We look forward to more in this series of fascinating tours behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, please remember there are other You Tube presentations about the museum collections. Just use your search engine (eg Google) and type in Salisbury Museum You Tube. Click here for another example.
Tucked away in a cabinet entitled ‘Hunters and Gatherers’ in The Wessex Gallery of Salisbury Museum is a rather innocuous object, a white patinated handaxe of a type classified as bout-coupé, dating to about 50,000 years ago (Fig 1). It was found beneath the bones of a mammoth at Futcher’s Pit (for extracting clay) at Fisherton Anger in 1874.
In archaeology, a bout-coupé is a type of handaxe that is used as a ‘style marker’ of the Neanderthal Mousterian culture of the Middle Palaeolithic which occurred between 100-35 thousand years ago. Bout-coupé handaxes are defined as being roughly symmetrical, cordiform (shaped like a heart), with a straight or slightly convex butt and two clear angles at the junctions of the base and sides. This type of hand axe is geographically restricted to Britain and to some sites in Northern France. Such sites are of national importance in understanding hominin colonisation and settlement processes. This particular handaxe was therefore made by a Neanderthal and is the only evidence we have for Neanderthals in the Salisbury area.
I was reminded of this this week (beginning 13th April, 2020) when I was listening to a programme on BBC Radio 4, ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects – The story of the Olduvai Handaxe’ (Fig 2), which was being described by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.
Found in the Olduvai Gorge in 1931 by Louis Leakey, and crafted of a green volcanic lava called phonolite, this handaxe represents a tradition of tool-making which began about 1.6 million years ago.
MacGregor asked the rhetorical question, “When you go on holiday, what do you take with you” and answered it by saying that for most people it would be – most importantly – a toothbrush, followed somewhat further down the list by excess baggage. However, he pointed out, that for much of human history the only object one would really have needed was a stone handaxe. For over a million years this was literally ‘the cutting edge of technology’, It was the ‘Swiss Army knife of the Stone Age, being used for cutting skin and meat, for scraping flesh and even for woodworking.
MacGregor commented that he was struck by how close handaxes were to the size and shape of the human hand and asked Sir James Dyson, an expert in ergonomic design, for his views. Dyson commented that he was struck by the fact that the Olduvai handaxe is not a very practical implement; it is slightly too large to fit into the hand and, having a cutting edge all the way around, would be difficult to use without incurring injury. He suggested therefore that this particular handaxe may have been made as a status symbol perhaps to attract mating partners, or indicating power. The Olduvai handaxe may even have been a purely decorative object. As an object of undoubted beauty, does it represent the beginnings of what we call ‘art’?
It is known that humans spread out of Africa and that the makers of handaxes were the first humans to spread across Africa into Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Handaxes therefore reflect the first great spread of humans and a way of life in which we recognize the beginnings of humankind.
Handaxes were first being made in Britain some 600,000 years ago and were still being used by Neanderthals only 40,000 years ago. As I said earlier, Salisbury Museum’s bout-coupé handaxe dates from about 50,000 years ago. No other humanly-made object has ever been manufactured over such a long period and, before the 20th century, no other object has spread over such a wide geographical area. One mystery is how these traditions of manufacture were passed on from one generation to the next over such huge distances and vast lengths of time.
One clue is derived from modern hospital scanning equipment. From 2013 archaeologists have been using techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) to scan the brains of expert flint knappers as they were engaged in shaping such stones. It was found that the same areas of the brain were activated as are involved in speech production. Moreover, the overlap is greater the more sophisticated the toolmaking techniques are. Thus, there was little overlap when modern-day flint knappers were making stone tools using the oldest known techniques, dated back to 2.5 million years ago, known as the ‘Oldowan technology’. However, when knappers used a more sophisticated approach, known as Acheulean technology and dating to as much as 1.75 million years ago, the parallels between toolmaking and language became more evident, Symmetrical handaxes, such as the bout-coupé from Fisherton would have required considerable planning and skill.
