Back in 2014 we were fortunate in securing a National Heritage Lottery Fund award as part of their Collecting Cultures project. This gave us funding to connect and support museum collections throughout the county of Wiltshire in a variety of ways. We could add to collections, perhaps filling gaps where creativity was unrepresented, provide conservation, training and support for museum staff and volunteers and generally connect with our museum network in a way that would build strong links for the future. We hoped to create a legacy that would reflect the creative influence of our county.
The journey has taken five years to complete and we have recently submitted our final evaluation and report to mark the journey’s end. And what a journey it has been; we have learnt so much and connected with so many different people and organisations along the way, it has been an absolute pleasure to be part of it.
Our focus has been primarily on the creators who have associations with our county and the chart below will give an indication of the mediums represented and objects subsequently purchased.
It would have been easy to concentrate on fine artists alone, but we quickly realised that there were many different creative industries within the county, so we tried to represent as many as possible. Generally, the work purchased reflected the twentieth century and mid-century design in particular. It was a time of great change as WWII ended and new ideas about art and design began to emerge, some of our objects purchased certainly reflect those changes. The whole project has been supported by accredited Wiltshire museums and we need to especially thank Salisbury Museum, Swindon Museum and Art Gallery, and Chippenham Museum, all supported by a range of organisations and individuals associated with the creative industries and museum service.
Many of our purchases were made direct from the makers and this has led to detailed background knowledge and provenance to accompany the objects, as well as developing strong ongoing relationships that will lead, in some instances, to the deposit of an artist’s archive at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. These archives will be available to all for further study. For some more expensive items, the purchase became a joint effort as partners applied for matched funding from larger organisations, making such additions to collections possible.
Inspired by and supporting this project a wide range of activities and events have been delivered increasing access to, knowledge of and participation in heritage. These have been enjoyed by over 47,000 participants. A mapping project was produced to help museums work together, supporting purchases and collecting policies so there is less overlap and more efficient working. 105 individuals have attended a series of training courses for museum staff and volunteers, covering a variety of topics that will help make their own museums and heritage organisations as sustainable as possible. Exhibitions have been held across the county highlighting newly acquired material and encouraging responses from the audiences and other artists and creators.
This wide-ranging project created the landscape for other activities to grow, raising the profile of creatives across the county and it has been wonderful to focus on this type of contemporary art and give it recognition. Many makers enjoyed the new-found connection with heritage and were inspired to create new works.
Please allow me an indulgence to choose my favourite object purchased during the project; this is a painting by Wilfred Gabriel de Glehn of the countryside surrounding Stratford Tony, where he lived. He was a painter previously unrepresented in a main collection in Wiltshire and his impressionistic work is an important addition. His association and friendship with John Singer Sargent resulted in many painting trips abroad, especially to France and Italy, where they were also accompanied by de Glehn’s wife, Jane Emmet. The painting is now part of the collection at Salisbury Museum and I hope that we can add more works in the future by this accomplished artist.
We are fortunate to have had such a unique opportunity to connect with each other in this way and are so pleased that we have been able to put new collecting practices in place to reflect the legacy of the project. The work does not stop here, it is the start of so much more and we look forward to showing you future collections and acquisitions that reflect the creativity of the county and its people.
October saw a wonderful new project associated with Lacock Unlocked, and the chance for some of our staff and volunteers to work with Wiltshire People First, a group for adults with learning disabilities, and a professional photographer Jamie, to understand about photography; how to use a high-quality digital SLR camera and take good quality photographs. The three workshops followed different patterns and allowed the members to learn about different aspects of photography, experiment with picture taking and be creative. The project will finish with an exhibition of three images taken and chosen by each member; those which they feel are the most successful photographs they took. The exhibition will take place on Friday 28th November in the Manger Barn at Lacock, and I would recommend anyone who is able to go and see what brilliant pictures have been taken and the improvements made throughout the three weeks of the workshops.
The project fitted with Lacock Unlocked perfectly as it allowed us to work with a wider community of people and having Lacock as the venue was great as we could all imagine ourselves in the shoes of William Henry Fox Talbot, a pioneer in photography who owned Lacock Abbey in the 19th century and developed the first negative image actually inside the abbey itself.
The first day of the project, held on a chilly autumnal day in early October, started with a “welcome” session where the group members got a chance to meet Rachael, the National Trust staff member helping lead the project, Terry and Ally from the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, David and Ronnie, our two volunteers, and Jamie McDine, the photographer. We also were able to meet Julie and Angie from Wiltshire People First. After some introductions, we went to the Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock, where Roger Watson, the curator, spent some time with the group explaining all about William Henry Fox Talbot and his early developments with photography. He showed us a replica of the camera obscura which Fox Talbot had invented, and explained how Fox Talbot’s hard work eventually led him to produce the negative image which became so important in the success of photography.
With the help of our Sheldon 6th Form volunteer Laura Bailey and our work experience students we have been making great inroads into our vast collection of uncatalogued postcards from the early 20th century. The aim is to give each an entry on our electronic catalogue alongside a digital image to enable easy access for the public via the online site Wiltshire Treasures (see link at end of this article). At present we have over 4,000 postcards catalogued. I thought it would be interesting to discover a little more about the history of postcards in this country and just why they became so popular during this period.
As part of one of our current Local Studies projects to house colour transparencies which the History Centre has been acquiring over many years, we are constantly trying to identify scenes and buildings that we hold no additional details for. This calls for a little detective work, perseverance, and sometimes even a little luck!
We are happy to welcome volunteers who kindly spend many a valuable hour with us working on various projects and collections. One such volunteer was happening by whilst I was looking at some unlocated railway photographs. He was fairly sure he recognised the railway as the Kilmesdon Railway, situated near Radstock in Somerset. With the help of our scanner to enlarge the image and were able to confirm that the set of images were indeed those of the Kilmserdon Railway.
On another occasion some volunteers from Salisbury were able to put names to the buildings contained within photographs of Salisbury. Another willing volunteer paid us a visit to help identify railway signal boxes and also gave us some helpful information leading to another two volunteers joining us to help index railway plans.
We try to make use of a myriad of local resources such as the wonderful and comprehensive Swindon Collection on flickr from the Local Studies section of Swindon Library. Their site helped us identify the Bakers Arms as being located on the Beechcroft Road in Upper Stratton.
This collaborative teamwork exists not only between colleagues here at the History Centre, but also with the volunteers who give up their time on our behalf. I hope this blog illustrates just some of the many reasons why we couldn't do without them!
How often do we discover old photographs or family albums tucked away or which have recently come into our possession but which frustratingly contain little or no information about their subjects? It is possible to discover more about these images than meets the eye, if you know what to look out for. I hope that the following suggestions will be helpful when looking at clothing but the most important element is to look carefully, analysing each small detail. Everything within the photo is a clue to help us in the process of indentifying our ancestors.
The photographic process developed through the nineteenth century and must have had a tremendous effect on a family, as they began making up their first family albums and displaying images of each other. The type of pose can be an indication of period; the 1850s and 1860s tend to include a full length figure, sometimes seated, but by the 1870s the camera was moving closer to the person, perhaps producing a three quarter length image and including a prop, such as a lectern or a chair. By the 1890s the head and shoulders shot became more common. A ‘vignette’ where the background is white and the head and shoulders are almost oval in shape is also typical of the 1890s.