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Christine and Nicola Trowell

Aspire Partner Seminar – Tate Britain, Friday 1st June 2018

Tate Britain hosted a full day seminar involving all the partners in the five year project, Aspire,  surrounding John Constable’s 1831 painting, ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’, and its journey round the UK.

Salisbury Museum was represented by Adrian Green, Louise Tunnard, Nicola Trowell (Aspire Trainee), and later in the day Katy England, and exhibition stewards Chris Frost and Chris Mason.  Getting its priorities right, the Tate first served a buffet lunch in the elegant Grand Saloon of sandwiches and salads, which gave everyone the opportunity to circulate, renew acquaintances among the Tate staff, meet representatives from the other centres and look at the two screens showing a continuous film of scenes from all the locations, including, of course, our own contemporary shot of the water meadows from Constable’s viewpoint with the sheep behaving very nicely.

The first session was open discussion, chaired by Caroline Collier, around four topics, the first being the Aspire Vision, the aim of which had been to equate Constable with Turner as the major figure in 19th century British landscape painting, and to bring new audiences to view the iconic painting.  The painting’s first location was the national Museum of Wales, Cardiff, and it was also shown at the visitor centre of Oriel y Parc, St David’s Pembrokeshire, where it caused great interest as visitors to the National Park, had not expected to see such a painting there, and queried if it was the REAL thing, but returned in their thousands for another view.  Salisbury had the advantage of being the actual spot where it was created, which made for a powerful experience, and the reproduction in Lego brought in a whole new audience.  The Scottish National Gallery was the only other partner to pursue the Lego theme, and removed a painting to accommodate it, which caused complaints by regular visitors to the gallery, but that was resolved by putting the Lego in the gallery’s foyer.

The second topic was Partnership Working, with everyone in agreement that it was successful, partly as five was a manageable number with which to work together.  Ipswich and Colchester felt they had moved to a new level of knowledge and new skills, after having had hard work convincing their Council of the worth of having the painting.

Thirdly, Workforce Participation was the subject, and it was widely agreed that the partnership had shown how to work in different situations, with different colleagues, with the benefit of others’ expertise, and all learnt from one special painting.

The last section of this session was devoted to how, over the five years of the project, changes have occurred in staffing, building works, organisational priorities, etc. and what lessons could be learnt from running a five year programme.

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After a cup of tea and biscuit the second session was a panel discussion, again under four headings, with representatives from each partnership giving a short account beginning with Star Works and Tourism. Ipswich and Colchester Museums, based at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, felt they were rather off the beaten track of tourists, so they needed the local community to visit regularly , and having a ‘star work’ helped this aim. The Welsh National Park was in agreement with this, and said how much the painting had caused conversation and brought in locals.  Salisbury said to isolate a star work from its usual surroundings made it shine.

In the marketing section Tate said the ambitious project had exceeded all targets, and all participating had done well in bringing in new audiences.  Salisbury said to help achieve this all schools in the area had been sent flyers and the Lego had brought many families in as they had actually been engaged in putting in the tiles.

Under Access Training there had been Visual Awareness sessions headed by the Tate.  Cardiff had done and continued to do work with the visually impaired and had a guide dog blogger.

The fourth subject in this session was the all important subject of curating Constable, which had been organised differently by each partner for their own particular venue.  As Ipswich has a collection of early Constable paintings of his home ground, these were grouped with the Salisbury Cathedral painting.  Scotland teamed it with works by William McTaggart, 1835-1910, Scottish landscape painter, who as Constable was to Suffolk and Salisbury, McTaggart was to Kintyre.   Tate Britain has taken it back to its original Royal Academy hanging of 1831 and it has one wall to itself, but Turner either side of it.

The next move was to view Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows in its shiny new frame and hanging in splendid isolation, but with the Turners nearby.  The meeting then shifted to the Clore part of the building for a luxurious celebratory tea, with champagne and a welcoming address from the Tate Britain Director and a representative from the Art Fund.

The final session of the day was in the Clore Auditorium and a short film of the reframing of the painting.  The Tate’s framer, Adrian Moore, and two young members of staff were in the film and present for the discussion after.  It was decided to reframe the painting as the previous frame was in the style of the early 18th century, so would not have been what Constable himself would have used.  The current frame is a design that would have been familiar to Constable in 1831.  The film showed the plain wooden frame, the mouldings being attached and the gold leaf applied, a lengthy and painstaking business.

Three of the four Aspire Trainees, including our own Nicola Trowell, then spoke of how the training had helped them further their careers, and all felt the educational part rewarding.

After a summing up, we were invited to enjoy ourselves at Late at the Tate.  The Tate’s young people groups were in the galleries with creative workshops, music, etc., Aspire themed.  We had been given vouchers for the street café, which had opened in the Tate’s café, and we relaxed with a delicious supper and glass of wine outside on the terrace.

It was a wonderful day, and brilliantly organised by the Tate, but of course we couldn’t leave without saying, ‘Hello’ to our very own Rex Whistler’s self portrait which hangs at the entrance to the restaurant he decorated so beautifully.

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