So the existence of stone handaxes may reflect the emergence of the ability of early humans to communicate in order to exchange ideas and plan, as well as merely to gossip and form ‘society’. With all these new skills Man was no longer tied to his immediate environment; travel became possible and, as Man moved northwards so the first Britons evolved. Early Man arrived in Southern Europe just under one million years ago and in Britain about 500,000-600,000 years ago.
I became intrigued by the stone slips, found with numerous skeletons, which are identified as ‘bracers’ used by archers to protect the inside of their wrists from the lash of the bowstring. My wife and I have both been told separately by archers that the bracers will not work because the string will catch behind the near end of the stone. Intrigued and persuaded by their comments, I investigated.
We have seen three designs: one with two holes, three examples (Figa 1,2,3) one hole at each end and one with six holes, three at each end Fig 4, both in Salisbury Museum, and one with four holes, two at each end, in Devizes Museum. Internet research revealed similar ‘bracers’ and some with even more holes, some of which were filled with rivets. The only one we have seen that might be in situ is with the “Amesbury Archer”, and that one might be on the outside of his arm and is associated with a large pin. Once again, internet research revealed that others have been found on the outside of the forearm, which is not the place for a wrist guard. From the outside of the display cases, we cannot see any sign of wear (witness mark) around the holes that might have resulted from movement of a cord or thong.
One must be careful not to read too much into the position of artefacts in graves. They can be moved and/or they might have been placed in the grave without reference to their function in life. Indeed a second bracer is near the “Amesbury Archer’s” feet. The “Stonehenge Archer” might have been buried with his ‘bracer’ in place but his grave had been badly damaged by animals and the photo does not show where the bracer was found.
For a bracer to be effective it must deflect the bowstring without snagging it, as this would disturb the arrow’s release and deflect the arrow. It must be easy to fit single-handedly, be comfortable and non-encumbering.
I have made simulations in wood of both the two and four-holed versions. It is easy to devise suitable means of attachment using a simple loop of string but I needed a helper to put it on. The two hole version stands up and snags the bowstring most of the time. The four-holed version fitted more snugly to my wrist but it still snagged the bowstring far too often. Both types protected my wrist effectively, most of the time but not often enough. I received string lash to my wrist when the bracer snagged the bowstring and to my thumb and the fletching cut my top knuckle. If this were my bracer, I would make a better one. In particular, I would want some kind of glove or mitten to protect my thumb and knuckle; which seems to be an impractical modification to the bracer as normally shown, Fig 5 The example with the Stonehenge archer is so small it would provide little or no protection. In short, used as shown in Fig 5 would be inconvenient, useless and an encumbrance.
Protection might be provided in numerous ways, e.g. by binding the arm with a leather sheet or sleeve. In this case, the stone slip might have been used as a fastener, rather like a cleat, and/or a spreader/stiffener to stop the leather from creasing. This could explain finding them on the outside of the arm. It might also explain the absence of wear in the holes, since it would be rather static. The Amesbury Archer’s pin is unexplained. Clearly, the thumb and knuckle guards could be incorporated with the sleeve; this construction would also have helped to keep the sleeve taut.
I have no explanation for the six-holed version, there seems to be no advantage in having the extra holes. However, some multi-hole ‘bracers’ have rivets closing the holes so, maybe, the extra holes were ornamental or perhaps it was a two hole version later modified. Possibly, some ‘bracers’ were purely ornamental; there are examples of such developments, e.g. officers’ epaulets which were once protection from downwards sword cuts and the small silver shield that was worn by army officers on a silver chain around the neck is a vestigial breastplate.
