle Quay HQ

All our neighbours in the Castle Quay are involved; our favourite place to get a hot chocolate Pensieri has a Jazz singer, Lady K’s Burlesque Boutique is holding life drawing sessions, the Swan Hotel is exhibiting photos from The Bedford Camera Club and The John Bunyan Museum are offering free guided tours of the Bunyan Meeting site. At Bedford Gallery we will be showing a film by artist Jane Edden on Saturday and on Sunday we are hosting John Hegley’s Animal Alphaboat in the morning and Gardener’s Question Time in the afternoon followed by Curators’ Question Time with the Art Gallery and Museum Curatorial team. However this is just a fraction of what is happening over the weekend. For more information have a look at the We Are Bedford website.

So, please come and visit and get involved, there is so much to see and do and such a great feeling of community spirit that you are bound to have a brilliant time.

Castle Quay HQ

Theatre of Widdershins puppet

Gallery 2 taking shape

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Picture a Museum Day

On Thursday 17th March we are taking part in ‘Picture a Museum Day and we would love it if you did too.

The idea is, that this Thursday museum staff around the world will give you a sneak peek into what goes on behind-the-scenes in their museums by taking photos and posting them on Flickr and Twitter.

The Curatorial staff here are going be posting photos on twitter throughout the day, producing a photo diary of what they are up to.

We would really like it if our visitors got involved too, so if you have a camera or even a camera phone come down to Bedford Gallery and take photographs then share your pictures through the hashtag #museumpics on twitter or in the Flickr group #museumpics.

If you cant make it to the gallery you can follow the event on line by following the hashtag #museumpics on twitter, or if you want to see the goings on here you can follow @chagandbm , @tjperrett or @partridgeo

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Around the Horn

One of the outcomes of the packing project we’re all working on is that it gives us an opportunity to ‘tidy up’ documentation relating to parts of the collection in a way that wouldn’t be possible under normal circumstances. Every now and then, this helps throw new light on old objects and reminds us all just how wonderful the collections housed here really are.

We’ve recently packed a group of objects from Tierra del Fuego, collected by Ernest Augustus Holmested in the 1870s. These include several shell necklaces, harpoon points, eel and fish spears, and a limpet gouge (a tool used to prise limpets off rocks). There’s even a worked bone from a rhea (a large flightless bird), with an old and rather imaginative label that claims it to be a ‘drinking tube made from a human bone’.

Some of the objects from the Holmested collection

A limpet gouge, used to prise limpet shells from rocks
The phrase 'every object tells a story' is used often these days, but in the case of the Holmested collection, we can also say that every object has a journey. And what a journey it's been! After all, it's hard to imagine many places more remote or further afield than this archipelago (which includes Cape Horn) at the very Southern tip of the South American continent. The process of documenting these objects for the packing and doing research for our new displays has helped us to understand how they made their way across the 8,500 miles of ocean separating Bedford from a place once described as being at 'the uttermost end of the earth'

View Larger Map

We've found that some of the objects were originally collected by Robert Whaits, a British missonary who arrived at Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego in 1875, from the native Yaghan people he encountered there. During the 1880's Whaits journeyed from Ushuaia to Keppel Island in the Falklands, where a station had been set up by the South American Missionary Society. Here, Whaits worked with Yaghan people who had been brought to the island from Tierra de Fuego, teaching them metalworking, farming and sheep rearing skills.

Yaghan people of Tierra del Fuego, photographed in the 1890s
It was around this time Whaits met Ernest Holmested, who had travelled to the Falklands via Argentina in 1868. Holmested had founded what became a very successful sheep-rearing business and it seems likely that he met Whaits at Keppel Island, acquiring a number of objects from him.

A South American Missionary Society station in Tierra del Fuego, photographed in the 1890s

We've suspected for some time that Holmested donated items to other museums, and following a bit of digging, we've discovered that he gave around 20 items to the British Museum. You can view them here.

Ernest, meanwhile, settled in Bedford in the 1890's and the remainder of his collection eventually went to The Bedford Modern School Museum (which formed the core of the current museum's collections) following his son's death in 1958.

Our existing relationship with the British Museum has been strengthened recently by their choice of Bedford Gallery as one of only four UK venues for the Toulouse-Lautrec Exhibition. We're currently talking to them about future collaborations and it's interesting to think that there might even be the opportunity one day to borrow their Holmested objects for a display here in Bedford, reuniting the two halves of Ernest's collection. After all, its a much shorter journey than the one the objects embarked on 130 years ago.

by Tom Perrett
Find Tom on Twitter @tjperrett