Clearly, all of this is speculation based on incomplete evidence and looking from outside the display cabinets. Of the various options proposed above, the hand guard plus sleeve with a buckle/tensioner/stiffener seems to give the best design for the equipment and is within the capabilities of Neolithic people. Which raises the question “Why use stone, why not wood?” I suggest that making a flat wood version rather than using flat slate or similar stone would have been more difficult and a round stick would have got in the way. Of course, all of this is speculation and could well be wrong! All we can only ever say is that this or that explanation is consistent with known facts; of course, if it is inconsistent, it is wrong.
For a more information see:
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008, pp. 109-140
‘Bracers or Bracelets? About the Functionality and Meaning of Bell Beaker Wrist-guards’ by HARRY FOKKENS, YVONNE ACHTERKAMP, and MAIKEL KUIJPERS1
The Bell Beaker bracers, or wrist-guards, are traditionally thought to have functioned as archery equipment, protecting the arm against the sting of the bowstring. Their position on the body is therefore thought to have been on the inside of the lower arm. Through analysis of the position in which wrist-guards are found, we have come to the conclusion that they were, however, more often than not fastened to the outside of the arm, which leads us to consider a range of new possible uses and meanings for the bracers. With combined information from archaeological and ethnographic surveys we have come to think of the stone wrist-guard as an artefact that was associated with a martial, ideologically-laden activity in the Bell Beaker culture.
It may be seen online.
My major comments on this work are given below, they state:
“The surprising conclusion of our survey (Of the positions of “bracers” in Neolithic graves.) is that, while the majority of the bracers were indeed positioned on the lower arm, generally the left arm, they had been worn on the outside. —- only eight out of 30 examples were located on the inside of the arm, with 17 definitely on the outside. Even if we leave — the position that is hardest to interpret – out of the equation, still c. 60% are positioned on the outside of the arm. That was, in fact, wholly unexpected and is difficult to explain as evidence for a functional position. It is also clear that this position on the outside of the wrist is not exclusive, so both a functional and a non-functional or ornamental position are possible, although the majority appear to be ornamental.”
I suggest that it is wrong to suppose that the functional position must be on the inside of the arm. It seems to me that that they are the fastener for the wrist guard and therefore the outside of the wrist is their functional position. So why were some found on the inside? For that, I have no good answer, perhaps movement of the bracer occurred after death. For example, the arm may have withered allowing the bracer to slip round during the burial ritual.
Another article from Keith Rodger, or, as he describes it “blog fodder”! And how welcome it is!
That lovely pub sign on display in the cafe corridor of the museum has come under more scrutiny (see earlier article ‘Good To See’ 4 February). This time, it is the ship itself….
Pub Sign: Some observations by Keith Rodger
Salisbury Museum has a recently added sign on exhibition advertising a pub called “The Ship”. The sign, which unsurprisingly depicts a ship, is hanging in the corridor leading to the Café. It is supposed to date from the 17th Century and the form of the ship would seem to be consistent with that date.
The ship is shown to carry 60 guns as it main armament. The shape of the hull and sail plan are typical of the 17th Century. Because inter-ship fighting was predominantly by boarding until the 16th Century, Tudor warships (Carracks) had high fore and stern castles. As guns became more widely adopted, the forecastles became redundant and they were reduced in height to improve ship handling. This development lead to the Galleon with a high stern castle and almost no forecastle. During the 17th Century, as manoeuvring increased in importance, the stern castle was also lowered reducing the windage and improving the handling further. At about this time the tactic of ships fighting in lines developed leading to the development of the line of battle ship. Such a ship is shown in our pub sign. The blue ensign flown by our ship does not show the saltire of Scotland, which is also consistent with a date in the 17th Century prior to the unification of Scotland with England.
During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) the English fleet became too large to be managed effectively by one admiral. To facilitate command and control, the fleet was divided into the Red, Blue and White squadrons each under its own admiral, with the red being the most senior and the white the most junior. For the abortive attack on Cadiz, the English fleet had four squadrons. The central squadron was commanded by the Lord High Admiral (Lord Howard) who flew a plain red flag. The admiral commanding the leading formation (the van) flew a blue flag and the rear most flew a white flag. The fourth squadron transported the soldiers for the actual attack and its flag is irrelevant here.
Later the naval ranks of Admiral, Vice Admiral and Rear Admiral were derived from this arrangement. The admiral’s personal flag was flown from the main mast of his ship, the “Flag ship” and its form varied over time. Ships flew flags corresponding to that or their commanding officer, these became the red, blue, and white ensigns we have today. Over time, the seniorities associated with the colours changed so we cannot tell the seniority of the blue admiral at the time the pub sign was made. Furthermore, by this time, each squadron had an admiral, vice admiral and rear admiral.
Ranks of admiral in the Royal navy are not easy to understand but make sense in terms of the three squadrons that comprised the fleet. Nelson’s promotions are an example: first he was made a rear Admiral of the blue, the lowest admiral, then he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue and then, at sea on his way to Trafalgar, he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the White. In the middle of the 19th Century, the colours were removed from the rankings and the ensigns given their current meaning, ie white for the Royal navy, Red for the Mercantile marine and blue for the Royal Navy Fleet Auxiliaries. Ensigns defaced by having some device added to the blue or red areas are used by a number of privileged organisations such as Trinity House, which has four galleons on a red ensign or the Metropolitan Police Force (MPF), which has a blue ensign defaced with the badge of the MPF.
Next time you are in the back corridor, have a look at the pub sign. Have I missed something? I did not see an admiral’s personal flag flying but I will certainly look more carefully next time. It would have been flown on the main mast; its form would depend on the year and might date the picture more closely.
At least half a dozen things I never knew here! Thank you Keith!
Keith has long since sent an amendment to his original account: “I got my ensigns in a furl. The “Blue Ensign” at the stern should not be showing the Red Cross of St Patrick in the 17th Century. So I fear one can not use the ensign to date the picture.”
Death of the Stonehenge Archer: A discussion by Keith Rodger
The skeleton of a Neolithic or early Bronze Age man, dated to about 2300 BC, of about 25 years of age, was found buried in the ditch surrounding Stonehenge. He is known as the “Stonehenge Archer” because of where he was buried and he was buried with a stone bracer. His grave had been significantly disturbed by animals; neither one fibula (the lesser shinbone), nor his feet were found. Otherwise, the skeleton was in good condition.
He had been shot to death with arrows; three stone arrowheads were found in the region of his chest and witness marks on his bones testify to a fourth arrow. It is possible that he was hit by more arrows that have not left marks on the bones. None of his wounds was to his front.
Of the four arrows, two did not penetrate his ribs. This is consistent with them being shot at long range and may have been the first hits. Although not immediately mortal, these wounds are likely to have reduced his mobility, which may have permitted his assailants to close the range. A third arrow passed between two ribs but the depth of penetration is not known. The fourth and presumably final arrow entered the victim’s back and passed through the top of the heart or its major blood vessels; this would have been quickly fatal.
In the following I discuss reasons for his killing, which is by no means unique, and choice of burial site, which is. Five possible reasons have been proposed for his killing: viz sacrifice, ritual murder, execution, warfare and fracas. The discussion will be guided by “Occam’s razor” that one should not elaborate assumption beyond necessity.
The first three are, in their own ways, rituals and should therefore have been repeated. However, this case seems to be unique in that only one such burial has been found in the ditch around Stonehenge. Of course, there may be or have been others that are undiscovered but, using the ‘razor’, we should not assume evidence that we do not have. On that basis, these will be discussed no further.
Warfare also seems unlikely. If he had been an attacker, surely he would have been left to rot on the plain or even mutilated. Had he been a defender, he would have been among the glorious dead and given a more elaborate funeral. Of course, it is possible that burial in the ditch was some kind of ritual that was appropriate for a killed enemy on the one hand or a gallant defender on the other. (See note 1 below) Once again, the ‘razor’ suggest that we should discount both since they need additional assumptions.
This leaves fracas. Assuming a fight between local men, there may have been good reason for hiding the corpse and burial is an obvious choice. However, Salisbury plain consists of a thin covering of turf on chalk and a newly dug grave would leave an obvious white patch. The ditch around Stonehenge at that time however would have been white and a newly dug grave less obvious. Perhaps that is why he was put there. His missing feet and fibula seem to have disappeared after burial rather than removed as part of the burial rites, eg to stop his corpse walking and haunting his killers. These losses might be due to animals, in which case birds removing partly fleshed bones from the surface would seem to be the most likely since mammals would have dug for more, or they could have been lost by erosion. Either explanation would suggest a rather shallow grave so that the bones became exposed, consistent with the hypothesis of fracas. Otherwise, they may have been broken up during the grave’s disturbance by animals and decayed. The distribution of his known injuries is consistent with an ambush and pursuit.
As Sherlock Holmes should have said, “Eliminate the possible and what is left ought to be the most plausible.”. Five possible scenari have been considered and four rejected via Occam’s razor, leaving the fifth, fracas, as the most plausible but not necessarily correct scenario: readers and visitors should make up their own explanation. I hope mine will provoke thought, provide other ‘Engagement Volunteers” with useful ideas and that William of Occam has not become giddy rotating in his grave.
Note 1 It has been suggested that he did receive an elaborate funeral, gave goods consisting of the arrow heads that killed him and the bracer that he was (presumably) wearing do not suggest an elaborate funeral to me; rather more a disposal with minimum fuss.
Note 2 It is interesting to point out how technology has improved. Initially carbon dating of the corpse required the whole of his left femur (thighbone) was destroyed to yield sufficient carbon for analysis. Later a small hole was drilled in the right femur to provide sufficient material for a more precise date. The left femur is a replica, as can be seen from the difference in colour.
I have written before about how I find it astonishing the extent to which my previous careers as a research scientist and science (chemistry) teacher interdigitate with my post-retirement role as an Engagement Volunteer here at the museum.
Such an occasion occurred again a fortnight ago as I was attending the Salisbury Playhouse production of ‘Breaking The Code’, concerning the life and work of the codebreaker, Alan Turing. I attended this out of interest following a recent visit to Bletchley Park with Sarum U3A. Also, last year, whilst on a P&O cruise to the Baltic, I attended a series of five ship-board lectures on Bletchley Park (or ‘Station X’ ) by a guest speaker who is a Guide there.
Partway through the second half of the play it was mentioned
that Turing’s colleague at Bletchley Park, Dillwyn Knox (‘Dilly’) had had a
homosexual relationship with the author and biographer, Lytton Strachey. As a
scientist, I’d never heard of Lytton Strachey until his portrait was exhibited
in the ‘Henry Lamb – Out of the Shadows’ exhibition at Salisbury Museum last
year. This left me wondering how Dilly Knox had come to meet Lytton Strachey.
‘Google’ helped me
out by informing me that he was the brother of the crypotographer, Oliver
Strachey. Oliver Strachey had been in the Government Code and Cypher School between
the Wars and in 1934, together with Hugh Foss, he broke the Japanese naval
attaché machine cipher. In
World War II, he was at Bletchley Park,
heading the ISOS section deciphering various messages on the Abwehr
network involved with turned German agents (part of the Double Cross system).
Another such occasion occurred last week when I was fortunate enough to be ‘on shift’ when one gallery of the current ‘Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize’ exhibition opened a day early. Immediately facing one as one walks in is a vivid blue drawing entitled ‘Ghost Nets’ (Frances Gynn, 2019). Although I’d never heard the phrase ‘ghost nets’ before, I immediately perceived these as fishing nets which could entrap marine species. Later that week I was watching the BBC1 TV ‘Countryfile’ programme, which contained a lengthy section on marine plastic pollution – including ghost nets. These are indeed fishing nets which have been discarded or lost in the ocean by fishermen. They are often nearly invisible in the dim light and can be left tangled on a rocky reef or drifting in the open sea. These can trap fish which die, thus attracting scavengers which will also get entangled, thus creating an escalating problem. Lost fishing gear, or so called ‘ghost gear’, is now among the greatest killers in our oceans.
Fig 1. Ghost Nets ((Frances Gynn, 2019))
In this same exhibition I was particularly attracted to ‘Love Hurts’ by Fiona G. Roberts. This depicts 147 women who had been killed (murdered) by their partners during the 12 months of 2018. Their faces appear as pictograms in a horizontal bar graph for each of the 12 months. Thus one can see that 13 women were killed in January. The joint most number of women (16) were killed in the months of May and August. One can see that these women are of different ethnicities, colour, religion (i.e. one is wearing a muslim head-dress), one is wearing spectacles… So, the scientist in me wants to sub-categorise these to find out if one particular type of women falls victim in any particular month or season… . For me, this made a link with a current major BBC Radio 4 series called ‘The Art of Innovation’ which explores the overlaps between the sciences and the arts. As was said during one such episode, “Both science and art need imagination to move forward. As the sciences become more theoretical and conceptual, art explores scientific thinking in areas that exceeds the limits of what we can perceive”
Alex was with us earlier in the summer. His account is a pretty good example of what our work experience students have to put up with!
I am Alex from St Josephs and I chose to come to The Salisbury Museum for work experience because of my interest in history. I thought it would be a good opportunity to be behind the scenes in a museum and be able to see the objects not on display. Being at the museum for the week has educated me greatly in new topics and ones I have studied. In the week that I have been here, I have participated in lots of different activities, from cataloguing artefacts to shadowing a school trip. These are the things I got up to this week:
I arrived at the museum for 10am and was met at reception by Valerie. She showed me around the museum for the induction and orientation session. I was informed of the pin numbers for the doors and the fire exits and what to do when I hear an alarm. Then, from 10:30 until 1pm I assisted Roy in cataloguing ceramics in the display rooms. This was interesting because I was able to handle the old ceramics from and was able to describe them and give measurements. Once we had written down the descriptions and measurements, we entered them onto a file on the computer called Modes so they are saved there. Once I got back from lunch at 2pm, I met Valerie at reception again, to go to the library to do some research work on something of my choice. I chose to do Clarendon palace. This is because I was intrigued about the history of Clarendon palace and wanted to research this further. I did this task until the end of the day.
Tuesday I met Owain at reception at 9:30 to shadow a school trip visit from one
of the local primary schools. Owain made a presentation of Old Sarum for the
primary school which was interesting to watch. We then went over to the Wessex
Gallery where the children were shown round and they were fascinated by what
they saw in the gallery. They also had a task to draw old Sarum from the model
in the gallery, and to also draw a gargoyle. After lunch, they were shown round
the Salisbury gallery – the giant, the drainage collection and different
artefacts on display. We then went back to the lecture hall where we made our
the school trip had finished, I helped Catalogue social history from 2pm to the
end of the day. This involved taking donated items out of their boxes and
wrapping them up carefully in non-acidic paper. This was to preserve the items
for years to come.
I arrived at the museum for 10am where I was met at reception by Pat and Tessa to help catalogue archaeological archives. This involved taking the artefacts out of the boxes and wrapping the up better in the non-acidic paper. The first item that we catalogued that morning were 5000 year old antlers that were found at Stonehenge, near the inner circle. These were used by the Stone Age people to dig the holes for the stones to sit in as the antlers were used as picks or rakes. The next thing that we catalogued was loads of small boxes of animal bones and ceramics found at Stonehenge by Gowland in the early 20th century. These were contained in any boxes it seemed that Gowland could get his hands on. They were in old soap boxes, cardboard containers and metal containers. There was also one in a matchbox. We had to put the bones in a transparent plastic bag, the original label in another bag and put that back in the box which also goes in a bag with a new label added. At the end of this session, I was shown a Bronze Age sword from the archives which was great.
the afternoon, from 1pm onwards, I was in the library finishing my research of
Clarendon Palace. For this task I used the books in the library and also
knowledge of the palace that I had picked up through my week at the museum.
This is the basis of my other blog.
arrived at the museum for 10am once again, and was met at reception by Sue,
Joan and Muriel. I helped them in cataloguing the costumes/ pieces of clothing
donated by people to the museum. These items included a man’s jacket worn at
his wedding in the 1920s, and a girls clothes from late Victorian times to
early Edwardian. This was interesting because it gave an idea pf how people
used to dress in the early 20th century / late 19th
the afternoon, I did admin support work. This was to correct booklets that were
being given to volunteers. I did this by sticking labels over lines that had to
be taken out, or by writing the correct information over the labels.
Overall, this week has been a great week. It was an amazing opportunity working in the museum and seeing how it is all run and how much work has to be done. The staff here are very friendly and I have had great experiences being part of the Salisbury Museum – even just for a week. I would recommend coming to the museum for work experience if you are interested in museums or history because the activities I took part in over the week were great.
We are Victoria and Sarah from South Wilts Grammar School, on student placement at Salisbury Museum. We were looking around the museum and found the works by Peter Thursby particularly compelling. We therefore decided to research him and comment a little on his work. We hope that you find our interpretation interesting, even if you do not agree with it.
Thursby was born in Salisbury on the 23 December 1930 and was educated at Bishops Wordsworth School. Although possibly unrelated to his artwork, it is interesting to know that Thursby’s English teacher was William Goulding, who, as we are sure you know, is the author of Lord of the Flies. Thursby completed his national service in the Army, which may well have had an influence (conscious or otherwise) on his later artwork. He studied art at St Paul’s College, Cheltenham and the West of England and Exeter Colleges of Art and then became an art teacher.
Thursby’s main focus was sculpture, with his symbolic and abstract style, it is no surprise that he gained his main success in the 1960s after friendships with others who would invite him to galleries, and initially it was the attentions of influential gallery owner Marjorie Parr. As he gained a reputation, he began to be commissioned for both public and private works e.g. an important public commission for Devon county council for the tall sculpture Vertical Winged Form for a new school at Plymstock as well as a corporate piece with engineering imagery.
Our favourite sculpture in the museum is called Rising Optimism, which was created in 2001. Made out of stainless steel, the piece is strikingly aesthetic with a smooth and shiny appearance. We were intrigued by the recurring idea of optimism in Thursby’s work, and although we do not know, for us we imagine that his experience in the Army would have called for much need for optimism in his life, and these sculptures may, in a way, be a sort of reflection on his time in the Army. We also think that as a school teacher he would have experienced optimism in a different way, and, for us, the way that the sculpture widens as in goes up and splits in to two, almost in a tree-like way, can show growing and reaching for more, an idea often encouraged by teachers to the students. This is all only our personal interpretation of the work, so please don’t quote us. We also appreciated his sketches regarding his sculptures, in particular ‘Expanding Form Optimism’ which adds colour to a similar idea. We like the shade of blue, as although blue is typically associated with sadness, there is a certain hope to the sketch, particularly with the addition of the gentle background yellow. This perhaps suggests that there is always cause to be optimistic, even in the saddest of times. Overall, we have interpreted Thursby’s artwork is an inspiring and uplifting way, whilst not ignoring any potential sorrow in each of our lives.
Stonehenge artefacts, many of which have never previously left these shores, and many of which are usually in the care of The Salisbury Museum, are now in the USA, on tour. The Union Station exhibition is the first of a number of exhibitions taking place there in the coming months, with possibly more to follow. It opened on Friday 25 May to great fanfare and our own Adrian Green was there, at the invitation of the organisers. He flew back on Sunday, a journey that took twelve hours, and was back at work on Monday.